‘We’ll miss them’: COVID subdues ‘schoolies’ celebration

Lorne has become synonymous with the '"schoolies" rite of passage for thousands of Victorian high school graduates, but with the disruption caused by the pandemic, exams finishing late and start date delayed, 2020's revelry is feeling a little muted.

“Normally we’d have live music, DJs and bands playing all week,” said Paul Upham, owner and operator of the iconic Lorne Hotel on the Great Ocean Road.

Schoolies in Lorne tends to be busy. This year it’s a lot quieter.Credit:John Woudstra

The pub, often the centre of the small coastal town's festivities and which usually sells upwards of 1000 weekly “passes” to events in a regular year, enjoyed a somewhat subdued beginning to the 2020 schoolies season.

According to Mr Upham, the feeling was more akin to a school camp than an end-of-high-school blowout.

Packed crowds were replaced by sets of well-behaved boys and girls on separate tables, the beer-soaked dance floor exchanged for table service and deafening DJs displaced by background music.

“By the end of the night, though, they had all found a way to chat with one another,” he said. “Human nature, it’s a great thing, it’ll always find a way to overcome those barriers.”

Mr Upham said he’s expecting 1000 to 1500 school leavers to come down by next weekend, fewer than half of the usual 3000 partygoers that descend on the small coastal town. His hotel, licensed for 1100 people, is allowed just 300 under pandemic guidelines.

Like all 2020 cultural touchstones, schoolies too feels the weight of the pandemic.

“With restrictions on the venues and the possible activities, limits to shared accommodation, entertainment and transport, there has been a significant number of booking cancellations,” said Surf Coast Shire councillor Gary Allen.

“It’s early days, but from the level of booking cancellations we anticipate that less than half the normal number of schoolies will be in Lorne,” Mr Allen said.

The Lorne HotelCredit:The Age

The cancellations have hit accommodation providers hard and meant the season that usually yields a solid income before the Christmas rush hasn’t materialised.

“It’s a shame because we really love having them down here,” said general manager of Great Ocean Road Cottages Paki Henry, “they don’t make a lot of trouble any more and they’re only here for a week. We’ll miss them if they don’t come.”

Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett said police would be patrolling popular schoolies locations and enforcing social distancing.

“We know that 2020 has been a very difficult year for everyone – none more so than our year 12 students who have sadly missed out on a lot of milestone moments in their final year of schooling,” Mr Barrett said.

“We understand many school leavers will be looking forward to celebrating the end of this huge year with their friends, however, these celebrations must be held in a safe and responsible way that also adheres to the Chief Health Officer’s directions.”

A typica schoolies scene in LorneCredit:Joe Armao

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