My Schoolies I

It’s Schoolies time again.  A time the media has made synonymous with drunken hedonism.  For lads it’s a week (or several) of beer, girls and sand.  A time to reflect wistfully on my own “Schoolies” a now distant twenty-two years ago.  For me a time without girls, lots of sand (albeit red) and an incomprehensible amount of Booz.

The intrepid Schoolies adventurers. Too bad about the Broncos shirt.

I finished Year 12 in 1988 after a year of being told we were our school’s Bicentennial gift to Australia.  As far as I’m aware the nation has yet to express its undying gratitude.  There were more than 300 of us graduating from the second largest state school in Queensland, and as far as I remember Schoolies wasn’t on our radar.  I don’t recall hearing about it until I was at university.  It was a long and expensive trip from Townsville to the Gold Coast during the Ansett and QANTAS oligarchy anyway.

This however did not prevent us from making plans on how to celebrate bringing down the curtain on twelve years of schooling.  My plans starting to take shape in September ’88 when I was approached to consider a “boys’ trip” to the Northern Territory.  The instigator was a guy called Ben Booz, a cool, young American missionary dude from Jupiter, Florida who was having a couple of years “mission” to various Baptist youth groups around the state.

His proposal was to pack his incomparably muscled-up Holden Berlina station wagon with himself and four young punks for a whirlwind tour of the Top End.  He had no problems finding four guys willing to go until the last couple of weeks before departure where one-by-one they withdrew.  Two days from D-Day it was Ben and I as the last men standing and I expected him to call it off.  Down a crackling long-distance call from Mount Isa he told me he was still keen, and so it was on.

In Townsville I jumped on an overnight bus destined for Mount Isa with $100 and a Learner license permit in my pocket to tide me through an epic two-week adventure.  I arrived in Mount Isa the next morning bleary eyed and sleepless and was bundled into a taxi by Ben for a tour of the mines, sweating through mine slopes hundreds of metres underground.

The next morning at 5am we were off.  A kangaroo-dodging 200km hop to the Queensland/NT border at Camooweal before coming across our first unrestricted speed sign.  From there it was set the cruise control to 150kph and watch the temperature gauge as we flew inland with hundreds of kilometres separating isolated fuel stops, no towns and thousands of hectares of red dirt.   We stopped at Three-ways Roadhouse for an iconic mixed grill lunch, followed the highway north and stopped off to splash around the warm baths at Mataranka.  Our opening day saw us slide 1300km into Katherine and we were there well in time for dinner.  We crashed comatose on the floor of some missionaries who were friends of Ben’s.

Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge (Image via Wikipedia)

The following morning we sky-larked around Katherine, with most of the time spent taking in the spectacular sights of Katherine Gorge as I regaled Ben with terrifying tales of salt-water crocodiles I’d encountered two years in the Daintree and assuring him Northern Territory crocodiles were far scarier. After lunch we farewelled Ben’s friends and embarked on the fairly short 320km drive up to the capital of the Northern Territory, Darwin.

Ben was a Petra fan and I was not.  And I’d forgotten my music so the sound-track to much of this trip was cricket on ABC radio, broadcasting the Antipodean carnage at the hands of the rampaging West Indian team.  This started out with the obligatory attempt to explain the intricacies of cricket to a bemused American, a discussion which began after Ben’s observation of how unforgiving the media were of the Australian side after seeing banner newspaper headlines at a petrol station proclaiming “schoolboy dropped catches cruel Aussies”.  As we cruised into Darwin Steve Waugh was being peppered with bouncers at the Gabba on his way to a brave, but fated 90, agonisingly short of his maiden Test ton.

Darwin was literally a whistle-stop.  We took in the Darwin foreshore and docks, Ben bought an empty two litre flagon of the famous Norther Territory bitter and we drove south again to the outer suburbs to another house belonging to a friend of Ben’s.  They were away but we knew where their keys were hidden and we had a fitful night’s sleep in sweltering high humidity serenaded by frogs, crickets and whining mosquitos.

So it was early the next morning that we were back in the car for what became Kakadu Day.  Kakadu was much in the news at the time with the Greenies and Midnight Oil hell-bent on preventing further Uranium mining.  We passed through the gates to Kakadu National Park and I was initially under-whelmed, the dreary thorn-bush landscape flashing by as Ben and I took it in turns to spoon Weet-Bix Hi-bran out of a cup (and whenever I have Weet-Bix Hi-bran now it reminds me of Kakadu!)

Eventually we cam to the slag heaps of the Ranger Uranium mine before entering Kakadu proper.  We only had the day so we roared around the roads as much as possible, trying to see as much as we could see.  And the little we did see was eventually spectacular, massive pans of water teeming with wild-life, soaring rock faces, waterfalls and flora all framed with the emerald-green of the Top-End coming alive at the commencement of the wet season.  We flirted with going down some of the 4WD tracks but wisely decided against it.  After covering something like 800km in a day we arrived back at Katherine to again crash exhausted on the floor of Ben’s long-suffering friends.

The next day we headed south ….

(To be continued).


One Response to My Schoolies I

  1. Pingback: Unhomogenised « Co-mission

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