With an increasing number of Year 12 students heading overseas for their post-HSC celebrations, The Newsroom’s Anthony Johnston looks at the associated risks.
Drinking, mateship and larrikinism have long been an accepted part of Australian culture. But what is embraced by many as harmless fun on home soil can become a serious issue when taken overseas, as the “Budgie Nine” recently discovered.
When initial reports emerged of nine Australian men stripping down to their Malaysian flag-emblazoned budgie smugglers and drinking beer from their shoes to celebrate Daniel Ricciardo’s Grand Prix win, even Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop admitted to being amused. But she warned others: “You have to respect the laws of the country you are visiting.”
“What might be seen as a foolish prank or Aussie blokey behaviour in Australia can be seen very differently in another country,” Ms Bishop said.
She confirmed Australia handled about 15,000 consular cases each year but explained there were “limits to what we can do”. During Oktoberfest in Germany, for example, with no Australian embassy in Munich, an official must travel down from Berlin for the entirety of the 16-day festival to aid jailed and hospitalised Aussies and hand out temporary passports to those who have lost theirs. The Australian government has increased the DFAT consular service budget to $130 million as of 2016-17, almost double that of the budget set in 2013-14.
With a whole cohort of high school students currently sitting their HSC exams, many have already planned the post-school celebrations or “schoolies” on the Gold Coast or overseas, at places such as Bali, Fiji and Thailand, and binge drinking, pranks, sexual promiscuity and risk taking are par for the course. This “rite of passage” of travelling overseas unsupervised can prove dangerous or even fatal, with about 1000 Australians dying overseas each year, usually from accidents or illness.
Rachel Birel, 19, deferred from studying at Macquarie University last year to travel to Europe for two and half months.
“I think it’s the whole appeal; going overseas, meeting new people and then going for a drink,” she told The Newsroom.
Ms Birel took part in a Contiki sail trip around the Croatian islands and said it was just like any other backyard party back home.
“They (the Aussies on board) would drink from the moment they woke up till the moment they passed out. There wasn’t much to do during the day – swim, tan or get drunk – and that’s what they did,” she said.
And just like the “Budgie Nine,” the clothes were quick to come off.
“Every night you would see at least one person completely naked running around the boat, or even at the dock. Always Australian, always drunk.”
Sam Wilson, 25, of Sydney, travelled with three other friends around Europe for five-and-a-half months, staying in hostels along the way. He recalls coming back from a night out in Lagos, Portugal, and being awoken by a pair of drunk Aussie men.
“We woke up to two idiots spraying each other with the dorm’s fire extinguisher. There were about eight people in our dorm and it was pretty much sunrise and they were just causing a bloody ruckus,” Mr Wilson told The Newsroom.
The owners of the hostel found the mess, checked the cameras and the two Aussies were kicked out of the hostel after their second night, despite paying for five nights.
In a much more extreme case, a tour guide from Contiki who wished to remain anonymous told The Newsroom of a group of drunk Australians who had to cancel their European trip early due to a life-threatening injury.
“The boys were off on their own, cliff jumping in Dubrovnik during their “me-time” and obviously you’re drinking all day when you’re on the boat so by about three [o’clock] you’re pretty pissed,” he said.
“One of them miscalculated just how deep the water was and dived headfirst into rocks in the shallow water.”
The young Australian became paralysed from the neck-down and was hospitalised for several months before being able to return home.
“As a tour guide, you obviously want everyone to have a good time but safety has to be your number priority,” he said.
“But when you’re off with your mates you just hope they’re smart enough to look out for you.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade offers online traveller advice for specific destinations, referencing cultural and religious sensitivities for Australians travelling overseas. − Anthony Johnston
— Ind Schools Victoria (@IndSchoolsVic) October 3, 2016
— LookUpStrata (@LookUpStrata) September 13, 2016
— ABC News Brisbane (@ABCNewsBrisbane) October 16, 2016
— 7 News Sydney (@7NewsSydney) October 18, 2016
Photo above of young Australians at Schoolies from the Schoolies Facebook page