Schoolchildren eager to relax in Byron Bay after school year affected by COVID, floods and fires

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The school pupils of 2022 have earned the right to celebrate after their school year was hit by COVID, fire and floods, but thousands avoid traditional trek to the Gold Coast for the quieter surroundings of Byron Bay.

Ashlee Hunter, from Hornsby in Sydney’s north, said she and her friends wanted their experience to be “a bit more relaxed”.

“We didn’t want to go to the hectic area with all the hard partying,” she said.

“We just wanted to relax and have a good week away … still go out at night and meet people, but a little more laid back.”

Tom Laurie, from Sydney’s northern beaches, was on a similar mission.

“Relax my mates, have a good time and enjoy it while it lasts,” he said.

A group of young women in towels and swimwear pose on the street in Byron Bay.
Ashlee Hunter (second from right) and her friends choose to steer clear of the “hard-core party” on the Gold Coast.(ABC North Coast: Bruce MacKenzie)

“Because after this week we’re not going back to school.

“We went through a lot, the learning went a bit downhill.

“It’s been tough, but we pushed through it in the end.”

Jordan Leo moved from South Australia to Brisbane with his family for Year 12.

“Obviously in South Australia we had the really tight cordons and all the border stuff, then we had the bushfires in the hills,” he said.

A young man in a red cap poses with his friend in a back and white top.
Jordan Leo (right) feels free after completing his high school studies.(ABC North Coast: Bruce MacKenzie)

“We missed the floods, which is good, but the lockdowns in Brisbane were pretty tough.

“When we graduated, it was a liberating feeling.

“It’s all over, all the stresses of the year, all the extreme events we’ve been through, it’s all over us now.”

A police officer in a hat stands in front of Byron Bay Station.
Detective Inspector Matt Kehoe says schoolchildren have every right to celebrate, but police want to send a message about safety.(ABC North Coast: Bruce MacKenzie)

Police say safety is a priority

Around 30 extra specialist police will patrol Byron Bay’s streets for the next 10 days.

Detective Chief Inspector Matt Kehoe said crowds of up to 8,000 young revelers were expected for each of the next two weekends.

He said they had every right to celebrate, but they must prioritize safety.

“I would be the same, I would be very excited given what kids have been through over the last few years,” Detective Inspector Kehoe said.

“But I also see a great deal of maturity in the kids from what they’ve been dealing with over the last few years.

“But again, we’re going to be out there trying to push that message to make sure they make the right choices.”

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