Death of Aussie teenager in Bali highlights dangers of Schoolies Week


An intoxicated school leaver passes out along the fence line during the Schoolies Week celebrations in Surfers Paradise on November 23, 2008 on the Gold Coast, Australia.


Sergio Dionisio

"Schoolies week" — an annual rite of passage for Australian school leavers, who spend a week celebrating their liberation from the education system, preferably in a beachside location and invariably in an alcoholic stupor — has claimed another young life.

Aussie teenager Jake Flannery, 18, was electrocuted while walking down the street on the Indonesian resort island of Bali early Saturday.

Flannery was reportedly walking past a worksite in the busy Kuta nightclub area when he grabbed a neon sign that had a powerful current surging through it. One report suggested that he died instantly, though witnesses interviewed by TV crews recalled hearing agonized screams.

According to the SMH, Flannery "had just completed year 12 at Gosford High School, a selective school where he studied three-unit mathematics and played at goalie on the school hockey team."

The teen's death is already being used as a cautionary tale for both school leavers and the parents who — given their children have more or less achieved independence — can only counsel them in how to behave like a responsible adult.   

It comes after a number of deaths around the country linked to Schoolies Week celebrations, including three teenage boys killed in a single-vehicle crash on their way to the Queensland resort town of Airlie Beach.

Only a decade ago, Schoolies Week — which falls at the end of the Australian school year, in November — was relatively informal, temporary mass migration of school leavers to "party" destinations within Australia.

The idea was to spend time with schoolfriends before embarking on adult life — as far away from parents and along with as many likeminded teenagers as possible.

Getting drunk seemed to be the main agenda, with getting laid a close second and getting home alive in time to star new careers, college courses or even study abroad programs a distant third.

In recent years, however, Schoolies Week has become something of an industry, with travel package and hotel deals of offer, and all manner festivals and concerts organized to catch the Schoolies dollar.

There is even a "Schoolies Week Survival Guide" — written by former schoolies — which provides such helpful cautionary advice as:

You are about 10 times more likely to get king hit at Schoolies Gold Coast than any other destination. 

It has also become a week dreaded by most parents, and the communities and law enforcement personnel that must police the most popular destinations — among them Queensland's Gold Coast.

Schoolies Week on the Gold Coast is usually accompanied by a spike in crime — only this past weekend, 60 people were arrested in one night, according to one report.

The report did point out that most of those arrested were, in fact, "toolies" — slightly older men who are notorious for targeting drunk teenagers for sex. The term derives from the idea that many of them have left school in previous years and are completing apprenticeships in trades that use tools.  

Toolies are often cited as being involved in disturbances during the Schoolies Week.

The "Schoolies Week Survival Guide" even warns about them in a section headed "Leaches at Schoolies," adding that:

There are heaps of older people either wanting sex from you, wanting to beat the croutons out of you, wanting you to join their religion or wanting you to buy something.

Without specifying any single source of danger, a report from the Australian Institute of Criminology suggests that:

When large groups of young people get together, there can be an atmosphere of spontaneity and reckless behavior. The relief from end of year pressures, combined with the presence of alcohol, drugs, peer pressure and the predatory behavior of others, can make teenagers vulnerable as both victims and offenders.

The NSW Department of Education, meanwhile, has prepared an "end of year celebration kit" that covers driving, illicit drugs, alcohol, drink spiking and legal aid.  

All good and well for those schoolies who find themselves in trouble in Australia's borders.

However, a recent innovation for many cashed-up schoolies who want to escape parents and the same old stomping grounds is to head offshore to places like Bali, a short flight from most Australian capitals.

And so back to the tale of poor Flannery — who may or may not have been drunk and exhibiting "spontaneity and reckless behavior." 

His parents will now reportedly fly to Indonesia to recover his body knowing that he will never have the opportunity to exhibit the sort of adult behavior he seemed destined to adopt.

Sadly, the bulletproof nature of youth being what it is, Down Under predicts that websites such as BookSchoolies.com, which specializes in trips to Bali by large groups of Australian teenagers, will be doing a roaring trade again this time next year.