Schoolies and New Year’s Eve see high visitor numbers in tourist spots like Byron Bay. Shutterstock
With “schoolies” celebrations now over and New Year’s Eve fast approaching, spare a thought for the challenges faced by children and young people growing up in popular tourism hot spots.
Let’s take the beautiful northern New South Wales coastal town of Byron Bay as an example. At the end of each year, young school leavers flood Byron Bay in pursuit of a rite of passage experience that many of their parents would prefer not to know about.
But there is another story here that is often overlooked. How do young residents of these places negotiate the challenges of growing up in a community widely acclaimed as a “party” destination? And how do the very public narratives portrayed in the media shape the experiences of young people growing up in a place like Byron Bay?
My recent recent doctoral research, in which I interviewed 74 young people in Byron shire aged between 10 and 24, sheds light on young residents’ views and experiences.
It is estimated that an annual average of 1.7 million tourists visit Byron Shire, with 704,000 being domestic overnight visitors.
While the party reputation of Byron Bay and its popularity with young backpackers and schoolies is now a given, there is little consideration about the impact of this on the 2800 young people who live there. Some of the issues and concerns raised in this research include safety, belonging and the environment.
The biggest concern raised by young residents is the perceived lack of safety that they often feel at times like schoolies and New Year’s Eve. The “demonstration effect” of alcohol and drug consumption, which is sensationalised in the media, has widespread implications.
Children and young people growing up in these communities are witnessing a holiday lifestyle on a regular basis, including the party frenzy and alcohol and drug-fuelled behaviours that are on display at times like schoolies.
This is confusing: they see people having fun all the time, but don’t consider that these same tourists go home to a seemingly normal life after the holiday. This may have important implications for their wellbeing in the long term, particularly when they are drawn to join the celebrations.
Isabella, 15, said: