Schoolies week, Bali-style
Indonesia correspondent Michael Bachelard explores schoolies week in Bali, where young revellers come to play in increasing numbers.
TESTOSTERONE wafts off Shane Goodhew and his three shirtless mates in palpable waves.
They are toolies, men in their 20s who are in Bali this week to muscle in, literally, to the annual schoolies celebration. They are on the hunt for 17 and 18-year-old girls.
Goodhew, almost 21, says he is proud to be the bloke that "parents warn their daughters about".
Over the past three years, Bali has become a favourite party destination for Australian school-leavers.
Perhaps 6000 will visit during the last two weeks of November and the first week of December, turning the hotels and clubs of Kuta into festivals of youthful high spirits.
Sucking drinks called illusions out of tall plastic cups at less than half the price they would pay in Australia, masses of youngsters writhe and sweat to the music all night, every night, up and down Kuta's infamous nightclub strip, Jalan Legian. In their wake come the toolies. They have had a few more years to sculpt their pectorals and submit to the tattooist's needle, and they fancy their chances in the competition for girls.
"Not to be rude," says Goodhew, shaking his head, "but 17-year-old boys?
"We come, tattoos and that, and looking a bit older. That's what the girls are after."
Genuine schoolies Luke Hughes, Drew Smith, Jakob Walsh, all 18, and Mark Keats, 17, of Port Macquarie, New South Wales, are unimpressed.
"There's too many of them, it's four to one," Smith remarks bitterly. "And they're all on steroids."
And the evidence on the street suggests they do not exaggerate.
Bali's newfound popularity with schoolies is based on two things - it's cheap and it's virtually unregulated.
"Queensland has too many rules," says Erin Barnett, 17, of Bacchus Marsh. "The police are everywhere and you can't drink on certain parts of the beach."
Says Callum, 18, who did not want to give a last name: "There's more to do here, and it's cheaper to do it and there's less rules." He is in Bali with 17 mates from Brisbane Water Secondary College, on the Central Coast of NSW, one of many large groups.
During the day they will go snorkelling, bungee jumping, or to the Safari and Marine Park.
But at night, "you can be hammered on the street and walking around".
Under-age drinking is theoretically illegal in Indonesia but the restriction is never enforced.
So far this year there have been no major casualties. Kuta police chief I Gede Putu Dedy Ujiana needed the concept of schoolies explained to him, but, he said, there had been few brawls, and none too serious.
"Most of the time they just bump into each other, yell some strong words and that is it," he said.
But Bali's unrestrained night life does have its dangers. Magic mushrooms contain a powerful hallucinogen, but are legal and widely available.
Street vendors offer various drugs, and the local liquor, arak, can cause methanol poisoning.
A number of schoolies say they intend to get a tattoo on their last day in Bali. Callum's will adorn his chest and say "Brother Like No Other", but some parlours are linked to hepatitis infections, even HIV.
The biggest danger, though, is more mundane - the allure to many of riding motor scooters without helmet or licence, which voids their travel insurance.
A sign of the times is the appearance for the first time this year of the Red Frogs, a Christian-based volunteer group that has patrolled annually in Australia since 1997, helping the ill and the drunk.
Bali co-ordinator Paul Mergard says some youngsters have been hospitalised in Bali after motorcycle accidents, and others for the "quite severe hallucinations", including paranoia and anxiety, caused by magic mushrooms.
Overall, though, he agrees that "there has been a bit of hype" about Bali's risks. Many schoolies are safely regulating their own behaviour. The tabloid habit of overstating the danger of schoolies is a bugbear for the young revellers here.
Arnika Andrews, 18, says that before coming, she and her three girlfriends from Goulburn Valley Grammar School, in Shepparton, were subjected to a "massive lecture" from others.
But, she says, "It's so friendly. The Indonesians are so nice."
Insists a classmate, Ella S: "We've had 13 years of education … we're 18 years old. We let our hair down for a week, and if we're sensible and we understand another culture like Indonesia's, we can survive and have a brilliant time."
"Are your parents worried?" I ask, watching the toolies circle the pool nearby.
"My parents told me to be cautious, but they trust me," she replies.
"I'm an adult, and they treat me as an adult."