MESSY WORK: Timothy Solomon and James Gray of Victoria, try to talk Insp Owen King into locking them up
MESSY WORK: Timothy Solomon and James Gray of Victoria, try to talk Insp Owen King into locking them up

Night lights and fights

By MEGAN KINNINMENT

BY NIGHT, tourist mecca Byron Bay bears no resemblance to its daytime self.

Its streets are still crowded, but not with strolling couples licking icecreams.

After midnight, the town comes alive with an explosive cocktail of alcohol-fuelled testosterone and bravado, mixed with teetering, high-heeled giddiness.

On Friday night, The Northern Star explored Byron's nocturnal world during Schoolies week.

Schoolies central is Apex Park, Main Beach, where hundreds of young people mill about: Girls yanking at miniskirts riding up thighs, boys bunting each other like lion cubs.

On the beach they furtively drink grog, only to pass out later in shop alcoves or be piggy-backed by a staggering mate to the next club.

Driving along Jonson Street is fraught with danger as a messy trail of young people spill out of the town's pubs and clubs.

With no organised underage entertainment to occupy them, fights draw a strong crowd while the toilets near FishHeads are also popular being the only toilets open in the whole town.

Every year the children of the south migrate north to come of age, here, amid discarded thongs, the stench of beer and overflowing garbage bins.

Protecting them as best they can are the town's police and security guards.

Surveying the hundredstrong throng outside Cheeky Monkeys nightclub, bouncer Rommel Emilio laughs: "We call this a day-care centre."

This week most schoolies are from Victoria, next the Sydney schoolies arrive.

"The ones from Sydney tend to drink a lot more," Mr Emilio says.

That means more mopping up for Inspector Owen King of Byron Bay police.

As he drives through town a call comes through: "They've got him", Insp King says, relief obvious in his gravelly voice.

Earlier, police had received a 000 call about an intoxicated young man threatening to jump from the headland at Cape Byron Lighthouse.

It's the first of many incidents involving alcohol and young people.

A posse draws Insp King's attention in the carpark.

He positions the car so the lights shine on a stumbling young woman, looking barely 16, dressed in a short denim skirt and a bright green boobtube revealing bikini-strap marks on sunburnt shoulders.

In her hand is a stubby of beer which she throws as the lights hit her: Too late. Insp King pounces.

The blubbering girl cannot produce identification so it's back to the station for her.

"I lent my ID to my girlfriend. I'm 18, I f...ng swear I'm 18," she says between tearful gasps.

"Why did you lend it? You know that's a $220 fine," Insp King asks.

"My f...ng friends pressure me all the time, they f...ng pressure me," she blabbers.

Seconds later, a crowd forms as a fight between two teens erupts in the carpark.

Looking on, a bunch of Melbourne schoolies tell The Northern Star the fight was caused by locals picking on out-of-towners.

Insp King scoffs at the claim there are gangs of locals looking for fights.

"They both give as good as each other," he says. "But, I do get disappointed to see the locals out drinking in the streets when they should know better.

"Most of the schoolies are pretty friendly, it's just that put alcohol and young people together and you get trouble."

At 4am the police clock off their town beat. By that time most schoolies have returned to their rented-holiday homes, still revved up and ready to cause more mayhem, or, they've found a soft resting place in the sand.

At dawn, the town dresses in sunny day-wear again: Soon couples will wander the streets licking icecreams, oblivious to how different its nightime persona is.



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