Punished for youth
By MEGAN KINNINMENT
KAITY Wright works at the local bakery, surfs every day, trains in karate twice a week and listens to Beatles music.
She's hardly a hooligan ? but that doesn't stop the athletic 15-year-old Lennox Head teenager from drawing the attention of police if she ventures out after dark.
"I even got moved on by the police for sitting down eating an icecream," Kaity says.
Being a teenager.
In the aftermath of out-of-control parties at Lennox Head, teen riots at Angels Beach and petty vandalism along the coast, being young is all it takes to mark you as a pariah in the retiree-dominated seachange town.
In response to recent unruly behaviour by bored young people, police have mooted nightime curfews and increased patrols while the only under-age band venue, the Lennox Head ? Alstonville Surf Club, has closed its doors to youth nights.
The problem with the youth gigs, says Greg Evans from the SLSC committee, was not caused by local kids who bought tickets to the event ? but from those without a ticket who chose instead to make their own party in the dunes and carparks surrounding the surf club.
"We would love to continue to offer this as a venue for the youth of Lennox and Ballina, but we can only do this with the full and proper consideration of the police and other parties," Mr Evans says.
Although the last event at the surf club was four months ago, Kaity and her friends still say dancing to local bands Kanaka, Brittle Fex and Double or Nothing was a highlight of their social calendar.
Now, they feel they are being punished for the actions of a minority.
Kaity, 15-year-old Dylan Steele and fellow Year 10 Xavier Catholic College student, 16-year-old Stephanie Melling, say all they require is a safe space to hang out and socialise with their mates -nothing too flash, maybe a couch or two and the occasional movie night.
"At the moment we have to meet at each other's houses for barbecues and things," explains Dylan.
"But you don't get to meet anybody new that way."
However, even a simple gathering of friends is fraught with danger in the era of internet and text messaging ? where a teen party can spiral out of control before it even starts.
"We only ever invite people a day or two beforehand, otherwise everyone finds out," explains Kaity.
The Xavier students say a recent after-school-formal party at a student's home had to be cancelled after the party was advertised on the internet and large crowds of gatecrashers were predicted.
"It was ruined because everyone knew about it," Kaity says.
As well as cancelled parties, cancelled under-age music events and a lack of transport to and from neighbouring towns for entertainment; Lennox youth have missed out on another cherished dream: a skatepark.
"The older people said it would attract vandalism," says Stephanie, defeated.
"We made bike jumps at Williams Reserve, but the council ripped those up too," adds Dylan.
While this particular group of Year 10 students are fortunate to have supportive parents who ferry them to a variety of sporting activities and host their children's friends at their homes to facilitate a social scene, they feel stymied by a lack of youth facilities in the town.
"There are a lot of kids who are musicians," says Stephanie, who sings in a local choir.
"All we need is like a hall or something where bands could play," she suggests.
Community worker and Lennox Head Surf School tutor Kellie O'Brien says the problems facing Lennox Head young people stem from a town that has not grown in step with development and a changing demographic ? and they won't be solved through banning young people from a social life.
While Lennox Head is still a premier retiree destination, it now plays host to a much larger population of young sea-changer families and, as their kids grow up, the town's infrastructure does not keep pace.
"The council is terrific with rates, roads and rubbish, but what has been missing for the last 15 years are social activities," Ms O'Brien says.
"We don't have a basketball court, we don't have a skate park. Even having a basic movie night ? there're no facilities."
Thwarting young people from meeting, socialising and partying is a dangerous course, Ms O'Brien suggests.
"The priority for young people is social independence," she says.
"As we get older we have different priorities, but socialising is a huge priority for young people.
"Young people will make their own fun."
And if nothing is done by the community to help facilitate that fun, the riots will simply continue, she predicts.
"Lennox Head needs to value our young people. If we don't do this we will see more cases of the Ballina riots, of young people who have no direction, young people who don't know the boundaries."
Ballina Shire Council appears to have heeded the call.
"Lennox Head has lagged behind," agrees Ballina Shire councillor Peter Moore.
"Lennox Head 15 years ago was full of little kids and everyone thought what a wonderful place to live. The situation is that those kids are growing up and as they've aged they haven't been given the facilities they need."
It may have taken three years to get there, but the council now has plans for a multi-purpose community centre to be built at Williams Reserve, in which young people will be offered meeting rooms, basketball courts and a performance venue.
"We have to engage those positive kids," Cr Moore says.
"If you are under 18 you can't get into a night-club, so at 17 you'll have to make your own entertainment and they do that at the beach, or at someone's house.
"The Lennox Head community centre will give the community some infrastructure."
The community centre plan has now reached the concept drawing stage and is soon to be put to the council as a development application.
Meanwhile, Stephanie Melling, Dylan Steele and Kaity Wright are not holding their collective breath for the community centre ? they've seen too many of their hopes dashed by the 'oldies' before.
For now they are looking forward to summer and the one place they aren't banned from ? the ocean.
It may be only safe during the day, but these three take full advantage of the natural environment they are graced with, surfing from 5am until dusk when they can.
"If we didn't have the surf, we'd have nothing," Kaity says.