One morning in June I was sitting on a balcony in Geordie Bay admiring the Rotto sunrise. The sun had just begun to crest majestically over the lighthouse when I noticed a man across the road wearing only a bathrobe and speed dealer sunglasses who was urinating voluminously against a limestone wall. I turned inside to escape, but then I remembered the day before everyone had got high and thrown a ‘bubble party’ so the floor was still slick with detergent.
Once a year, revellers from several Western Australian Tertiary Institutions gather on Rottnest to celebrate the end of exams. Mid years, as it is called, is sort of like a more mature leavers, except it’s held in June and it’s probably not more mature. I haven’t been to Mid Years since 2017. Last year I decided my frothing youth was over and the whole thing was too juvenile for me. This year I decided I was going to go again. My imminent return to ‘The Rock’ got me thinking about this strange quasi-religious rite. Specifically, why do young people flock to the Rock to play out their adolescent fantasies?
Well, the obvious answer is that it’s a convenient place for it. But that’s boring, so let’s indulge some more interesting ideas.
Rottnest is far away from the mainland. Not literally, of course; as the crow flies, the island is about as far away from Fremantle as Fremantle is from the city. But, in another sense, the distance is immense: between it and Perth there is water. Real sea water. A sea which evokes swashbuckling adventure. It could be hiding a Kraken for all we know. Perhaps the students envisage themselves as bawdy buccaneers fashioning their own Tortuga amongst the Norfolk Pines.
I would certainly say there’s a sense of marauding anarchy when students descend upon Rotto. I have a vivid memory of standing in the kitchen and watching my friend walk out the back door then shout ‘skree’ and run off into the sand dunes flapping his wings like a deranged bird. Don’t remember how long he was gone for. But I can still see him there, through the fly-wire, like a bird lost in time. Another time someone stole a bike and cycled to West End at 6 AM in the morning without telling anyone. Strange.
The mainland, and all that it represents – rules, obligations, social opprobrium for being drunk by 11 AM – is distanced from the island by the sea, and Rottnest becomes a libertarian paradise where anything goes.
But there is a paradox here, because while the island’s freedom is defined by the distance from Terra Australis, the mainland remains omnipresent. After all, from the beach in Thompson Bay you can still make out the skyscrapers of the city. So is Mid Years defined by closeness or by distance?
Maybe the closeness is just another side of the coin. The mainland, and what it represents, is always visible, but always far enough away to not pose any threat. From the safety of the island, leavers and Uni students alike can safely thumb their noses at society. It is as though revellers are shouting at those fogies in Perth: ‘hey look, we don’t have to obey your rules here, man, and there’s nothing you can do about it’.
Is it reading into it too much to claim these drunken profligates are actually libertarian revolutionaries? No, surely not. See you on the island.
The author has requested to remain anonymous because they are on the run from Australia Post. However, you can find them at house number 927 in Geordie Bay. Knock twice and say the code word “social opprobrium”.
Words by Anonymous
Image by David Charkey