THIRTY years ago a group of 28 young adults embarked on a unique and adventurous mission – to provide safe activities for Schoolies flocking to Surfers Paradise.
Little did they know that their faith, determination and sense of purpose that created Rosies Gold Coast would be alive and strong today, with final preparations for Schoolies 2017.
Schoolies was very different then.
It was rough and raw – still a culture of sex and booze, but not the $40 million industry of today, with tens of thousands of teenagers invading the glitter strip.
“We converted the Surfers Paradise St Vincent’s Church car park into our coffee shop and drop-in centre,” John Daly, one of the original Rosies team members, said.
“A DJ played music and everyone was welcome to come in for a break, a chat and a cup of coffee.
“We used the Anglican Church hall next door as our base and communications centre, and had several loaned school buses which not only ferried our crew around but were also equipped as mobile coffee shops.”
Mr Daly, a teacher at Clairvaux MacKillop College, Upper Mt Gravatt, sported “a mullet” hairstyle back then.
He said the original Rosies members had “fantastic support and a very real sense of purpose”.
“The first Rosies Gold Coast was modelled on the Victorian Rosebud Oblate drop-in centre,” Mr Daly said.
“Rosies Gold Coast had similar ideologies and vision, providing a safe and alternative venue and activity for youth staying at Surfers Paradise for Schoolies Week and summer holidays.
“In 1987, not only did the nights keep the team of 28 busy ministering to the needs of revellers, many of whom were schoolies, but in the afternoons we also ran sport and recreational activities on the Surfers Paradise beach.
“At times we also busked in the mall providing light entertainment for the schoolies who couldn’t get into the clubs, and late at night gave lost or lonely schoolies lifts home.
“What the crew soon realised was that not only was there a need to mission to the schoolies, but that there were also homeless and needy youth on the coast who also needed a helping hand.
“This need became the direction for Rosies in future years.”
Rosies in the press
In 1987, The Catholic Leader provided an “inside view” of Schoolies as journalist Barbara Mead joined the Rosies Mission, to report.
“Screams and live-band music belt out the dark maw that is the entrance to a beer garden – alcohol and noise have a stronger pull than surf and sand,” she wrote.
“It will close at 3am – and many of the young who tumble out into the early morning salt air will have spent afternoon, evening, night and morning there. It is the same story from opening to closing at all the popular drinking places.
“Only a handful are surfing, hundreds on the beach. They sit in groups, in pairs, alone.
“Mid afternoon and a change comes over the listlessness.
“Fifty kids in white T-shirts blazoned with a lolly-pink logo, scream on to the sand with volleyball nets and footballs. They bring movement, life, laughter.
“Teams form and grow, and games move from water’s edge to dunes and back, over and around the near-naked sunbathers.
“Surfers Paradise beach is suddenly a happier, healthier, younger place.
“The lolly-pink logos are circles enclosing the Christian fish symbols, a coffee cup – for the hospitality and friendship – stylised sun and surf for Surfers Paradise and the one word: ‘Rosies’.”
The 1987 mission ran only for the two weeks of Schoolies at Surfers Paradise.
Oblate Father Paul Costello was instrumental in co-ordinating the mission and recruitment of young helpers, ably assisted by the late Sandra Hazel.
“We gathered at Iona College, where Fr Paul taught alongside Sandra, from around April in 1987,” Mr Daly said.
“Most were Brisbane-based university students or workers who answered Paul’s call.
“Some of us had lived on the Gold Coast and had local knowledge.”
Fr Costello drew young people from all walks of life and invited them to be part of the mission, riding in the wake of the successful Antioch, Young Christian Workers, CLAG and Walkabout youth movements that were happening at the time.
The Catholic Leader described Fr Costello, back then on Surfers Paradise beach, as “hard to pick out among the running, laughing, fully alive young footballers”.
“And that ability to blend, to listen, to look behind the façade, has given him a unique insight to Schoolies Week,” the report said.
Fr Costello described Schoolies as a “rite of passage”.
“Because it happens here in this fantasy place it is different from anything anywhere else,” he told The Catholic Leader.
“We know the young look for role models. What are the role models they see here?”
Rosies offered a witness, an alternative, a support, a great faith experience through the work of its members.
“The Rosies Gold Coast mission may have been a naive attempt to give the schoolies an alternative to the alluring lights and nightlife of Surfers Paradise, but in doing so it unearthed a more needy and real mission, helping those who were homeless and in need living on the glitter strip,” Mr Daly said.
“If they wouldn’t come to us, then we went to them and so the concept of the travelling coffee vans was born, in the form of modified buses being parked at either end of Cavill Avenue and the Broadbeach Hotel.”
The formation and early ministry of Gold Coast Rosies has led to life-long friendships.
Most of the early members are in their 50s.
They have married, had families, had their own children experience the Schoolies rite of passage, and sadly some have died.
“There are so many stories, some very personal and some life-changing based on the experiences that each of us had in the formation of Rosies,” Mr Daly said.
“Some of these stories will be locked away forever and some are shared when we all get together and remember the old days.
“From humble beginnings in a meeting room at Iona College and a car park at Surfers Paradise, Rosies has become a household name as a trusted charity involved with many apostolic works in numerous locations across Queensland.
“Being a member of Rosies was never a personal mission, but one we all shared in.”
The Rosies mission has grown and developed, however Mr Daly believes the Rosies prayer is still at the foundation of what the organisation stands for, and what motivated the early active members.
O Jesus, Make our hearts so human,
That others may feel at home with us,
So like Yours,
That others may feel at home with you,
So forgetful of self that we might simply become the place
where You and they meet
In the power of Your Love
and the joy of your friendship. Amen