We hosted the high school formal after-party ... groan

It's high school formal season...
It's high school formal season... Photo: Janie Barrett

Not quite the morning after the after-party – it was about 3.30am – I wandered into the backyard to get a preview of the damage the real morning after would reveal.

To the fat candles and fairy lights we’d strung around, the mostly 18-year-olds had added festoons of crushed cans and drained bottles and smatterings of broken glass.

The party room – a breeze-block garage converted into what a real estate agent would describe as a studio – offered a similar collection of teen-party detritus, plus the sickly sweet stink of cheap mixers and an afterburn of Lynx.

Not too bad, really.

The party-goers had gone home or gone to bed, or so I thought until a couple of bedraggled young women in frocks unsuitable for the middle of the night in the middle of winter in the suburbs of Melbourne emerged from the shadowy recesses of the garden.

With the presence of mind possessed by a teenager raised by a liberated woman one asked, “And who might this be?”

“This is the father,” I replied. “Everyone’s gone. Where do you have to get to?”

A couple more appeared. “Footscray,” one of them said. “Do you mind if we hang here while we work it out?”

I went back to bed and left them to their Ubering. Was that the right thing to do? Let’s say I slept on it.


It’s year 12 formal season in Melbourne, and my daughter had decided to host an after-party: not “the” after-party, but the “other” after-party, for kids who mostly weren’t invited to “the” after-party (yes, inner-city high schools with no uniforms and no “sir” and “miss” still have A-lists).

“We’ll get a portaloo so people don’t have to come into the house to use the bathroom,” she promised.

How could we refuse? It was like being in our own John Hughes film, and she was our own Molly Ringwald.

I say formal season, because these days year 12s go not just to their own formals, but to the formals of all the neighbouring schools, too. If you live in Melbourne’s school-dense leafy east or inner north, that adds up to quite a few formals. And quite a bit of frocking up, getting preloaded and kicking on at after-parties.

I wandered back out in the morning: things didn’t look any better, though I was relieved not to find any of the Footscrayers curled up on a couch.

Year 12 is also the year they turn 18, and like any parent, I am troubled by the drink and the drugs. My rule of thumb is to ask what I was doing when I was their age: the answer is usually “much worse stuff”.

It’s not a textbook formula for successful parenting, but it helps bring perspective to the 21st-century fears for our almost-adult kids as they try to get their heads around society’s bizarre rituals of social self-medication.

And at least they can get an Uber. I would have been walking home, and much further than Footscray.

Matt Holden is a regular columnist.