For most young people finishing Year 12 this month, schoolies week will be one of the most exciting experiences of their lives so far.
They will feel like they have the world at their feet and travel to coastal towns around Australia from about November 22 to party hard.
But Ballarat man Jon Hucker, 21, has warned this year’s schoolies that the celebration can quickly become a nightmare if you are not careful.
Hucker had planned to study mining then work in Western Australia after celebrating schoolies at Lorne, a beachside town south-west of Melbourne, in 2006, but was viciously assaulted and left in a critical condition after a random attack as he walked home from a pub.
He suffered a serious brain injury including internal bleeding, called a subdural haematoma, a fractured skull, collapsed lung and bruising.
He spent 10 days in a coma and it took nearly 18 months of rehabilitation to recover.
“I have to take epilepsy medication every day now and am not able to play any contact sports such as footy, because we don’t want to risk another knock to the head and a seizure,” said Hucker, who was a ruckman for his local Aussie Rules team Sebastopol.
“I loved playing footy it was a big part of my life.
“I was shattered the first two months of getting out of hospital, I was not able to walk, eat proper foods, do things by myself and relying on others was not what I wanted for the rest of my life.”
Hucker said he had regained his confidence now and was qualified as a personal trainer, but urged young people not to be violent and take responsibility for their actions.
The man who assaulted him, Alexander James Kennedy, 20, of Belmont, was convicted in September of recklessly causing serious injury and sentenced to two years in youth detention.
Police assistant commissioner Bob Hastings described Hucker’s experience as a “horrendous, unprovoked attack” and urged schoolies to think about their actions.
“We ask people to enjoy the occasion and let us know if there are any issues coming to hand so that we can intervene early, take some sort of action,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“Look out for your friends, it doesn’t take much for something to get out of control, it only takes one punch that can kill someone or badly maim them for life.”
Hastings said more police would be working at the popular Victorian schoolies destinations of the surf coast, south-west of Melbourne, and the Mornington Peninsula and Bass Coast in the south-east.