She’d been to parties, but never hosted one. So in 2001, when she was 17, our daughter asked if she could have one, we agreed. We’d be in the house. We’d stay in the front room watching a movie and would feel free to come down the corridor to the party zone in the back living room/kitchen and back garden. That’s fine, as long as you don’t do it too much and hang around, she said.
She’d told us to expect that whatever we tried to do to stop alcohol coming in, that some would bring it. We wondered about supplying some low alcohol beer which is very hard to get drunk on, but we’d had an earlier experience with one of our sons, a year younger than her, who’d pleaded to be allowed to take some to a party. We’d called the parents – two prominent Sydney journalists who we thought were likely to agree – but they were adamant that no alcohol would be allowed. When we picked him up at midnight he threw up out of the car window. The parents had gone out, leaving the big sister in charge and she’d turned a blind eye.
On the Saturday night they all arrived in a rush, too excited to be fashionably late. Parental cars disgorged several who’d come together. A few parents came with them to the door and we put on our very best reassuring voices, exuding that we’d keep a close eye on things. Trish checked anyone who had a bag and found several with small bottles of vodka and bourbon. Sorry guys, we’ll have to keep these here, she told them to lots of eye-rolling.
What a lovely bunch of girlfriends she had, we told each other. But the boys. Gawd. What an awkward bunch. All from two of Sydney’s highest performing public schools.
After about 20 minutes I feigned the need to get something from the kitchen and walked into the crowded back of the house. There were around 40 of them. The music was up very loud. It was summer, and the back French doors were open so I could see into the garden. Several couples were already hard at work monstering each other with frantic, deep kissing. I thought back to the parties I went to in the 1960s and knew little had changed.
Minutes later, I saw a boy in front of me vomit all over the clivias. He was with two mates who were obviously very drunk. I went and got Trish from the front room. It was only about 8.30pm.
I think we’d better watch this for a while, I suggested. So we went out to the garden and told the drunken boys that they should stop drinking and take things easy. That ought to work. A couple of the girls tut-tutted to us that most of the boys had been pre-loading before they came, and that some had gone around to the back lane and waited when they arrived with their booze stashed in bags. Their accomplices went through the front door, polite as pie, and then went and let the lane guys through the garage roller door. Just about everyone is drinking you know, the girls said.
Trish went out to the garage to see if there was a drinking scene happening in the lane. At the back of the garage, leaning up against the car was a boy with his trousers around his ankles, with a girl on her knees on the concrete floor giving him a blow job. She shoo-ed them out, saying “oh no not here, you don’t!”.
Our daughter kept darting over to us, pleading with us to go back to the front room. PLEASE, don’t stay out here, she begged. We dutifully obeyed, but began considering what we should do if things got out of hand. Apart from the three drunk boys, the torrid pashing among three or four couples including the garage duo, everyone else was dancing or chatting and having great fun. Perhaps we ought to relax but just keep a look out, we thought.
Then the doorbell rang. It was 9pm. There stood a man in his mid 40s with his wife behind him. “Is Elizabeth here?” he asked, stonyfaced. “We’ve come to get her. She came here without our permission”.
We didn’t know all the kids’ names, so we invited him inside to collect her. His wife waited on the porch while he and I walked down the corridor. The moment we pushed open the door to the rear living room, a girl hurtled out of the room, through the kitchen, into the garden and then into the garage. Her father quickly followed, as did I.
She’d gone to the back of the garage but found the roller door closed. Our low sports car was in the garage. For about the next 5 minutes, like a cat and mouse cartoon, the father would swiftly move one way toward his daughter and she would move around the car out of his reach. He’d try going in the opposite direction and she’d change direction to counter him. She was in tears. After several bouts of this, I asked if they would both please stop what they were doing as I didn’t want the car scratched or the mirrors damaged. They kept it up.
Finding herself near the garden doorway to the garage on one circuit of the car, she bolted back to the house and rushed into the bathroom off the main room where the dancing and music was on full throttle. Several of her friends raced in with her, locking themselves inside.
The father began demanding she come out. She wouldn’t. He brought his wife inside to appeal that she unlock the door. Our daughter was now upset. Her first party was facing ruin, she told us. Please ask them to wait outside.
After about 10 minutes of stalemate, Trish and I began trying to negotiate a solution with the parents. “My wife is a very experienced schoolteacher and I am a professor at Sydney University. We are very respectable people and promise you that Elizabeth is safe here. As you can see, our daughter is very upset and feels like her first party is now being upset by what is happening. So can we please suggest that you both go and wait in your car outside? She seems unwilling to come out of the bathroom while you are here, but I’m sure she will come out soon – others will need to go inside to use the toilet. When she comes out, we’ll ask her to join you in the car.”
“No, I want to stay here. She will run away out the back but must come home with us. We did not give her permission to come here. She has disobeyed us and must come. So we will stay here until she decides to come out” he said.
I tried again. “Look, I must ask you to please wait outside. This is very awkward for us all, but as I said, my wife and I are both here, as you can see, supervising the party. We will talk to her when she comes out and send her out to you in the car.”
For some time he said nothing. He then spoke to his wife who left and went out to the car. He remained silent but then said, having seen several of the kids obviously loose with drink and the tongue kissing couples hard at it: “There is alcohol here. Alcohol leads to drugs!”
I tried to explain that some had arrived after already drinking and had hidden their supplies in the lane. We were very disappointed about these kids. As I went through this explanation I could see all over his face an understanding that we were in fact not respectable people at all. No decent parents would ever allow such behaviour, said the body language. I want our daughter out of this Gomorrah.
Exasperated, I then said “Do you drink alcohol?” “Of course!” he replied. “So did it lead to drugs for you?” “Don’t be ridiculous!” he snapped.
So again I suggested, this time unequivocally, that he needed to go out and wait in the car. “Look, you’ve now been waiting here for 30 minutes. No one can use the bathroom. Our daughter is upset. We have asked you very politely to wait outside several times now. It’s not acceptable that you stay here when we have asked you to cooperate by please waiting outside.”
At this he immediately sat down on the floor outside the bathroom. Trish and I went to another room and decided to call the police. I went over to him and again, this time very firmly, asked him to stand up and leave the house. He stared ahead, refusing to look at me and said nothing.
So I reached down and gripped his shoulder with one hand and said, come along now, you need to leave now. He immediately fell from sitting to supine and started frantically bicycling his legs upward at me, shouting out. I grabbed both his feet, held firm and dragged him on his back quickly up the corridor toward the front door. The whole party erupted in wild cheering. Half way up the corridor we saw his wife had come inside again. She had her phone out and was shouting into it theatrically “Help! Help! Professor Jones is assaulting my husband!! Come quickly!!” (Our daughter is my stepdaughter with a different surname). I let go of his feet, he got up quickly and they both walked out to their car, saying nothing.
Minutes later, our phone rang. It was Elizabeth’s older sister. Elizabeth must have called her from the bathroom and given our number. She immediately flooded us with her thanks for how we had been handling the incident. She said parents were suffocatingly strict: ambitious parents who allowed them few freedoms, who punished them for unacceptable grades and controlled them around the clock. Elizabeth was feisty and rebellious, and determined to come to the party. She was pleased we had called the police.
About 20 minutes later a constable who looked about 20 and a wide-eyed student social worker on placement arrived. They firmly told the parents to remain in their car as they were trespassing. Elizabeth came out of the bathroom and they spoke with her in a bedroom. She was then taken to the local police station and the parents asked to make their own way there.
We were never contacted again, and heard nothing of anything that may have transpired.
We’ve all heard stories of parties where internet word spreads, gatecrashers arrive, fights break out, things get smashed. Some parents hire security muscle. But calling the police to get rid of parents? That’s a first surely?
Whenever any of her old friends who were there that night come by, they always recall the night with great hilarity. That was an amazing night, they tell us.
Twenty years later, whenever our daughter comes around for dinner and we open a bottle of wine, one of us will always say as the first one is poured “Alcohol. It leads to drugs.”