Short trip to oblivion for drinkers at O-week

AIMIE CRONIN
Last updated 11:05 08/03/2014

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It's hashtag Ori 2014. A pale young guy talks to his friend as they get stabbed by the sun and wait for a free sausage. "It was so f***** crazy last night, I think I got frostbite on my nipple."

He's referring to The Outback foam party, or you hope he is.

Students, hungover as hell, descend on the shops down by the lake by day.

"OK guys, let's go get some free shit."

Music plays too loud or not at all. Pedlars lure them in with food and the promise of cheap interest rates and free minutes and saviour from the lord. Sign on the dotted line. The babes hand out shiny flyers advertising bar parties - "Hey dude, do ya wanna come to The Block Party" - and guys nod and their hands become littered with junkmail as they head to lectures.

"I've probably fallen in love about 10 times from walking around," says one guy, "and I have all these pamphlets I have no use for."

There's a man with a cowboy hat herding students on a microphone: "Come sign up for The Meat Pie Mile!" A whole bunch do. The brief is to drink a can of beer, down a pie, and finish it off with can of Lift Plus, then run around the lake and do it all again, three times.

Tim Stewart heard word of The Meat Pie Mile and he told his mates, "I've got this." His wiry build suggests the opposite of a pie-eating beer drinker, but he has in his possession three important attributes that bring him gold: he's a cross country runner, the most competitive guy among a feast of competition, and he's a tactical yakker. He calls it The Rambo. "I can't hold much in my stomach, so I eat as much as I can and I don't care about vomiting. It kinda works."

Forget The Rambo spew fest and Stewart is the most polite student you'll ever meet - a fourth year accounting student who's sitting on an A minus average - a take-home-to-the parents type. After lugging his prize of $250 worth of groceries back to the flat, he changes into clean clothes and heads to the library.

But he'll be out in town O-weeking again tonight. "It's my last O-week, so I've gotta make the most of it. I've got nothing to lose. A little bit of dignity, maybe, but I'll have good stories."

There's something about O-week and there always has been.

It was the early eighties. John Erkkila spent uni life as a barman at The Hilly, or H-Block as it was known, or, more formally, The Hillcrest Tavern, a five-minute wander from uni gates. He'd arrive at his shift with tidy hair, a well-kept moustache (think Miami Vice), short shorts, a Leopard Draught T shirt, a pair of sneakers and, all night long, he would run.

On big nights he'd pile crates of Steinlager Blue stubbies five high and he couldn't stock the bar fast enough to satisfy the unending thirst. She was all go.

It was R20 in those days and the cops were heavy. They would roll in and purge the debutante girls and the buffed up boys of their fake IDs, while the rest partied and partied till lights out, then drove themselves on to The Lady Hamilton in town to party some more, then drove themselves home half-pissed.

The Hilly smelled like a mixture of bleeding beer, sweat and smoke and Erkkila would go home at night with a mixture of all three clinging to his T-shirt, ears ringing as a reminder of lusty, rocking noise. A good night was measured by the volume of broken glass on the floor and DD Smash achieved legend status when five rubbish bags full were counted at the end of their Hilly gig.

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It was the age of the booze barn: The Chartwell, The Dinsdale, The Glenview and The Hilly, which in its day sold more beer than almost any other pub in the country. It was the age of the live band, of the yard glass. The height in sophistication was a chick who drank white wine - medium or dry.

Blokes boozed on bulk beer, turned up to a party with a dozen 750ml bottles and sat on their crates till they'd guzzled the lot. There was status in being a boozer, though Erkkila wasn't much of one. He attended university from 1980 to 83 and was practically full time at the bar, where he knew just about everyone. He attended O-week festivities, but as an observer, not a clown. He watched a guy in a yellow PVC raincoat win the 80s version of The Meat Pie Mile.

It went by the more apt title The Chunder Mile and raincoat guy won by downing seven cold pies, drinking seven litres of beer and running seven laps round the university lake, making 2014's version sound like high tea. The best O-week stunt Erkkila ever saw was a guy on a red 50CC Honda step-through scooter who built a ramp, directed onlookers Outta the way! then hooned down the banks full noise before flying Evel Knievel-styles into the lake.

Vintage Waikato uni students seem to retain two things from their O-week days: the Chunder Mile and the live bands that toured during golden days of student union membership.

Councillor Martin Gallagher remembers the first, though he never took part. Not that he was averse to a bit of booze.

Former McGillicuddy Serious Party leader Graeme Cairns remembers massive amounts of beer and plentiful live gigs that cost $1 to attend, which he did, while staying away from the frat-type activities because he found himself bored of the alcohol.

Erkkila, now a businessman, looks back on O-week and sees it as a rite of passage.

"It's getting it all out of the system and it's probably a good thing, because it's defined to one week and then it's time to move on."

The Hilly exists today, though you wouldn't know it. On Wednesday night, it's closed by 10, when hundreds of students pass by on the annual toga walk to town, drunk from preloading in their halls and their flats, drunk with excitement that there's another party in town just like the one from the night before and the night before that.

It would be a case of blind leading the blind, if it weren't for a few young guys in orange T-shirts herding them along the road and the bossman John Lawrenson at the front of it all, making sure they make their way to the right bar. He's business top to bottom, and he's about to do well out of these kids tonight.

A few stumble into the carpark to scull from cans, but most stay footpathed, ranting with the kind of innocent chatter that reeks of experimentation that's unleashed by cheap booze. Anyone zoned "university" will hear the call of the wild as they march to town.

"Wasted, wasted, let's get f***** wasted!"

A group huddle together round a girl who is in spew position, "Please don't be sick," pleads her friend, because cops have stopped other students just metres up the way.

"You should piss off the bridge, that would be amazing," yells a guy after his mate who has ducked off into a cluster of trees. A guy does a flip in the middle of the road, a girl trips on her roman sandal and lands on her arse.

"Keep it on the down low," says a guy who is finishing his drink in the driveway before joining the toga march, and up on the main street of town, a young one leers at middle-aged passers-by:

"Sorry guys, us first years are experiencing something."

Experiencing the rite of passage, or maybe just a drunken walk to town.

Bar 101 is the destination. There's one across the road that has no one inside, but the students commit to serious wait time in queues that run metres deep to get into this one. A girl who works there says tequila shots, five bucks, and quick f**** (Kahlua, Baileys and Midori), four bucks, are the drinks de choix.

Inside, it smells like sweat. Toga'd bodies drink at bar leaners or bounce on the dance floor to a playlist of pop tunes. You spin my head right round, right round . . . and the night ends at the end and the measure of drunkenness is how little they care that their togas have come undone.

Some are too drunk and don't last the night. Their end is marked X on the arm by a bouncer with a black felt pen and that means get out of our club and don't come back. One wears his X like a badge of honour as he wanders round uni the following day.

"I've blacked out the last three or four nights in a row," he says. His mates laugh.

He says it hasn't stopped him pulling girls, though one he met last night wondered where he got to amid O-week antics. She Facebooked him the next day asking why he got kicked out.

Hashtag Ori 2014.

- Waikato

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