That’s Life: Formal delight

What more can you say about school formals that hasn’t already been muttered through pursed parental lips and furrowed brows?
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Heaps actually, and most of it’s pretty good.

As Malcolm Fraser once said, life wasn’t meant to be easy. Nor was getting ready for formals.

But with a dash a luck and a bucket of product, it can be all right on the night.

Yes, there is a touch of pressure to be supermodel level, be they colt or filly.

And people can get strung out if the hairdresser’s answering machine keeps saying they’ll be closed for Melbourne Cup and we’re already into the second Tuesday of November and the formals on like TOMORROW!

You suspect deep down the hairdresser will be open, they just haven’t worked out how to adjust their message bank.

But talk about anxiety. Arrrrrr, my nails.

And when I say nails, I mean my nails, scratching down a blackboard, channelling the suspense that is choosing a dress, shoes, hair design, jewellery, blue steel facial expression.

And assurances my booty is poppin’ in this outfit, but not in a slutty way.

There’s so much to achieve, and yet so much nanny-state legislation requiring students to attend school in term four and do things like exams rather than roam the boutiques seeking out ‘IT’ items which will forever – like Carrie’s fire-starting telekinetic powers – set them out from the pack on prom night as being hot.

But not in a supernatural homicidal way. Just a look to die for.

Dudes perhaps get it a tad easier. Most brush up fairly well with the addition of, let’s face it, clothes.

A suit propels them far beyond that to fashion areas most haven’t been to since first communion or sports prezzos.

The arrival of metromania has done mountains to lift the bar in that department to the point where it seems like they almost care.

The gals on the other hand, need to learn about pain.

In so many ways it would be better if our society bound their feet from an early age, like the ancient Chinese, so they developed grotesque and malformed.

Or perhaps bash the soles of their tootsies with baseball bats.

Or drive hot nails through them in the manner of crucifixion.

Only then could they prepare for the delicious agony that is heels and take their first teetering steps into the realms of high fashion, and I mean high.

Talk about attack of the Amazons.

The modern day female formalite could quite well suit up favourably in the WNBL such is the tall factor.

But it’s no good being able to stand on stilts.

You need to walk, or something approximating that word. Land stride? Vault?

Not sure, but it takes some mastery to get from dining table to dance floor.

And you don’t want to know what happens after that because someone could lose an eye, or an ankle.

Formals weren’t so formal back in my day.

“Irresponsible events fraught with liability” would probably better describe what went on.

And even today that thought is ever present.

But well organised with a collegiate sense of togetherness, school formals can be wonderful reminders we’re all on a journey together.

And that should be celebrated from time to time, Gangnam style.

Furry work: becoming a theme park costumed character

Eri Suzuki is serious about her goal in life – working in a theme park as a character mascot, one of those oversized, fuzzy creatures that dance and cavort with children.
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So she came to the Choko Group mascot school in Tokyo for instruction in the myriad tricks of the trade, such as how to move in giant feet and a furry animal head.

“Where are your eyes? Where are your ears?” said Choko Oohira, the school’s founder, gesturing in front of a recent class on moving in costume that included students dressed as a giant panda, cats and sheep.

Herself a 20-year veteran of the mascot arts, Oohira founded the school – the only one of its kind in Japan and, quite possibly, the world – in 1985. Her goal: to help mascot wannabes perfect the art of moving and playing the characters.

“When I see places where someone’s hand is coming out between the costume’s hands, or they take off their mask in front of people, or show their skin under the mask, it’s very disappointing,” Oohira said.

“I just want to tell them that’s not how to do it. I want to show the world how to fully become the character and explain that’s how to make children happy.”

Students are taught everything from traditional dance, to help with actual dance routines as mascots, to different walking styles that illustrate different ages while wearing costumes.

Other lessons include how to interact with children while wearing a costume, how to present a kind or even scary aura, and training to make sure the mascot’s gestures work when people are unable to see the performer’s face.

There are roughly 25 students, ranging from those just giving it a try for fun to others, like Suzuki, destined for work in theme parks. They range from those in their 20s up to those in their 50s.

“I had been doing this in my own sort of style, so I wanted to try and actually learn from professionals,” said Eiichiro Sakaida, a 21-year-old who has worked as a mascot part-time and came from more than 900 km away to try the class.

“I realized there’s a lot of things that I didn’t know, so I hope to use what I’ve learned this time going forward.”

Once students graduate, work is unlikely to be a problem since Japan, which idolises all things big-eyed and cute, has been experiencing a massive mascot boom.

Mascots exist for everything from individual companies to theme parks, government offices and tourist sites such as Tokyo’s eponymous Tokyo Tower. Each has their own character and is pulled out for promotional events.

In the greater Tokyo area alone, there are some 250 mascots, not counting those used as company promotions.

“I do indeed like them,” said Seiji Uchida, 12, who took part in a recent morning exercise session with a score of characters. “The fact that they’re fluffy and each character has its own personality is quite interesting.”


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A mind’s eye in front of your nose

Next big thing? … Explore Engage’s Augmented Reality See Through Glasses. A heads-up display for cyclists can be used through the See Through Glasses as shown in this grab from a concept video.
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Riding high … Explore Engage’s Augmented Reality See Through Glasses

Battleground … Google’s Project Glass.

Explore Engage’s Augmented Reality See Through Glasses.

The next computing battleground could be on your head, with an Australian company taking on giants like Google and Microsoft with wearable computers in the form of glasses that appear to be straight out of a sci-fi flick.

After conditioning us to walk around absorbed in our mobile screens, the technologists now want to place digital information directly in front of our eyes before we necessarily know we need it.

It’s known as “augmented reality” and analyst firm Juniper believes revenue from augmented-reality apps will reach $5.2 billion in 2017, up from $82 million this year.

“The natural evolution is to take those tablets and those phones out of your hands and put them up there in your field of vision,” said Paul Kouppas, chief technology officer of Sydney-based Explore Engage.

Explore Engage has been around for about three years and specialises in augmented reality, having built apps for Audi, Sony, NBN Co, Angry Birds, Telstra, Paramount and Transformers 3.

Those apps were designed for smartphones and tablets but the company has spent the last two years and $2 million creating prototype smart glasses, recently demonstrating them on TV for the first time.

The company has positioned the camera-equipped glasses as a challenger to Google’s Project Glass initiative, which is essentially Android-powered glasses that users can interact with by voice. Google’s glasses will be offered to developers early next year for $US1500 ($A1445) before being made available to consumers by 2014.

But while Google may be, as co-founder Sergey Brin said, “making science fiction real”, the current version of its glasses still requires users to look at a screen in their peripheral vision, rather than using see-through screen lenses that overlay the digital information directly in front of the user.

This makes Google’s promo video from April slightly misleading, but Explore Engage has released its own video showing some of Google’s futuristic features working on its real-world prototype. Another of its early working apps for the glasses is a version of Space Invaders.

“Because [Google] are not directly augmenting your line of sight, certain things wouldn’t be possible on their glasses,” said Kouppas.

Explore Engage is using crowd-funding site Pozible in an attempt to raise the money to finish the technology and mass produce it and is also seeking venture capital investment. But Kouppas warns that it is still likely a few years away from prime-time mainstream worthiness and the first applications would be industry-specific.

Kouppas said architects and engineers were a particular focus as the glasses could be used to see what a building looks like in situ before it’s built or to visualise underground pipes and infrastructure.

The company is also working up navigation, education, tourism, real-time translation, home entertainment, gaming, medical and sports-event glasses apps. While Google is aiming at the mass market, Explore Engage says it is “more about particular use cases and bespoke design first, and mass marketing second”.

“You could do a bit of a mashup between something like Second Life and a game like Doom, and allow them to co-exist in the real world,” said Kouppas.

The next apps the team wants to make for the glasses include a CPR instructions overlay with voice prompts of what to do in an emergency and a cycling “heads up display” providing route and safety information, navigation, music and communication between riders.

Microsoft is also working on smart glasses, according to a newly published patent application, designed to be used while watching live events like sport and concerts.

Late last year The New York Timesreported that Apple was also “conceptualising and even prototyping some wearable devices”, but the example given was not headwear but a curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist, interface with the iPhone and take commands using Siri.

Another competitor is Vuzix, which has recently launched its Smart Glasses M100 that includes a camera, GPS and motion sensors, microphone, earpiece and a version of Google’s Android operating system.

It looks more like a Bluetooth headset than a pair of glasses and places a small screen in the user’s peripheral vision. The device, expected to go on sale next year for under $US500, connects via wireless or Bluetooth to a smartphone and supports third-party apps.

Vuzix also offers a glasses-style augmented-reality system called the STAR 1200 that features cameras and see-through screens in each lens. The screens overlay information as though you’re looking at a 75-inch flat screen from three metres away. It costs a whopping $US4999.

Kouppas said high-end smartphones with various sensors were finally unlocking the potential of augmented-reality glasses. The Explore Engage prototype still connects via a wire to a smartphone but he said this allows it to offload processing and power requirements to the phone, enabling the glasses to be more lightweight and visually appealing.

“For the consumer it’s just a natural progress of how we interact with our world,” he said.

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Old rail line uncovered by works near Surf House

IT has spent decades under bitumen but a former Merewether beach-front rail line reared its head again today.
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Workers unearthed the old track, which appears to be part of a spurline used in the late 1800s known as the sand sidings, during works on John Parade .

A map of the Burwood Estate Railway circa 1887 shows the sidings splitting from the Beach Railway in the vicinity.

Picture: Simone De Peak

The sidings then appear to stretch from near Merewether Surf Club towards Dixon Park.

Newcastle Herald historian Mike Scanlon said the rails’ location indicated they may have been part of those sidings.

‘‘This old railway line is likely to have been part of a once extensive sand removal operation that speared off from the present Watkins Street corner,’’ Mr Scanlon said.

‘‘There were once huge dunes around the Dixon Park area which were heavily exploited.’’

Mr Scanlon said the line appeared to have fallen out of use by 1900 and seemed completely gone following the Depression.

‘‘Possibly it went back as far as 1862 when the Red Head Railway was built nearby along the coast south to remote Glenrock Lagoon,’’ he said.

University of Newcastle archivist Gionni di Gravio said the discovery site’s location indicated it may have been from the Burwood rail network.

Passers-by were split over how significant the discovery was.

Bar Beach’s Louise Ragg said she was unaware of the area’s rail history.

‘‘I think it’s exciting but I don’t think you can do much with it,’’ she said.

‘‘Maybe they could do something [to mark the old lines] like they have with the Honeysuckle foreshore.’’

New Lambton Heights’ Anthony Brodie said he believed the rail line’s long absence was warranted.

‘‘Realistically it’s a non-event,’’ Mr Brodie said.

‘‘I just hope the council doesn’t get involved and cause the redevelopment [of John Parade] to slow down for something as insignificant as this.’’

MAP: Courtesy of Light Railways magazine

Leaders – who needs ’em?

Watching over … do we need a boss to keep us on track?It feels as though we’re part of a culture that loves to worship heroes. The superstar CEO. The rock-star entrepreneur. The trailblazing humanitarian. The fearless editor. The visionary politician. A lot of it implies that we anxiously crave inspiring leaders to follow. But it’s worth asking the question: to what degree are leaders still relevant in a modern world?
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The shift towards a leaderless society can be seen in movements like the Arab Spring and the Tea Party, neither of which have formal leaders but have amassed a significant amount of support. And during 2010 and 2011, Belgium went 541 days without a government leading the way … and yet life carried on just fine.

What’s to suggest that businesses can’t be stripped of leaders in the same fashion? Professor David Day from the University of Western Australia believes formal leadership isn’t always necessary. He tells me that’s because “leadership is a process not a position”.

This means leadership can be produced by a group of individuals who collectively set a direction and then build commitment towards that goal. “This is why people need to be prepared to step up as a leader when needed even if they are not the leader in terms of position,” he says.

In her book The End of Leadership, Harvard’s Barbara Kellerman writes that the leaders of today are weaker than the leaders of yesterday, and part of that can be attributed to the empowerment of employees.

She likens it to the traditional role played by wives. Once upon a time, they were subservient, effectively owned by their husbands within a legal system that recognised the man as the master. Now, it’s a different story, with marriages represented by much more equal relationships.

Similarly, for a long time, leaders were required to be dominant, asserting their power over obedient followers. “No longer,” writes Kellerman. “Now followers, like wives, are far sturdier than they used to be, stronger and more independent.” And that independence means they want to have a greater say.

I asked Professor Gayle Avery from the Macquarie Graduate School of Management for her views on whether leaders are necessary. “I think the point revolves around the distinction between leaders and leadership,” she said.

Leaders are those who are appointed to a specific position of authority, usually with a job title to match, such as Team Leader or CEO. In other words: hierarchy.

Leadership, on the other hand, is what emerges when individuals are perceived by colleagues as the natural influencers of a group. Professor Avery refers to it as organic leadership, which means it has less to do with a boss ordering subordinates around, and more to do with shared decision-making.

A few months ago, The Wall Street Journal ran a profile on a company called Valve Corp, based in Washington, which prides itself on being boss-free. Its 300 employees recruit new workers, determine each other’s pay, and collectively decide who to fire. And, of course, promotions do not exist.

So, just because a team lacks a boss doesn’t mean it lacks leadership. Still, problems remain. One potential risk is the issue of accountability. When someone isn’t formally in charge, it can be difficult to figure out who’s responsible for a team’s under-performance. (You know, who to blame.)

Another downside is that if you have a leaderless team – one that fully embraces the democratisation of work – there’s the possibility of endlessly delayed decisions. That’s why it’s often said that dictatorship is the most efficient form of government. It may not be the most desired, but it’s arguably the most efficient.

Perhaps a similar principle applies in the workplace. Or, could it be, that Tina Turner had it right all along? Maybe we don’t need another hero. You tell me.

Does every team need a leader? Leave a comment.

Follow James Adonis on Twitter  @jamesadonis

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Police shooting in Redfern: man dead

Redfern shooting … police at the scene. Man shot … his truck crashed into the outside of a hotel.
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A man has died after being shot while driving in Redfern.

Do you know more? Email us, message us on Twitter @smh.

Police have a shot a man outside a pub in Redfern, after he allegedly drove at them and hit a pedestrian in a truck stolen from the City of Sydney council, a senior police source says.

The man, who is believed to be in his 40s, was driving a small work truck down a “shared zone” road near Redfern station just before midday on Friday when police opened fire.

The truck crashed into the outside of the Railz Hotel.

A NSW Ambulance spokesman said: “One patient is unfortunately deceased”.

Paramedics were treating two other people for minor injuries, he said.

The source told Fairfax Media the council had reported one of their trucks as stolen.

When police called on the driver to stop, he allegedly accelerated, hit a pole and a pedestrian, the source said.

Police believed he was using the vehicle as a weapon and also drove at officers, who escaped before the truck crashed.

Shots were fired, but the cause of the man’s death is yet to be determined.

A witness, who did not wish to be named, said he heard two gunshots. He then saw the truck with a smashed windscreen and crumpled roof.

The male police officer who allegedly fired the shots was being consoled by other officers.

“He was walking back from the scene and other officers had their hands on his shoulder,” he said.

A few minutes later, the officers reached inside the smashed car to pull the man out.

The witness said the man slumped out of the car and onto the road. “His body was slumped between the door and it fell down,” he said. “It looked like he was gone.”

Several ambulances have been requested and are attending the scene.

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‘Bunch of $2 companies’: committee did not assess tender firms, corruption inquiry told

Ian Macdonald.A corruption inquiry has heard that an evaluation committee who decided on which mining companies would be awarded exploration licences paid no heed to whether the companies actually had the financial capacity to carry out the work.
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William Hughes, a senior public servant who was the head of a three-person evaluation committee, admitted that the committee did not assess the expertise, skills or “know-how” of any mining companies who were tendering for multi-million dollar coal exploration licences.

The Independent Commission Against Commission is inquirying into the granting of coal exploration licences in 2009 by the department of then resources minister Ian Macdonald. The commission has heard that the family of Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid used inside information to gain profits of $100 million.

Another member of the evaluation committee Ado Zanella admitted that the committee ignored one of the selection criteria which was “the demonstrated financial ability to fund work programs and subsequent mine and infrastructure development.”

Mr Zanella agreed with Commissioner David Ipp’s proposition that “a bunch of $2 companies…who could promise the world” could get the licences without having the means to carry out the work.

The commissioner was critical of the committee’s failure to properly examine the prospective bids saying that it was representing the people of NSW to ensure “we were going to get value for money.”

“We are talking here about let the right people get the the exploration licences,” said Commissioner Ipp.

Only days before the winning bidders were announced the preferred tenderer Monaro Mining, which had never mined any coal, announced it was pulling out. It wrote a letter to the evaluation committee saying it was transferring its interests to Royal Coal, then in further correspondence it corrected that name to Loyal Coal, then to Voope.

Mr Hughes said he was not “curious to know” who was behind these entities. He also agreed that he made “no inquiry whatsover as to what was going on” with this last-minute change of corporate entities.

Loyal Coal and Voope have been revealed as companies associated with Eddie Obeid, himself a former mining minister.

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Gatto hands over money to brain surgeon

Cancer fight … Dr Charlie Teo and Mick Gatto.It was an unlikely combination, but controversial brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo is happy Melbourne underworld figure Mick Gatto came through with the goods – a $673,263 cheque to fund research in the fight against brain cancer.
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Mr Gatto, who is no stranger to controversy himself, presented Dr Teo the money on Thursday night at the Four Seasons hotel in Sydney, after a gala dinner attended by 1200 people in Melbourne earlier this month.

But Mr Gatto, who earlier this week was seated at the Danny Green world boxing title fight in Melbourne with a litany of underworld figures and bikies, denies he is attempting to buy respectability by over the years making significant contributions to numerous charities, including raising $1 million for firefighters in April 2009.

“I did what I had to do for a great man, Dr Teo,” Mr Gatto said.

This tale of two cities started earlier this year when Dr Teo saved the mother of one of Mr Gatto’s friends.

Dr Teo, the director of Sydney’s Centre for Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery, is held in high esteem, but has been knocked for carrying out radical surgery on tumours that other doctors consider inoperable.

A delighted Dr Teo said the odd coupling, when first reported in the Sun-Herald in July, brought a great deal of criticism. But he is used to the critics.

“My career has been full of malicious rumours, hyperbole and falsified stories over the years. It’s hurtful and at times makes me wonder about how humans can be so cruel,” he said.

“I was subject to criticism from friends and colleagues for teaming up with Mick. But associating with him, he’s been nothing but a gentlemen.

“They said morally how can you take money from Mick, but morally how can I not fight cancer.”

Mr Gatto and business partner John Khoury, along with Angelo “Fat Ange” Venditti, are currently being followed by a film crew doing a documentary on Melbourne suburb Carlton that inspired an Underbelly season.

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NZ intervenes in whaling case

New Zealand has formally intervened in Australia’s legal case against Japan over whaling.
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The NZ government told the International Court of Justice it was necessary to put its side of the dispute over scientific whaling, a statement released by the court said on Friday.

Australia began the case in 2010, arguing that Antarctic whaling by Japan was commercial, and not scientific as defined in the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW).

Japan rejected accusations it was breaching both the convention, and a ban on whaling in the Antarctic, claiming instead it was exercising its right to award scientific permits.

In the court’s statement, the NZ government outlines strict rules for scientific permits, and said any whaling that did not meet these rules was prohibited.

NZ’s decision to join the proceedings was probably co-ordinated with Australia in preparation for the oral phase of the case, according to Don Rothwell, professor of international law at the Australian National University.

“What may be interesting to see is whether other state parties to the ICRW take a similar course of action,” Professor Rothwell said.

Other countries potentially interested in joining the case could include the Netherlands on the anti-whaling side, and Iceland or South Korea on Japan’s side.

The case’s written proceedings were abbreviated earlier this year when Australia decided it was not necessary to reply to the Japanese written case, or counter memorial.

Professor Rothwell said oral hearings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague could now be expected in the northern spring of 2013.

The ANU’s Hilary Charlesworth, director of the Centre for International Governance and Justice, has been appointed as an ICJ judge ad hoc in the case which will be heard by a panel of judges.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society said it was fantastic news that the NZ government had stepped up to put more pressure on the whalers ahead of the coming Antarctic season.

“The Japanese government’s whaling program has much more to do with sushi than science,” the society’s director Darren Kindleysides said.

The Japanese whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru was earlier this week still in dry dock undergoing a refit, according to conservation group Sea Shepherd.

In previous years the whaling fleet has usually departed for the Antarctic by mid-November.

Sea Shepherd vessels are steaming north from Australia this year in an attempt to meet the whalers off Japan.

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‘We have a lot of very traumatised kids’: death casts a pall on schoolies

A crowd gathers at the scene of the fatal accident. Schoolies console each other outside the Chevron Renaissance.
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Schoolies console each other outside the Chevron Renaissance.

Isabelle Colman fell from a Gold Coast highrise this morning.

Schoolies leave the Chevron Renaissance at Surfers Paradise after a teenage girl plunged to her death from a balcony at the hotel.

Traumatised schoolies are cutting short their end-of-year celebrations after a 17-year-old girl fell to her death from a Gold Coast balcony.

Police today identified the dead girl as 17-year-old Isabelle Colman from The Gap in Brisbane’s west. She was a student at Mt St Michaels College at Ashgrove.

Isabelle fell to her death from a balcony on the 26th floor of the Chevron Renaissance’s third tower onto the fifth floor pool deck about 9.30pm.

Police say the teenager was alone in the unit when the incident happened and that there was no inappropriate behaviour on the balcony before the fall. They have confirmed the death was ”non-suspicious”.

Her school mates who have been on the Gold Coast have gathered at Circle on Cavill apartments, which neighbours the tower where Isabelle fell.

The girls, many of whom are wearing their year 12 jerseys, were consoled by Red Frogs volunteers

A sombre mood has washed over the Gold Coast as young teenagers, who were just last night celebrating the end of their high school years, now struggle to come to terms with the death of their peer.

”Everyone’s devastated. Everyone wants to go home,” schoolie Zara Simon told Fairfax Radio 4BC.

”I’m going home now. I’m trying to get my bag and we’re going.

”We’re supposed to be going home tomorrow, but no, most people are leaving today.

”Schoolies is supposed to be holiday; it’s supposed to be fun, but someone died.

“It’s terrible.”

Ms Simon said her friend, who saw Isabelle fall to her death, was ”pretty shaken up”.

”He’s not very good at all,” she said.

Another schoolie, known only as Kelly, said her friend also witnessed the incident.

”One of my friends was actually on our balcony when it happened … it was just horrific,” she said.

”They just wanted to get out. They didn’t know what to do. She’s in shock.”

Kelly said hundreds of schoolies gathered outside the Chevron towers last night, with many sitting on the ground shaking in shock, as news of the death spread rapidly through Facebook and Twitter.

”And everyone was just sitting here shaking. No one knew what was happening. It was really scary,” she said.

”Our parents are texting us asking if it’s us … everyone just didn’t know who it was or what was happening down there.

”We’re just shaken up.

”I want to go home today. It’s the worst.”

Assistant police commissioner Graham Rynders said he could not comment on whether the incident was an accident, other than to say the teenager’s death, which was witnessed by six people, was not suspicious.

He said the family of the girl was deeply traumatised and were asking for privacy.

‘‘[This has] put a very dark cloud over this schoolies,’’ he said.

Gold Coast Schoolies Advisory Group chairman Mark Reaburn said teenagers were wandering the streets of Surfers Paradise this morning looking shocked and dazed.

”Its very solemn here. You can see it with kids walking around now, it’s very solemn,” he said.

”Schoolies for the kids has turned from a celebration to a very traumatic time. It’s going to be a very difficult day and night.

”We’ve had a lot of very traumatised kids. It’s an absolute tragedy for family and friends – and it’s impact across all of the kids – it’s been devastating.”

Mr Reaburn said the Red Frogs chaplaincy service was counselling teenagers last night and would continue to do so throughout the day.

”Our welfare network swung into action last night,” he said.

”We’d certainly say to parents if they’re concerned for their kids by all means come and collect them, but use the welfare network that we can offer.”

Queensland police inspector Pat Swindells told reporters last night it was a horrible end to an otherwise good start to schoolies.

“Young people who’ve come to Surfers Paradise have been exemplary in their behaviour and this is a very tragic incident that has occurred during what has been a very good week.”

The building was locked down after the fall and hundreds of schoolies were evacuated onto the street.

Police are preparing a report for the coroner.

In the wake of the incident, police are appealing for those schoolies who are staying on the Gold Coast to enjoy their last night at the event safely.Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

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