Brisbane Convention Centre Great Hall

School formal back on despite restrictions


The coronavirus pandemic and the associated restrictions and social distancing requirements have put the future of many school formals around Brisbane in doubt.

St Laurence’s College in South Brisbane
St Laurence’s College in South Brisbane had to cancel their original school formal plans due their cohort size and COVID-19 restrictions. Photo: Tyler Salzlechner


But for one school, the road to getting the year 12 formal back up and running has been more complicated than most.

Since March, school students not just in Brisbane, but all around Australia, have seen a number of treasured annual school events either cancelled or put on hold, thanks to the necessity of a school-based COVID-safe plan.

Inter-school sporting events, sports days, cross country events, musicals, concerts, camps, excursions, fetes and all manner of events that would usually allow parents onto school campuses have been either cancelled or postponed.

But the one event that has had year 12 students on tenterhooks is the annual senior formal, which is traditionally seen as the final hurrah for graduating students.

For South Brisbane’s St Laurence’s College, the process of getting their formal up and running in compliance with COVID-safe restrictions has been a complicated one.

St Laurence’s had originally planned to hold their formal at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane’s CBD but the school was forced to change the venue to the quadrangle on the school grounds when it became clear that the school’s year 12 cohort was too large to safely fit in the planned venue.

Head of middle school at St Laurence’s College, David Knight, said the school’s formal booking with the Hilton had to be cancelled due to the size of the school’s year 12 cohort.

“We have one of the largest cohorts in Brisbane – approximately 260 students,” Mr Knight said.

“And in light of the COVID-safe plan, the Hilton weren’t able to facilitate the space we needed,” he said.

“Ordinarily, the Hilton would be able to accommodate and seat us all and hundreds more, however with the safe plan, they weren’t able to comply.”

Mr Knight said if the school had kept their booking with the Hilton they would have had to have back-to-back sittings for dinner, or to hold the event over two separate nights.

St Laurence’s College quadrangle
St Laurence’s College relocated their formal to the school’s quad when the Hilton Hotel was unable to accommodate the year 12 cohort’s size. Photo: Tyler Salzlechner


With no venue for the formal, St Laurence’s made the decision to hold the formal on the college’s grounds in the quadrangle, and staff were committed to ensuring the students enjoyed their big night, while still adhering to COVID-safe guidelines.

But then the Convention Centre stepped into the picture, offering St Laurence’s a booking with them.

The Convention Centre hadn’t been taking formal bookings earlier in the year due to COVID-safe restrictions, but as case numbers in Brisbane had dropped their circumstances changed, although the venue are still taking safety seriously.

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre events manager Shaun Mitchell said this year’s formals would more closely resemble sit-down dinners than the dance-oriented events students had been used to in the past.

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre events manager Shaun Mitchell
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre events manager Shaun Mitchell says this year’s formals will look different to formals of the past. Photo: Tyler Salzlechner


Mr Mitchell said it was important for the venue to ensure the safety of all guests.

“It is our responsibility to be proactive, and take the necessary precautions to ensure that we comply with health and safety guidelines,” he said.

“We are working in tandem with [school] faculty booking events with us, [and] we want to ensure a smooth and healthy approach during these times of uncertainty,” Mr Mitchell said.

“At this point in time, there won’t be any dancing at the formals,” he said.

“I’m optimistic by November that could change, but we’ll have to be patient and see.”

St Laurence’s teacher Lachlan Heshusius said every precaution would be taken from the COVID-safe plan to ensure safety during the formal.

“We are working closely with the Convention Centre staff, ensuring that our boys abide by health and safety regulations while enjoying themselves simultaneously,” Mr Heshusius said.

“Obviously the biggest change will be the absence of the dance floor, so we are looking at alternative forms of entertainment while still staying safe,” he said.

Fortunately, official photography at the formal is still going ahead, enabling students to capture the memorable event with their classmates.

“The photo is an important facet for both the boys and girls,” Mr Heshusius said.

“We will be looking at having photos, although obviously they will look different than previously,” he said.

Brisbane Convention Centre Great Hall
The Convention Centre’s Great Hall will play host to the St Laurence’s College formal, accommodating the large cohort and its expected guests. Photo: Courtesy Brisbane Convention Centre


Despite the best efforts of the school, some students were still disappointed to miss out on the full school formal experience.

St Laurence’s College house captain Jayden Harrison said he had been really looking forward to taking part in the traditional style school formal.

“I’ve been looking forward to the formal, having that one significant moment with my mates,” Mr Harrison said.

“It feels like I’ve been robbed of it.”

“The way my brother described it when he had his, I was looking forward to experiencing it for myself.”

Despite his disappointment, the year 12 student said he was happy the formal was moving to the Convention Centre.

“I’m excited the Convention Centre has given us the green light, it feels like a proper formal albeit with the restrictions,” Mr Harrison said.

“I guess I’ll be making the most of it with my mates, still celebrating it as it should be celebrated and making memories.”

Leave a Reply