Harley Crampton is 13 and has just started high school in the Catholic system, where his teachers have asked him to tie his hair back. He has been growing his mullet for five years. When he shakes it out, it cascades past his shoulder blades.
"Jesus rocked a mullet," he said, "I don't see why I can't."
Harley's dad, Mick, also sports the style. It feathers out from under his Akubra to reach just to his shoulders. Harley calls it "the paintbrush".
"He says, 'You've got nothing, Dad'," Mick said, laughing, "That's just a paintbrush."
A few months ago, Mick and his son travelled from their home at Cessnock to around Coffs Harbour so that Harley could compete in his Mulletfest heat. The festival that started as a rowdy party at the back of the Chelmsford Hotel at Kurri Kurri in 2018 has grown in the past five years, and now tours the country annually in search of the nation's best mullets.
Harley won his category for eight- to 13-year-olds and was crowned again on Saturday when Mulletfest returned to its spiritual home in the scrub at the back of Kurri for the annual grand final.
The site of the former Hebburn No. 2 Colliery at Elrington - now the Hebburn Motorsport Park - is the mullets' home turf, owned by the Johnson family who founded Mulletfest in 2018.
When Mulletfest began, it was a loose, dusty, and big-hearted celebration of an iconic Australian hairstyle. Over the years, it has turned into something bigger: a tribute to cheerful defiance and happy non-conformity.
The mullets are a breed of their own. They're unaffected and genuine, nostalgic for authenticity, and gleeful in their defiance of trend. They welcome you at the edges and happily invite you in.
'They call me Keg': Meet the mullets of Mulletfest
Everyone at the Motorsport Park at the weekend knew Ben Hill as "Keg". He has competed every year in Mulletfest, except for the first because it took him a year to grow a mullet that he felt was worthy of the competition.
On Saturday, as patchy showers rolled over the morning, he picked up a table to use as an umbrella while he stood in line at registration.
His mullet is a salt-and-pepper dusted silver that matches his handlebar moustache, and he wears it split into a pari of inch-high mohawks that peel over the curve of his head and into a mane that tumbles past the collar of his Christmas-themed Hawaiian party shirt.
"I have seen every walk of life come to Mulletfest, mate. It's a great competition," he said, "Everyone appreciates a good mullet, and it's intertwined in the Australian culture."
For five years, the mullets have tangled into the counterculture and extended conditioned roots to just about every corner of the world. The first Mulletfest gained a shock global following, and since then, the faithful have crossed oceans to join the party.
Alastair Bush, a doctor who works on a military base in the south-west of England, vowed to burn his mullet after winning the international category at the weekend. The ashes, he has promised, will be returned to Australia in a fitting retribution for his home country's dismal cricket record against Australia.
"There's something quite funny, I think, about an Englishman coming to Australia and winning a mullet competition," he said at the weekend. "It's like the Ashes in reverse. You guys came out and beat us, and there was such rancour from us in 1882 that these guys could come from the other side of the world and beat us a cricket. We burnt the bales.
"If I win this thing, I will burn my mullet and send the ashes back to them in a cup."
Dr Bush was raising funds for Testicular Cancer UK, using his mullet to encourage men to throw out inhibition and speak up when something is wrong. Mulletfest's official charity is the Mark Hughes Foundation, which has been a beneficiary of the annual event since its inception.
Behind the happy kitsch and loose party shirts, Mulletfest is a place where people come to tell their stories and help where they can.
How to keep a mullet: majestic management
The humidity began to soar as the rain cleared and the sun hit the Hebburn lawn. Sam Bowers lifted her son's vibrant strawberry mane and fanned his nape with a sheet of paper.
Jayce is 12 and has been growing his mullet for four years. It is about 44 centimetres long. After the weekend, he will cut it off and donate the locks to make wigs for young people living with cancer. By the weekend, he had single-handedly raised $3700 for his chosen charity.
"It started as a bet between me and my cousin," he said, "She bet me $50 that I wouldn't grow a mullet. And, here we are."
Hadrian Le Roy became an Australian citizen two years ago, after moving from France, and grew his mullet as he adopted his new home.
It's easy to manage, he said: "I wake up, go for a swim or a surf, and hope for the best."
His russet locks fell over his leopard-print-suited shoulders when he was named Australia's best "Ranga Mullet".
"I have been watching the mullet competition for years," he said, "And so many of my friends were saying I needed to compete - that there was this category made for me ... it's like an achievement of a couple of years."
In a back room in one of the former buildings of the old colliery, just before the year's final competition gets started, Mitchell White - dressed in a mismatched outfit of VB-emblazoned shorts and shirt - was getting ready to step up on stage. Earlier in the morning, he had washed his curly brown hair under a hose with plenty of conditioner.
"You need to wet-brush it," he said, "Otherwise, you'll end up with a whole afro out the back here."
The apprentice fabricator and welder had arrived at Elrington at around 8am on Saturday after travelling from Brisbane. He had pitched his tent inside the Motorsport Park to camp for the weekend. His outfit was put together with help from his family.
"It's a collection of everything," he said, fishing a VB bucket hat out of his pocket, which he wasn't wearing to preserve his competition-ready do.
"VB - Very Best," he said, walking through his outfit, "I got this from my dad, this from my sister. This is from my mum or my missus. I have a pair of VB Volleys as well, but it's a bit wet and muddy out, so I'm keeping my boots on."
Asked what his partner thinks of his mullet, he said: "At the start, she said don't get a mullet. But after I cut it in and started growing it, she loves it now. Can't picture me without it."
Before the party returned to town to carry on into the night, White was crowned Australia's best mullet and the 2023 overall Mulletfest champion.
Mulletfest 2023 Grand Final winners list:
- Juniors 0-3: Nash Machielse
- Juniors 4-7: Jedrick Jachmann
- Juniors 8-13: Harley Crampton
- Juniors 14-17: Logan Stevenson
- Vintage Mullet: Robert Walsh
- Rookie Mullet: Lisa Wright
- Everyday Mullet: Mitchell White
- Grubby Mullet: Shaun Jackson
- Ranga Mullet: Hadrian Le Roy
- Extreme Mullet: Alla Williamson
- International Mullet: Alastair Bush
- Family Mullets: The Painter family
- Overall Champion: Mitchell White