'Mulletfest' is back in 2021; dates announced and organisers are taking the majesty on tour

Business up front: Mulletfest 2021 is going on tour.

Question is, can we do it a second year?

The event that majestically sprang up and out, like the cropped fringes of its namesake, in February 2018, only to grow like a riot down the world's countercultural back-of-the-neck, has - also like the iconic hairstyle - made a glorious comeback.

Mullets are back, baby - and it's Laura Johnson's doing.

"And, you're welcome!" she laughs down the phone.

Read also: Mandurah's best mullet? Local legend claims national title

Mrs Johnson, the publican of the Chelmsford Hotel at Kurri Kurri is the founder of arguably the world's only legitimate mullet-appreciation day and (according to the Australian Hotels Association) the undisputed Queen of the Mullet.

"Every time someone says mullets are back, I say "Yeah, you're welcome!"," she says.

The past four years have been a windswept and interesting road for the Johnson family and their friends, who organise Mulletfest annually in the Hunter Valley. In 2018, the idea was to create an event that would excite the Kurri Kurri tourism market, inject a bit of "good, clean fun" into the region and, along the way, find the most magnificent specimen of the world's most outrageous hairstyle and crown them Grand Mullet.

But what began as a weekend at the Chelmsford Hotel for a few dedicated caretakers of the most glorious of hair-dos quickly became an international phenomenon.

Laura Johnson with her husband JJ Johnson behind the bar at the Chelmesford Hotel in Kurri Kurri. Picture: Simone De Peak

Laura Johnson with her husband JJ Johnson behind the bar at the Chelmesford Hotel in Kurri Kurri. Picture: Simone De Peak

"We're so lucky that this idea took off and stuck in Australia," Mrs Johnson says, "And that Australians are so willing to get behind something that is good, clean fun."

By 2020, Mulletfest had attracted hundreds of contestants, and the competition was covered by - among others - the New York Post,The Sun and the BBC.

"We were able to create a tourism injection for Kurri which was the whole point," Mrs Johnson said, "We were able to develop a brand and a name and celebrate an iconic hairstyle but more than that, we were able to embrace people and teach them to accept themselves.

Dave Charlton at Mulletfest 2018. Picture: Simone De Peak

Dave Charlton at Mulletfest 2018. Picture: Simone De Peak

For the initiated, the Mullet is a combination of science and art. There are two rules: Business in front. Party in the back. With a clear line separating the two.

"'The Fabio' is long all over," Mrs Johnson says. "For a Mullet, you have to have genuine distinction between the business and the party. We all know work can be fun, and that can blur the business line a bit. And we all know that there can be a massive party in the back. That's all fine. But you have to have some kind of distinction."

But once those regulations are met, in Mrs Johnson's words, there's "a lot of scope for creativity".

There is, for example, the Skullet where the business section is shaved to the scalp and the party section flows from the back of the head as lush as a Barrington waterfall.

Then there's the Moulet, sported by two-time Mulletfest winner Cougar Knight, which he describes as "the fancy version of a mullet. It's just got a bit more class".

"There's one guy called Gus who comes from Gunnedah," Mrs Johnson says. "He was one of the originals. In 2018, he had a natural mullet. He came the second year and it was longer.

"He came back the third time with this awesome mohawk. It had to have been four or five inches, stuck straight up off his head like a cockatoo. It was the coolest, most fun haircut.

OUTSTANDING: Bailey Robinson from Wollongong, then 13, holds out his hair during judging at the first Mulletfest in February 2018. The event has since gained international notoriety. Pictures: Max Mason-Hubers

OUTSTANDING: Bailey Robinson from Wollongong, then 13, holds out his hair during judging at the first Mulletfest in February 2018. The event has since gained international notoriety. Pictures: Max Mason-Hubers

"He hasn't won, but he doesn't care. He looks amazing. He's having fun. He's just a genuine, lovely bloke and a great ambassador for mullets."

In 2020, Mulletfest had just crowned Mandurah boy Dean Singh as the best junior mullet in all of Australia - when the coronavirus pandemic descended.

"No one had any clue what was going to hit us," Mrs Johnson says, "When the pubs shut, that was huge for our town. I have locals who come in everyday. They don't even necessarily drink alcohol. We're the meeting place.

"Being shut was horrible. My immediate family couldn't have dinner together because there was too many of us.

"I struggled more with my mental health than I ever have in 2020. I hated it. I hated that people were scared of each other; that people were cranky about masks, and you couldn't see your family. It was horrendous. No good could come of it."

When it came to deciding if and how Mulletfest would return, Mrs Johnson and the crew went back to the beginning.

"We really went back to our original goals; to create tourism in Kurri and to bring like-minded people together," she says.

"I think you've got to have a certain amount of resilience to wear a mullet; to not take yourself too seriously and have a bit of self-esteem and confidence. The amount of people at our event who just build you up; they pat you on the back and say "Man, that's the most awesome haircut. I love that!"

"It's so fun and it's so loving and so celebratory.

"I think people need that more than ever."

"You have to take care of people and if we can take it out on the road and do some good - to raise some money for the Mark Hughes Foundation, but also talk about mental health and all the good things that mullets mean to us - that's brilliant."

MAGNIFICENT: Laurie Manuele of Thorpdale, Victoria, drove 13 hours to Kurri Kurri in 2018 to compete in the inaugural Mulletfest.

MAGNIFICENT: Laurie Manuele of Thorpdale, Victoria, drove 13 hours to Kurri Kurri in 2018 to compete in the inaugural Mulletfest.

In 2021, Mrs Johnson and the Mulletfest organisers plan to scour the nation, and have called on publicans to register to host heats at their pubs around the country, to discover the most magnificent specimen of the iconic style. The tour kicks off February 26 at the Chelmsford Hotel, and publicans around the country have been encouraged to register as hosts for heat events to find the next Grand Mullet.

"In December, I was fortunate enough with our transport company to do a pilot job from Newcastle to Darwin," Mrs Johnson says. "I was talking to publicans and I'm usually wearing a Mulletfest shirt, I'm a girl with a mullet. People notice us. They remember us.

"There was lots of little pubs along the way and we were talking about COVID and about their struggle and it just occurred to me that if people can't come to us, then we really should try to take to them as best as we can."

Competitor registration opens on February 1. Details are available at the Mulletfest website.

This story Will Mandurah have a win in Mulletfest for a second year running? first appeared on Mandurah Mail.