Capturing Australia’s Undying Love for the Mullet

Photos by Isabella Melody

Are mullets are having a moment, or, did they never really leave?

It’s an iconic hairdo that splits a crowd like no other. We’ve seen them proudly sported on the heads of some of our most beloved national treasures: John Farnham, Shane Warne, Scott and Charlene. It’s resurfaced in popular culture more times than Farnham’s announced a The Last Time tour, or a Warney sex scandal has splashed across our front pages. But one place devoted to keeping both the spirit and the tradition of the infamous hairstyle alive, regardless of time passing or inner-city irony, is the mining town of Kurri Kurri, west of Newcastle in NSW. The inaugural 2018 Mulletfest brought Australians of all ages and manes to town, including Sydney-based photojournalist Isabella Melody.

Isabella has shot for publications such as the New York Times, the Guardian, Frankie and VICE, in far-flung places such as Lima, Moscow, the Tiwi Islands, and… Kurri Kurri. Drawn to documenting subcultures and communities who relish in celebrating their uniqueness, Isabella headed west to Mulletfest and ended up with a collection of photos so good (with one even bagging her a finalist slot in the prestigious Moran Prize) she realised they needed to become the basis for her first ever published photo book. Set for release in November with Hachette Publishing, Isabella’s 116-page photo book full of 35mm photos will be on display at her Sydney launch party, which you can score an invite to by shelling out a couple dollars for a pre-sale copy of her book right here.

I caught up with Isabella to split hairs on the important issues, below.

How did you first find out about Mulletfest?

I was sent on assignment by the photo editor of the Guardian, as they knew it would be an event I’d love to cover.

I think my favourite shot of yours is the kid in the silky blue tracksuit top. What was his story?

The boy in the blue silky top’s name is Josiah and he was 14 at the time the photograph was taken. He was an entrant into the Junior Mullet Category and a runner-up. Hopefully, he’ll win next year.

Do you have a favourite quote from a Mulletfest attendee?

Yes, indeed, I love this one by Mick Seiders: “It’s cheaper. I pay half price for a haircut. Times are tough.”

You’ve shot people from all different walks of life, all across the world. What stands out to you about photographing Australians?

I find that we have a paramountly diverse range of Australians with a mix of diverse cultural backgrounds and identities, so it would be difficult to make a generalised statement. What stands out for me though in cases where I photograph people and enter a lot of homes, is openness. I think Australians want to share their story in the hope that they will be understood by the rest.

Your favourite iconic mullet throughout the years belongs to?

To be honest, I don’t have a favourite mullet!

Aside from cherished Australian haircuts of yesteryear, what’s a story or photo series that you’ve got in your sights?

I’m currently working on two feature stories, one is about middle-aged women and the social and cultural invisibility they face, and the other is about a Christian biker from Newcastle.

What does photography need more of in the year 2018?

Truth-telling, saying it like it is. No smoke-screens.

Pre-order Isabella’s book over on her Kickstarter here, or see more on her website or Instagram @isabellamelody

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