When popular Year 12 boarder Nick Munsie passed away in June, the College was plunged into despair. It was particularly hard on his school mates, some who’d known Nick since they were in primary school together in Armidale.

They had lost a much-loved friend, an affable young man who loved rugby and socialising, but they were determined to do something to secure his legacy and reduce the prevalence of male youth suicide.

Bourke-based Harry Bowden boarded with Nick, or “Munz”, as his mates knew him.

After discussing the idea with school friends, Harry organised Mullets for Munz, an initiative to raise funds for suicide awareness. Throughout September, as part of the Black Dog Institute’s Mullets for Mental Health month, Harry and many Year 12 students are sporting a mullets, the showy “business at the front, party at the back” hairstyle popularised in the 1980s.

Their goal is $300,000, and already an astonishing $281,000 has been pledged – more than any other team effort in the whole of Australia. 

Honouring a mate: Year 12 student Josh Barlow sports a freshly cut mullet to help raise funds for suicide research.

Harry says it was a terrible shock when Nick died, but the way the school pulled together afterwards inspired him to speak up on mental health issues.

“The College handled it excellently – there was so much support; it was good that we were all still at school and able to comfort each other and talk about things more deeply.”

Joe Anderson, a Year 12 boarder from Bellevue Hill, had known Nick since Year 6. He believes his friend’s tragic death has helped open up the conversation about anxiety and depression.

“It’s brought us closer together,” he says. “It’s just so sad that losing Nick had to do that and make people more aware of speaking about things that are affecting them.”

Getting behind the cause: Organiser Harry Bowden (Y12) wears a Mullets For Munz singlet.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics show suicide is the leading course of death for males aged 15 to 24, and it appears that it is more prevalent in country areas.

Putting on a brave face to mask inner turmoil is something many men do to keep up appearances. But the stigma attached to talking about troubling personal issues can have tragic consequences.

“There is 100 per cent a problem with men, and country men in particular, manning up and not speaking about things because it’s considered too soft,” Harry says.

Phrases like “have a cup of concrete” and “harden up cupcake” don’t help, says Joey Cant, who started at Joeys in Year 10 alongside Nick.

Standing together: Year 12 students have supported each other in the wake of their friend’s death.

“No-one is too tough to talk – we’re all family here at Joeys and everyone’s here for each other.”

year 12 student Joey Cant

“Saying stuff like that and judging instead of listening to what someone is saying about not being able to cope – that is something we have to get rid of,” the Dubbo boarder says.

“Everyone knows someone who has struggled.”

College Head Psychologist Clare McMahon gave and organised counselling in the aftermath of Nick’s death. It was important that all boys and teachers were supported in their grieving process. She is a huge supporter of what the boys are doing in Nick’s name and how it is helping them come to terms with his passing.

“It’s a great initiative and they’re having a real influence,” she says. “I think coming together like this when they would normally still be together grieving for Nick and can’t do so in lockdown, has been really important for them. It’s amazing.”

In between studying for their trial HSC exams, Harry, Joe and Joey have been busy organising Mullets For Munz “budgie smugglers”, singlets and a Wallabies jersey to auction (rafflelink.com.au/mulletsformunz). Their overriding hope is that funds raised contribute to a widening of the debate about male mental health and help young men feel more comfortable in coming forward.

“No-one is too tough to talk,” says Joey Cant. “There is great community at Joeys. We’re all family and everyone’s there for each other and everyone knows that.”

Hair raisers: Year 12 boys Jy Bailey, Liam Keady, Flynn Thompsett and James Woods show off their mullets.

To contribute to Mullets for Munz and help raise funds for suicide research and prevention, click here: