Whether they’ve helped walk you home, handed out a lolly to you when you needed it most, cooked up pancakes for your crew or been on the receiving end of one of your mid-schoolies phone calls, everyone’s got a story about the Red Frog Crew (or, for some, “that religious group”). In Australia, they’re about as iconic as Gaga‘s meat dress. However, as every famous person will drill into ya (looking at you, Ruby Rose), these things don’t happen overnight.
Around 20 years ago, when y’all were probably more concerned with learning how to read than how to pre-game (hopefully), Andy Gourley, the founder and CEO of what would become Red Frogs Australia, followed some skaters from a youth club out of his local church, down to the Gold Coast for Schoolies and was left S-H-O-O-K by how the leavers were choosing to wrap up their schooling lives.
From things flying off balconies to nudie runs and punch-ons, he decided he didn’t wanna sit back and let this tomfoolery happen.”I saw these hotel managers really struggling with like, 400 17-year-olds in the one building, two security guards and one manager and I just basically went, ‘Look, do you wanna hand at schoolies?‘” Andy explained.
They wanted it, alright, asking for even more people to come down to help out. “From there we started just crashing parties.”
Andy told me it wasn’t easy to get into these hotel rooms, though. Randomly, he went down to the corner store and bought a massive box of red frogs to bring back to a party. The schoolies flocked to it, and Andy soon realised the ‘uge difference the red frog lollies could make to these closed-off situations – an icebreaker, if you will. They bought 80kgs of the things in their first year, 220 kg the following year and upwards and upwards it went.
With the red frogs such a huge part of their identity, Allen’s came on board as a proud partner in 2004. “We love the way that they’re helping a generation,” Allen’s spokesperson, Margaret Stuart, told me. “We’re big supporters of Andy and his work. It is a commitment for us that is a no-brainer, especially when we see the impact that the simple act of sharing our iconic Red Frog lolly can have in helping young Australians make positive life decisions.”
In 2005 they changed their name from Hotel Chaplaincy to The Red Frog Crew, which, to be honest, the schoolies kids had been calling ’em from the get-go.
Now the team cop 24 tonne of large red frogs a year, eight of which is used for schoolies. The rest? Used to facilitate the crew’s presence at unis, festivals, sporting events and more.
“Wherever the schoolies are, we follow… in the right way,” Sunshine Coast’s Red Frogs Coordinator, Dan Terry, joked. Volunteers will scatter the streets of the Goldie with a netball-esque “here if you need” approach. They’re not invasive or annoying, they’re just making themselves available should the schoolies need anything.
“When you put a Red Frogs shirt on it’s like you’ve won X-Factor or The Voice. You can’t walk 5 metres without getting stopped for a hi-five,” Andy explained, and, as someone who joined the crew on their travels for the night, I can 100% confirm such tales. One esplanade punter told me “Red Frogs are the heroes of Schoolies” as she snaked a lolly from my jumbo-sized bag. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was media (was too busy lapping up my new-found fame tbh).
A lot of the time, the schoolies recognise the crew from their visits to the school prior. “The fact that we’re able to speak to 60,000 grade 12s before they get here is such a massive thing about changing culture when it comes to school leavers coming to schoolies. It’s quite phenomenal,” Dan told me, before a pack of kids bombarded him. Then, of course, there’s stories from schoolies (now toolies) that preceded them. I remember my sisters telling me alllllll about them before I hit the Goldy, and heck, this was back in 2008.
On the back of every Red Frogs shirt there’s a 1300 number for schoolies to call – in fact, over the two weeks of schoolies the call centre will answer up to 10,000 calls requesting everything from vomit cleanups to help getting home, medical assistance and pancakes.
Actually, pancake requests make up the majority of these calls ’round the clock. When I asked Andy if he felt like some of these kids were just taking the piss to cop a free feed, he was all about it. As long as there’s food in their stomachs before they drink, the pancake concept is serving its purpose.
But these calls really do come in all shapes and sizes. Dan Terry shared a beautiful recollection, actually, about a guy who called asking for toilet paper, but then told them not to worry anymore as he’d discovered a loaf of bread in his hotel room. Outstanding, yes, but suddenly I’m turned off Nutella sangas.
You see, that kid and his friends are always going to remember that call and have a good laugh about it. You’ve got to remember there’s around 10,000 others in similar positions every year where that came from. Like, of course they’re iconic. How can they not be when everyone’s got a story related to ’em? It’s not all fun and games though. Sometimes it’s as funny as working out how to use the washing machine, other times someone’s been sexually assaulted and they’ve called upon the frogs for help.
Why not straight to the cops? Because most of the Red Frogs Crew are of a similarly young age, the schoolies can trust them and talk them through the situation. They are the middle men and if you take them out of the equation, some situations may accelerate into a much worse state.
Andy says he’s constantly seeing a change, though.
“It’s so much healthier now,” he said. “They’re actually drinking less, and they’re not drinking as much. Drugs is on a different scale – it’s increasing a little bit, unfortunately, but the alcohol factor – which is 90% of all the issues – is actually dropping which is really, really exciting.”
The pancake mentality is also getting into their systems, both physically and mentally.
“They didn’t bring any food down back in the day and the alcohol just goes through them so much quicker. Now they’ve got frozen meals every day. It’s just incredible. All those education messages are really getting through.”
Most importantly, it seems like people are becoming better humans too.
“Back in the day they’d let Jonno sleep it off on the beach, covered in sand and watch the seagulls peck at him. Now they’re picking Jonno up, bringing him to the First Aid Clinic, staying with him for three hours and then walking him home. They’re looking after each other incredibly well. It’s a little bit of a generational shift.”
While it’s no fun that I was part of a shittier generation who laughed at the likes of Jonno, the change is a testament to the work the Red Frogs Crew are doing. Oh and in case your mind went here (mine did), they’re not trying to stop alcohol use altogether.
“We’re not anti-drinking we’re just anti-ending up in hospital, and it’s amazing that this little frog, this little thing, has been iconic in seeing that culture change in our society.”
It really is a ribbiting story.