real life

Meet the volunteers who use the most unusual method to keep your child safe at night.

Vodka cruisers… hickies… and TWERKING.

That’s schoolies folks.

I went last year. I would know.

If you’re an Aussie parent, your child will go to schoolies one day. You mightn’t like it. But it’s the reality. 

Birds-eye-view of the Schoolies mayhem. Image supplied.

A wholesomely irresponsible demographic moves out of home for an entire week, with the sole purpose of getting #drunk. Mind-boggling alcohol consumption is not only accepted - but encouraged - for seven days... what could POSSIBLY go wrong?

(Everything. The answer is everything.)

Parents out there - both future and present - this nervous week might be right around the corner. Or it might be decades down the track.

But either way? It’s coming. And when it does you won't even be there there to monitor it.

Enter Red Frogs.

Big love to our #NSW and #VIC teams this week looking after our #weektwo #schoolies2016 #redfrogsau #regram @andygourley

A photo posted by Red Frogs Australia (@redfrogsau) on

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Red Frogs are the group of volunteers whose job it is not only to PREVENT your child from making bad decisions…BUT TO HOLD THEIR HAND IF AND WHEN THEY DO. Without passing judgment.

What do they actually do? Well...

"The Red Frog Crew assist... by walking them home, cooking pancakes, cleaning their rooms, handing out Allens Red Frogs, and - most importantly - offering emotional support through what can often be a challenging week."

These guys tow an INCREDIBLY fine line: one between guardian and friend. They aid without judging. They talk without condescending. And they offer a voice of clarity during a time of utter chaos. 

All through the magical powers of confectionary... the 'red frog' lolly from which they gain their name: a tool they hand out to disarm drunk teens.

So. You can only imagine how honoured I was to actually become one for the night. And during schoolies - their busiest time of the year.

Listen to Andrew Daddo speak with Holly Wainwright about parenting on This Glorious Mess. Post continues after audio...

The trip up to the Gold Coast begins on a sour note… the hairy gentleman next to me opting for barefoot during the hour-long flight up from Sydney. #humansaretheworst.

But from there, the evening takes a turn for the heart-warming.

My night as a Red Frog...

I'm introduced to Andy Gourley, the founder of Red Frogs whom I'll be shadowing for the night. Is he the head of a church-based volunteer organisation? Yes. But he's also just about the blokiest Aussie bloke you'll meet in your life.

Andy and I before hitting the streets. Image supplied.
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Obviously, I get the most important question out of the way first.

"What do the Schoolies call you?"

Boss Frog. The answer is Boss Frog. How perfect is that?

Over dinner (pizza and NO booze - they aren't allowed to drink on the job), Boss Frog walks me through the story of how Red Frogs came to be...

Andy volunteered for his local church in Brisbane throughout university. And loved skateboarding. Yes. A skateboarding Christian. With a thick aussie twang. Who does volunteer work. My new hero.

Don't forget to give Andy Gourley a BIG high-five for 19 birthdays at Schoolies! #BOSSFROG #whatalegend

A photo posted by Red Frogs Australia (@redfrogsau) on

By the time Boss Frog was 27, he'd been working with a young group of skaters for five years. He'd seen them transform from hoodlums into responsible members of society. But he feared, "five days [at schoolies] with drugs and violence could undo all that".

"The boys gave us a ring from the Gold Coast and said... 'Come down for a visit'." So that's what Andy did.

"I was walking around... watching stuff comin' off buildings... a bottle hit my car... a full tin of VB smashed a metre away from me."

When he tried to visit the boys in their high-rise apartment, he was stopped by a security guard: "He wouldn't let me in without a building pass and ID." Building managers employ this tactic during schoolies in a (measly) effort to prevent huge parties.

Andy (left), showing me (right) the Red Frog ropes. Image supplied.
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"I've been working with these young guys for years," Andy told the building manager. "I know what they're doing to your building. Do you want a hand?" She had four-hundred drunk, drugged-up 17 year olds in her building. And two security guards to wrangle them. "She was getting owned."

"I volunteer at my local church. I can bring some of my church mates down to help," he told her. She asked him to get them to the Gold Coast as soon as possible. And she let him up into the building.

"We'd just go floor-to-floor finding dudes passed out in stairwells and take 'em back to their units."

But he says by far the hardest part - harder than earning the trust of the security guards - was earning the trust of the kids.

 "They were a bit sketchy on us at first. They didn't know whether we were going to dob 'em in, or what. It took a little while to get their trust."

Walking around with Andy after dinner? I found out very quickly that trust was no longer an issue.

Red Frogs are revered within the Schoolies crowd. Like... hero status.

The rapport between the Red Frogs and the schoolies is undeniable. Walking along the main Gold Coast strip in a Red Frogs shirt is what it must feel like to be a celebrity. We were swarmed. Bees to honey type stuff.

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The kids wanted hugs. They wanted photos. They wanted to chat. And they REALLY wanted red frogs.

These are the bad boys in question. Image via Red Frogs.

En route to the main operations centre - while handing out bucketloads of frogs - I asked Andy how he went about building the bond with the kids I was seeing first-hand.

It began when the schoolies refused to let Andy into their rooms to help them. They feared he would call the police... and get them in trouble for any drinking, or drug use.

"We knocked on a door where the music was pumping and the kids thought we were security. We asked 'Do you want a red frog'? They invited us in right then and there. All the kids came in off all the balconies and flocked to the room we were in. Just to get red frogs."

Andy put the call out straight away to his volunteers - only 17 of them at the time - "Go buy the Goldie [Gold Coast] out of red frogs." They came back with 80kg. That was their first year.

Next year they came back with 220kg of frogs. And 45 volunteers.

Then it was 440kg. And 90 volunteers.

And now? 17 years later?

7.1 tonnes of red fro-...

Wait what?

7.1 TONNES. And that's over three weeks at schoolies. Annually? At events ranging from cricket matches, to music festivals, to university open days... these guys hand out 20 tonnes of red frogs. TWENTY.

And Allens - the geniuses behind the lolly - donate every single one.

Red Frogs call centre. Image supplied.
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The Red Frogs call centre on the Gold Coast - setup specifically for Schoolies week each year - is comprised of 12 volunteers answering calls. From here, Red Frogs are dispatched based on a scenario-by-scenario basis, depending on severity.

While in the call centre, I'm shown the process: a kid called Ben makes a call to the Red Frogs call centre...a number plastered throughout the Gold Coast on everything from wrist bands to singlets to posters and everything in between. The aim? For schoolies to have access to that number whether at home, on the beach, or scoffing kebabs.

Red Frogs call centre. Image supplied.

"Can you come clean some vom..." Vomit. He means vomit.

"... and please bring some red frogs with ya."

Ben's request is tagged as 'low priority'. 'High priority' tags are reserved for life threatening cases: extreme intoxication, mental health issues, and the like.

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Ben is told: "A team of volunteers will be there, to clean up the spew, within about twenty minutes." They'll take a bottle of 'shake 'n' bake' pancake mix to cook up for him too.

These guys aren't about purely cleaning up the aftermath, either. The Red Frogs organise nightly concerts on the beach... for FREE. Big stage. Funky DJs. The lot.

Up on the Red Frogs stage with the 'pump-up' crew. Image supplied.

Thousands of schoolies flock to the beach each and every night for the Red Frogs concert. It's an alcohol-free venue. And, as well as an entire team of DJs, the Red Frogs hire two 'pump-up' people... volunteers whose job it is to entice the crowd, jump about, and generally get excited. Really excited...

Behind the DJ on the Red Frogs stage. Image supplied.

The idea behind the concerts? "Tire 'em out dancing so they go back to their hotel rooms, fall asleep, and stay outta trouble."

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To be honest I'm struggling to even scratch the surface when it comes to services they provide.

There's the 'triage tent': an undercover area near the beach equipped with medical equipment, doctors, emergency services volunteers, and psychologists. These guys assess everything from drug overdoses to broken bones on a nightly basis, aiming to relieve pressure on nearby hospitals.

Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo discuss what really happens at teen parties on This Glorious Mess. Post continues...

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And the 'walk-home' service: Red Frog volunteers accompany any child, of any age, back to their apartment in the evening. It keeps the kids safe, gives them someone to talk to, and makes sure they make it back to their beds. Regardless of how intoxicated they may be. The night I'm there I speak with David - a volunteer who clocked a cool 31 km worth of walk-homes the night before.

These men and women - these Red Frog volunteers - don't receive a cent. In fact many pay for their own accommodation and flights... they pay walk kids home. They pay to clean up vomit. They pay to save lives.

The red frog is out on the Gold Coast tonight, CATCH HIM IF YOU CAN! #findthefrog

A photo posted by Red Frogs Australia (@redfrogsau) on

And they don't just do it during schoolies. They're at events and gatherings across Australia - everything from cricket games University open days - 365 days a year.

Yes they're strangers. But they're strangers going out of their way to help your child... your niece... your friend. Going out of their way to make sure the young people in your life make it home safely... that they live to tell the tales of the night before.

You can contact Red Frogs via email on [email protected], or via phone on 1300 557 123. You can access their website here.

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