Aimed at fostering “acceptance and diversity in the community” while acknowledging “the beauty of being a redhead”, according to the event’s promotional material, the march drew hundreds of people, many of whom waved placards and sported orange T-shirts emblazoned with such slogans as “Drop Red Gorgeous” and “Day of the Walking Red”.
“We’re thrilled with the turnout,” said Aaron Webb, co-founder and director of the Redheads and Nearly Ginger Association (R.A.N.G.A). “We were expecting three or four hundred, but it looks like we’ve had over a thousand people here today.”
Led by redhead radio personality Michael Beveridge, the crowd marched from Boathouse Drive across Princes Bridge to a celebration at Federation Square, where they enjoyed free ginger beer and snacks supplied by co-sponsor Buderim Ginger, “ginger beer pong” and a live performance by local Melbourne band The Vanns.
“This is a really fun event, but there is a semi-serious side,” Mr Beveridge told the crowd. “This is the day where we stand up and we go, hey, it’s not right to give a little girl or a little boy grief about the way they were born.
“It’s just a moment for all of us, especially the young people, to say that we’re happy with who we are, we’re proud of who we are, and we’re going to join together and have a lot of fun, and just enjoy the rest of the day!”
The event was also backed by the Bully Zero Foundation along with R.A.N.G.A., which was established in 2009 by Mr Webb and Joel Cohen, who wanted to use their platform as redheaded roommates to raise money for related charitable causes. The proceeds from their first event were to go towards Borneo Orangutan Survival, but “recently we’ve shifted more towards anti-bullying, just from feedback we’ve received from members,” Mr Webb told The Citizen.
Participants were encouraged to donate a gold coin towards the Bully Zero Foundation, which was launched by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2013 and is the “fastest growing foundation in Australia”, according to Bully Zero chief executive Oscar Yildiz.
“Bullying costs the Australian economy about $36 billion a year,” Mr Yildiz said in an interview. “Most people associate bullying with schools, but workplaces are also not immune from it.”
Bullying affects one-in-five Australians, with verbal bullying the most common form.
“Teasing someone because of their colour or hair or anything else; we believe it’s unacceptable,” Mr Yildiz added. “We encourage redheads to say ‘enough is enough’.”
Some participants had travelled from Queensland, NSW and Western Australia for the rally.
Lauren Whitefield, who flew in from Sydney the previous night, recalled being “mega-teased” for her red hair at school. “If it wasn’t for being a redhead, it was for being pale, or having freckles.”
Many participants had heard of the event through social media, including Nikki Carlson. “I think it’s pretty cool that gingers of any hair colour have this bizarre camaraderie,” said Ms Carlson, who maintains a blog about “being a ginger and travelling”.
Edward Terry, meanwhile, hoped to connect with the community and make some new friends.
“I’m surprised that in a country that was founded by people from Scotland and Ireland, we’ve waited for over 200 years to make it happen, but here we are today,” he said.
The idea for the rally came from last year’s ‘Hottest Australian Ginger’ competition sponsored by Bully Zero and Buderim Ginger. Of the 2516 applicants, 85 per cent said they were tired of being made fun of due to their colouring.
“Everybody’s been fantastic,” Mr Webb said of the rally. “Walking across that bridge was one of the few times in my life where I’ve turned around and thought, redheads are the majority in this little place!
“From the response we’ve had today, we’ll definitely be back next year.”