Exactly a year ago, I found myself leaving a hotel room in Australia's capital for a function being held in the downstairs bar. I pulled the door closed, adjusted my jacket briefly and turned to face a hallway that featured a man walking casually towards me.
We exchanged a short smile and a nod as we passed each other - both dressed in lounge suits, unaccompanied, under the age of 40 and in Canberra's QT hotel on a Tuesday - it was safe to assume we were both probably there for the same reason. Something, however, caught my eye in particular. That was this man's incredible beard. I kept my own counsel in that brief moment until a short time later when the cocktail function took a hush turn and a man - that same man, who I quickly found out to be called Jimmy Niggles - took to the staircase to address the small crowd.
I honestly had no idea what to expect from the words that followed. Jimmy Niggles isn't sporting just any beard, it's the most impressive piece of facial hair I've ever seen. You'd expect that, from someone who had, at the time, been growing it for over seven years. As he spoke, I quickly realised, however, that this almost-comical talking point had a much deeper meaning. Australia has the highest rate of melanoma in the world. It's known, quite simply, as the 'national cancer' - not exactly an admirable title, but an unfortunately appropriate one at that. Claiming the lives of nearly 3000 people a year, it was this disease that once took the life of an ordinary Aussie bloke called Wes Bonny. At the age of 26, now eight years ago, Wes' life was abruptly cut short.
Unaware of the developing tragedy until it was too late, Wes passed away from an undetected melanoma that could have been treated if found earlier. Jimmy went on to describe the frustration that he and his mates shared towards the seemingly avoidable passing of their good friend Wes. During the winter that followed, Jimmy began to grow his beard. Slowly but surely, people started to ask about the fuzzy feature, to which Jimmy responded with a conversation about the dangers of skin cancer. As his beard-fuelled encounters grew more and more common, he would end the conversation by challenging the person to get their skin checked. He calls his beard a "walking, talking billboard," advertising a straightforward yet simple cause. To just get a skin check.
There's a 90% chance you'll survive for at least five more years if a melanoma is detected early enough. Two out of every three Australians will be affected by skin cancer in their lifetime. The hardest part of these statistics to comprehend is that the most at-risk people are Aussie males between 18-45; convincing them to get a skin check is quite a hurdle compared to the rest of the population.
'Beard Season' as it has come to be known, is now a full-blown affair that goes into action each winter, charging the conversation around getting a skin check. Participators encourage other young blokes to grow a beard and use its attention-grabbing capability for good. Get a skin check, then invite another person to do the same; a person who otherwise would have gone about their daily lives, unaware that their time may be imminently cut short.
People from all walks of life and all type of skin are vulnerable to melanomas. Bob Marley, for instance, died from an undetected skin cancer. This, and perhaps the idea that we should always look out for our mates, is what has spurred Beard Season into a successful, not-for-profit Aussie movement backed by the likes of Richard Branson, Graham Norton, Jarryd Roughead and Hamish Blake.
The goal? To get more people in front of dermatologists. The ongoing mission, as well as this, is to sell Jimmy's impressive beard for $1 million. If this happens, he'll shave his face clean and use the money to send his charity global, meanwhile launching a free national skin check program back home.
You've likely seen the great man around the traps - his pop-up skin check centres have been featured at plenty of key events around the country thus far. What is most staggering is that a third of his walk-ins have unearthed a suspicious spot from their visits - a spot they wouldn't have given a second thought to had they not had that impromptu skin check.
So here we are. The call to action. The disposal of razor blades. Firstly, the boys at Boss Hunting along with our mate Jimmy encourage you to get a skin check, that should be obvious. They're quick, often free and could easily save your life.
Once you've been cleared, it's time to grow that luscious facial fuzz and start the chat about melanoma with a friend, family member or colleague. If, like half of our office, you'd struggle to muster hairs on your chin in the double digits, get behind someone who is growing a beard, and then have the chat about skin checks with a mate anyway.
If you need some growing inspiration, check out these captivating portraits Brock Elbank did for Beard Season last year below. It's safe to say, gents, the bar has been set high. Quite possibly the most boss beards you'll ever see.