I grew up in Rockhampton in central Queensland and, when I was 13, I started working on Saturday mornings as a hairdresser. I started my apprenticeship there when I was 15, and by 18 I was managing a salon.
I had always wanted to be a hairdresser because many of my family had chosen the same career. So it was like: if you weren’t a hairdresser, what else were you? But I was the only male member of the family to go into hairdressing, although my uncle owned three salons. I have now been working as a hairdresser for nearly 40 years.
It was very intolerant in Rockhampton in those days, and probably to a similar degree still is now. When I discovered my sexuality I was very closeted about it. But it wasn’t difficult working as a male hairdresser -“ I was a good hairdresser.
I managed the salon in Rockhampton for three or four years. I then went travelling to Europe and had some fun and came back and went back to Rockhampton.
It was dreadful -“ it was like someone had sent me back to 1954. I had been living in Paris, where life was very exciting and there was always something happening. Going back to Rockhampton, where the lights literally went out at six o’clock at night, there was absolutely nothing to do.
I decided I was going back to Europe and I was going to make a go of it. When I went back the second time I did an awful lot of travelling. I then spent about nine more months in Paris, working illegally as a hairdresser.
One of my cousins was a dancer at the Moulin Rouge, and most of his friends were dancers in Paris. Through Colin, my cousin, all of these doors opened. I used to think nothing of going to two shows, going out at night until the wee hours of the morning, going back home and going to bed at 6am and waking up at 4pm.
I came back to Australia, and wanted to return to Europe and stay there. But the trip never eventuated, as one of my friends was living in Sydney. When he was due holidays we wanted to go back to Europe together. It was about 1978, and I came down to visit that friend just for a weekend.
I fell in love instantly with Sydney and I have lived here ever since. I found work in a salon in Bondi and I worked there for about seven years and built up a clientele. The next step was going into my own business. I was looking for existing premises to buy within a radius of Bondi that my clients would travel to.
I bought a salon in Rose Bay and I managed to take all the clients with me. I started work there in 1984, and finally closed down last July after working with the same business partner all that time. Since then I have rented a chair at another Rose Bay salon.
Working in the eastern suburbs, I have built up a very good, loyal Jewish clientele. I have clients who go over three generations: grandmother, mother and granddaughter or grandson.
I have one client who is 95 and is the most amazing lady. You can discuss world affairs with her and she’s up to the minute. I have been seeing her for 21 years.
I also have a client who is 34, and I first gave him a haircut when he was about five or six. He used to come in and sit on his grandfather’s lap because he was petrified of having his hair cut. I often joke about that with him now. And I’ve got clients who are six months old.
Because I have been seeing a lot of my clients for so long, I really feel as if they’re a kind of extended family. I have seen people grow up, and I get to meet their girlfriend or their boyfriend, or get invited to their weddings.
I think basically because you’re actually touching the people while you’re doing their hair, they’re quite open to you. So they really will tell you more than they would normally.
And after doing a hairdressing apprenticeship, I’m sure you’re qualified to be a psychologist. You’re dealing with people all the time, and people really do tell you their problems. But giving advice is deadly. It’s very easy to listen to problems, but it’s very deadly to give advice. I have a very good ear and a very tight mouth.
I have some clients who come twice a week, and probably I have some clients whom I am more a friend to than a hairdresser. I’m sure I’m a social outlet for some of my older clients. Coming to see me is probably an exciting thing for them.
I never tell people when I’m out that I’m a hairdresser. People assume if you’re a hairdresser you’re going to look at their hair. But the last thing I want to look at outside of work is hair.
Interview by Ian Gould