Michael Daly retires after 61 years cutting the hair of the men of Ballarat

BARBER Michael Daly is calling cut on an exceptional career.

For 61 years the snip of the scissors and the buzz of the razor have been the soundtrack to his life as he has performed literally tens of thousands of haircuts and shaves for the men of Ballarat.

Although often the conversation drowns out the mechanical noise.

A barber’s chair seems to hold some magic in removing the inhibitions of those who sit in it, and they have told Mick some incredible stories over the decades.

“They do open up to me and they surprise me what they will tell me,” he said.

“I’ve solved marriage problems, given advice when to stay and when to leave, helped people with jobs and given advice on life."

Having cut the hair of everyone from politicians to plumbers, athletes to architects and everyone in between, they’ve all let him in to their lives and entrusted him with many of the city’s secrets.

He prides himself that the shop is an egalitarian space where men can talk about anything – but if his beloved Richmond Football Club has lost on the weekend then footy is off the cards.

“When we talk football, if Richmond has had a flogging then it’s just sex, religion and politics in any order but not football,” he said.

RETIRING: Soldiers Hill barber Michael Daly is hanging up his scissors next week after cutting the locks of local men for the past 61 years. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

RETIRING: Soldiers Hill barber Michael Daly is hanging up his scissors next week after cutting the locks of local men for the past 61 years. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

“The only place left in Australia for free speech is in here,” he said.

There has never been an appointment made and everyone, no matter their job or status in society, waits their turn in line.

It has been that way since he took over the shop as a teenager.

Mick’s remarkable career began when the secretary of his football club offered him an apprenticeship when he was 14.

“It took me about three seconds to say yes,” he said.

That split second decision from a teenage footballer turned out to be one of the best decisions of his life.

He took over the Macarthur St premises when he finished his apprenticeship and little has changed since then in the single-chair barbers shop.

He has seen hairstyles come and go more than once, and his tools of the trade remain the same – the trusty scissors and razors still reign where technology has overtaken other industries.

“I’ve always been lucky that business has been good. If you like meeting people it’s a great job, if you didn’t like people you wouldn’t be here.

“All the different styles come along, they come and go and come and go again but it’s back to short back and sides now.”

A CUT ABOVE: Mick Daly outside his Soldiers Hill barber shop. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

A CUT ABOVE: Mick Daly outside his Soldiers Hill barber shop. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

What he isn’t a fan of, though, is the current trend for big, bushy beards.

“Beards are back in to fashion and I’ve seen some bloody big beards. I can’t go a day without a shave and I couldn’t stand that hanging down my face. When they walk in I have a go at them,” he laughed.

”Moustaches were big a few years ago, and there were a lot of them around when I first started but that was mostly WWII air force blokes.”

Most of his customers are regulars and Mick knows exactly what cut they want.

Leo Conn, 85, has been visiting every three months for the past 55 years for his regular trim. Some families have been coming to the small barber shop for three generations.

Mick’s impending retirement has left some customers at a loss.

“Think of your customers instead of yourself,” one long-term customer joked after Mick told him he was giving himself the chop.

It's a very good job being a barber. I never had any trouble getting out of bed. I never ever woke up and didn't want to go to work ... and not many people out there can say that.

Michael Daly

When asked the best part of his job, he answered with his trademark deadpan sense of humour.

“The best part of the job is watching the people walk out the door,” he joked. “I don’t like the company!

“But seriously, I never had any trouble getting out of bed. I never ever woke up and didn’t want to go to work … and not many people out there can say that.”

The widespread take-up of deodorant in the late 1950s and early 1960s made life a little more pleasant.

“The introduction of deodorant in the early 1960s was a pretty big change in the trade, apart from the different hair styles. The hygiene of people was pretty ordinary and in the early 1960s they got very good with the underarm stuff and that definitely improved the job,” he laughed.

When Mick puts down his scissors next Friday, it will be the end of an era for the community and the start of a new life for him and wife Julie.

Travel, golf and family time beckon and Mick is pleased his job has helped him stay fit for an active retirement.

“I’ve got great legs, no hip or leg problems because I’ve always been moving,” he said.

He and Julie have never had more than a two week holiday so there’s a trip on the Ghan to Darwin and a week in Cairns planned next month, along with trips to visit grandchildren in Canberra and Merimbula and more time for their large extended family in Ballarat.