Reflecting on Bertie McMahon, Boorowa’s best barber

The cold blue sky looks down on the small town nestled in a bend of the river, soft strands of mist linger over silent still waters, all is peaceful, a solitary figure can be seen making his way to a shop in the centre of town.

He stops and looks at the street, the shady side, the cold side, and is envious of the sun’s warmth on the shops opposite.

It’s Bertie McMahon the local barber, the weekend dispenser of good grooming and goodwill to the denizens of Boorowa.

He selects a key and gains entry to a parlour of memorabilia where the sleeping instruments of trade wait to be awaken from a week of slumber.

Clippers, combs, and a collection of paraphernalia from a lifetime of tending his flock.

Early winter’s frosty morning is pushed out the door when Bertie brings the heater into life...it will be 30 minutes or so before he will be ready to cut, trim and guide clippers through a selection of unruly hair and whiskers that will come through the door.

Soon the chair is occupied, and the whirr of electric clippers sets a mood that will continue until the middle of the day when the last customer is worked-over, dusted-off and then guided back onto the street.

In come others, it’s a man’s parlour, men of varying age, at times young boys are treated to the kindly chatter and the ice-blue twinkle in Bertie’s eyes as he wields the instruments that restore wilderness to a measure of control.

The customer is settled under a priest like apron, a cloth of anonymity to disguise a person’s well being, his prosperity, or his humble origins.

The object of Bertie’s attention sits while locks of hair tumble down the apron to join the growing hairy mat at Bertie’s feet, some grey stubble, some thick some thin, some dark some light, and some in between. 

All colours mix in on the barber’s floor, it’s a community effort from those divesting themselves of the unwanted!

As the mat underfoot grows it’s not long before a waiting customer will rise and seize a waiting broom and attend to the discarded glory from a collection of local heads.

One or two such souls have the status of acolytes and wield the broom around Bertie’s feet with skill and verve befitting a fiddle player, such is their accuracy; for you see to fell the man at his work would case such embarrassment to both, and the possible banning of the sweeper for life!

If you want to know the price for wool, wheat, or fat lambs, come along and be prepared for the merry-go-round of advice and inside trading that fills the small room as it goes around from mouth to mouth.

But if the man at the centre of things takes the floor on his favourite subject, the rugby league, the conversation takes on a greater urgency.

Memories are aired, and on field battles are revisited.

Local teams are not neglected in these rounds of discussion that generate strongly held opinions of the worthiness of players, coaches, and teams.

It’s lively good fun to join in or just listen and learn while you wait your turn.

When you step into Bertie’s parlour on a Saturday morning you lose more than a handful of hair, you leave your worries and you preoccupations out there on the street as you turn the key to gain entry.

An atmosphere of co-operation holds you in bondage for the length of your stay, that not only depends on the length of your hair, but on Bertie’s need to pause mid clip or snip to make a point with the wave of comb and clipper!

And as I rise from beneath the apron to receive a dusting down before I draw forth my wallet and step up to the payment counter, an old high white cupboard with an ill-fitting draw, it allows me to open it and place my contribution among the notes already lying there for Bertie’s comfort fund.

You see it’s completely a matter of honour, it’s all up to you!