Digital Artist and Creative Writer
Matheson’s Barber Shop in Lyttleton Terrace is a genuine family business, with patriarch Gerald Matheson apprenticing firstly son Rob and later Glen into the men’s hairdressing business.
Rob’s daughter Rel got her qualification as a men’s and women’s hairdresser, (the first one who is able to do both men and women,) and is the third Matheson working of the business.
Gerald Matheson started his three year apprenticeship as a men’s hairdresser in 1949, at the age of 14.
When he completed his three years, he went to a shop at White Hills, before coming back into Bendigo and buying his first business on the 23rd November 1953 in Mundy Street, right next to the then blacksmith shop.
‘After, I don’t know how many years there I decided that the old place was falling down around my ears and so I finished up getting a job…in Killians Walk,’ said Gerald, ‘Butcher and West head [the owners of the barber shop] parted company and Mr Butcher wanted to get out…so he offered Len Gaskell and myself a five year lease on the business…A couple of years later Rob started and then three years Glen started.’
Len Gaskell retired through ill health and so Gerald ran the business until it was burnt down in a massive blaze that burnt down Killians Walk in 1987. He opened the current Matheson’s Barber Shop in the Abbott Arcade, Lyttleton Terrace, the same year.
Gerald career as a barber began rather fortuitously when after not caring for any of the suggestions given at the time by his school’s careers teacher, he suggested ‘hairdresser’ (his sister was a hairdresser at the time). Gerald’s headmaster, Mr George, was listening in at the time and sent him off to his local barber who was ‘looking for a lad’ on the following Monday morning.
I asked Rob why he joined the family business.
‘I wanted to be a mechanic, but I was never a very good student. All that Christmas holiday I looked for work… but I couldn’t find anything. I actually went back to school to repeat form four.’
Gerald suggested to Rob that he could get a trade as a hairdresser…at least it’s a trade, he told him. So Rob undertook an apprenticeship with his dad. Gerald’s other son got half way through form four and decided to get out early and join the family business.
Rel’s story is similar. ‘I started my VCE studies and I was working part time at Hungry Jacks, and I was wagging the last few classes each day with VCE so I could go to Hungry Jacks so I could do more hours and get paid more. I ended up failing first semester of year 11.’
‘She was very interested in makeup,’ added dad, Rob, ‘She wanted to do a beauty course and I said to her she could do a hairdressing apprenticeship, that’s a bit of a step up on a beauty course, and you get paid for doing it.’ 24 year old Rel joined the business eight years ago.
Glen’s partner Jan, is also an integral part of the Golden Square shop. ‘She’s a really big part of his business,’ adds Rel. The shop in Golden Square has picked up a lot of customers who don’t enjoy coming into the main centre of Bendigo anymore.
Best thing about working in a family business?
‘Freedom of hours,’ Rel answered. ‘Not having a boss constantly telling you what to do.’
‘Yeah, well you’ve always got the bloke in the chair,’ added Rob.
‘Yes they sacked him ten years ago,’ Gerald chuckled, referring to his retirement from the shop.
As Gerald, Rob and Rel (Glen had to return to his shop in Golden Square) shared with me various anecdotes, both old and new ones, of the people whose hair they have cut over the years, it is obvious they share a familiar affinity with their clients that extends at times beyond the shop door.
Gerald shares his photographs of his first ever client, Jimmy Muldoon, who was a long standing customer as Gerald first cut Mr Muldoon’s hair as a 14 year old apprentice.
Jimmy’s hair was also the first one that son Rob ever did, and Jimmy’s son Diddy was Rel’s first haircut!