A Darwin-based barbershop is on a mission to broaden regional employment prospects by training Indigenous people in the art of cutting, colouring and styling hair.
At the helm of the Deadly Hair Dude salon is Gary Strachan, who is currently teaching the trade to ten Indigenous students from all over the Northern Territory.
Strachan started out in hairdressing 40 years ago before making the switch to a career in law.
His experience representing Aboriginal people in the courtroom fuelled him to pick up the scissors again and start the not-for-profit salon.
“While I was a barrister, I noticed a lot of my clients … were not giving their best first impression to judges coming in with messy hair. So, I wired my law experience and hairdressing together to start Deadly Hair Dude,” he said.
After realising the lack of salons across communities in the NT, Strachan created the traineeship program to broaden local job opportunities.
“What I found was we have around 76 communities here in the NT, and not one of them has a hairdresser,” he said.
“I realised that if I go out in the communities, there’s only so much I could do on any one person.
“The moment I retired, that would be the end of it. So, I decided that the only way to fill this huge gap is to actually train people in hairdressing who could then go out and train each other.
“Some communities only have a supermarket. So, kids finishing school don’t have much incentive to go to school … because they don’t have many job choices.”
The Deadly Hair Dude program differs from traditional hairdressing apprenticeships, with a focus on developing practical skills straight away.
Trainees cut hair on mannequin heads the first day and are cutting friends’ and family’s hair soon after.
As a part of the program, each trainee is required to bring someone in for a free haircut every day.
“Instead of sweeping the floor for six months or washing hair, they jump into it day one,” he said.
“We’re averaging at about 25 people a day that are coming in to have a free haircut.”
Having built the salon himself, Strachan worked hard to build a supportive community for his trainees by providing a games room and assigning mentors.
“I built the salon myself and the Indigenous students did all the artwork [on the walls], so they feel like they have some ownership of the program.”
“We have a pool table, amusement machines, foosball. It’s about social interaction as well as learning,” he said.
“I also assign mentors which is good for anyone who is new. Someone more advanced in the program will assist them. This also helps the mentors to learn to train other people.”
The traineeship program runs for one year. Once completed, students are accredited with a Certificate II in Hairdressing.
Strachan has big plans for the salon, with hopes to set up a mobile hair bus in the near future to bring the program to remote communities.
“Should we get funding … we’re going to set up a coaster style bus as a hairdressing salon and then … take the program out to remote communities for those who feel reluctant to come to Darwin,” he said.
Learn more about Deadly Hair Dude salon here.
By Grace Crivellaro