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Changing of the guard

Saturday, 8th July, 2017

Dave O’Meara receives the keys to Graham Rowe’s castle in Wyman Street. PICTURE: Michael Murphy Dave O’Meara receives the keys to Graham Rowe’s castle in Wyman Street. PICTURE: Michael Murphy

By Michael Murphy

When roofing contractor Dave O’Meara Googled ‘Broken Hill barbers’ before coming to the city for work, he was distraught to read that the city’s only barber had decided to hang up his scissors.

But all was not lost because just over six months later, Dave not only got to meet the city’s last barber, he bought his house, too.

Graham Rowe handed over the keys to his castle yesterday, closing the final chapter of his life in Broken Hill.

Yesterday morning, Graham was busy packing with wife Raelene, preparing his car for an initial trip to Mildura and then on to Canberra and finally Sydney to live and be closer to his family.

But the 75-year-old didn’t leave without parting with his knowledge of the Silver City, and a few of his yarns, with his home’s new owner.

Over the past few weeks before settlement, Dave and Graham have shared a few cups of tea, Dave has helped with the packing, Graham has cut Dave’s hair, given his beard a trim.

“I have sat here a few times and just listened, and you know it’s just so good to hear the stories from someone who has gone through so many different economic times, and continues to be the positive person that he still is,” Dave said of Graham.

Graham started out as a barber with Kevin Vance in 1957, and he said the skills he picked up in the Patton Street shop put him in good stead for the rest of his career.

“I was pretty lucky when I started with Kevin Vance,” Graham said.

“He just come back from Sydney and he was right in the midst of the crew cut and the flat top era.

“So when he come back he was the top bloke doing them.

“I was lucky enough to be there so I learnt to do crew cuts and the flat tops.

“In them days, anybody that wanted a crew cut or a flat top went out Kevin Vance’s.”

When Graham started work, the Silver City had more than 30 barbers, but a four-piece band from Liverpool soon changed that.

“When I started everyone got a haircut every fortnight, religiously.

“When the Beatles started, they went from once a fortnight to two a year - they all wanted to have their hair long.

“I could have walked out onto the street and yelled out ‘free haircuts’ and nobody would have wanted one.”

He said the long hair era was only stating to wane, but it’s not all good news for those who cut hair for a quid.

“Even the comb-overs are gone now, they just get a number one and run straight over it like Gary Ablett,” he said.

Graham’s shop was in Argent Street for 45 years, most of that time he cut hair at the back of the shop while wife Raelene sold lotto tickets at the front.

The Rowes made a few millionaires.

One year, they sold the winning tickets to seven first division prizes and won themselves a full-expenses-paid overseas holiday courtesy of the Lottery Commission.

Graham even had the honour of calling one of his winners one day, when lottery officials could not track down the “bushie”.

“They could not contact him so I had to ring him up and tell him.

“There was this silence on the end of the phone and I said ‘Don’t bloody drop dead on me, you’ve won the bloody lottery.’”

Roofing contractor Dave said it took him a while to put “two and two” together that Graham was the bloke he read about months ago, before he came to Broken Hill.

Dave is the project manager for Capricorn Roofing, has family in Broken Hill, and so decided to buy a house in the Silver City.

“My mum was in the market, they are moving down here as well,” he said.

“They actually looked at the house first ... I just went on their recommendation, walked in and sat down with Graham.”

Capricorn follows major hail damage events around Australia.

Adelaide and Sydney got hit around the same time as Broken Hill, so Dave had a choice of where to go next.

“We are seven or eight months into it ... it’s bigger than everyone thought,” he said of the job.

He said a lot of people who had thought their roof was fine because it was not leaking, have had second thoughts, and he said it was a wise move especially if they had problems down the track.

“The big thing for us ... our company loves it here,” Dave said.

“It’s the best place in Australia that I’ve ever worked, and that’s due to the people and the family nature of the town.”

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