LEGACY: Lisle Thomas returns to the Gatton barber shop where he started working in 1952 as a 13-year-old, to present an old photo to current owner of Pete's Barber Shop, Natalie Cannan.
LEGACY: Lisle Thomas returns to the Gatton barber shop where he started working in 1952 as a 13-year-old, to present an old photo to current owner of Pete's Barber Shop, Natalie Cannan. Lachlan McIvor

Barber Lisle Thomas still as sharp as ever on Gatton return

AS a 13-year-old, Lisle Thomas was told he was never going to be a Rhodes Scholar.

In Gatton during the 1950s there were only two realistic options for most young men heading into the workforce: working for the council or in the sawmill.

So when Tim Heath offered him a role as an apprentice at his barber shop in town in 1952, Mr Thomas jumped at the chance.

At first he earned just 2pounds and 14 shillings a week and would give his mother a quid, bank another and then keep 14 shillings for himself.

A haircut would set you back two shillings, and a shave would cost one-and-a-six shillings.

The chance to learn the trade under Mr Heath was an invaluable experience - his wit was as sharp as his razors - and would involve more than just how to work a pair of scissors.

"I remember if we were sitting down doing nothing, Tim would walk through here and wipe his hand under the chair,” Mr Thomas said.

"He'd say 'if you've got time to sit you've got time to dust'.

"One day a guy came in and said to me, 'I thought you learnt to cut hair, instead of cleaning'.”

Mr Thomas would remain in Gatton for seven years and it would be the start of a career that would span more than half a century and see him tend to the hair of people in Brisbane and Toowoomba as well.

Last Thursday he returned to the shop where it all started, to present an old photograph of himself to current owner of Pete's Barber Shop Natalie Cannan.

"I knew it straight away... but it's changed a little bit in the design,” he said.

There was already a photo of a teenage Mr Thomas adorning the walls, but he wanted to present them with something more prominent.

Lisle Thomas caught up with old friends like Peter Cannan, who worked in the Gatton barber shop for 56 years.
Lisle Thomas caught up with old friends like Peter Cannan, who worked in the Gatton barber shop for 56 years. Lachlan McIvor

"I just felt it was time to leave a bit of me here,” he said.

"Peter my brother keeps telling me there's a photo of me on the wall there, I said I'll give them a bigger one.

"I just wanted to have something in Gatton, to say 'there's the old bugger there'.”

As he sat on one of the original barber's chairs he used during his tenure, he reminisced on his time in Gatton with Peter Cannan, who started working as an apprentice in September 1960 and called it a day after 56 years.

"I think the most frightening day of my life here was when I cut a fella's hair and he had a fit and nearly died,” he said.

Mr Thomas was sent home in shock but returned later that afternoon to come face-to-face with the same man.

"He came back that afternoon to pick up his hat and said to me 'I gave you a bad time that morning didn't I?',” he said.

"I was in bloody shock.”

In 1959, he made the move to Brisbane where he was kept on his toes working across three different shops.

"My job was to get on the tram every time one shop was busy, if they were short staffed I was the guy who had to go,” he said.

Three years later in 1962, he would open the doors to his own shop in Toowoomba where he would remain for most of his career.

He got the chance to chat to celebrities including singer Kamahl and actor Leonard Teale while they sat in his chair, but cherished the company of customers who had long let him tend to their locks.

Since retiring, Mr Thomas has set up a barber shop/museum in the back- yard of his home, which he has filled with memorabilia.

He still cuts the hair of some long-time customers in the old shed each day.

"It puts the red wine on my table,” he laughed.

One such long-term customer, a Crown prosecutor, once had a subpoena presented to Mr Thomas, ordering him to appear in court.

After a couple of drinks to steady the nerves and braving the rains to reach the courthouse in time, he walked through the building and spotted the prosecutor laughing.

After careful inspection of the document, he realised he'd been duped and the title didn't spell out anything official at all, but a swear word instead.

The subpoena still hangs on the wall of his shed.

He has seen every style and fad come and go but Mr Thomas said there were a couple of things that never changed.

"There are two things you'll never do for a man, comb his hair and put his hat on,” he said.

"You comb someone's hair they'll always have a fiddle... put their hat on for them they'll take it off and hit it on their leg a couple of times.”


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