The words of The Bush Barber by country music star John Williamson reflect a snapshot in time when every town boasted a barber shop where the problems of the world were solved, Saturday’s racing form guide was discussed and the prospects of the local footy team were argued.

Growing up at Quambatook in Victoria’s Mallee district, John Williamson had a first-hand insight into country life inside this men’s haven and the lyrics recall the “days of the old razor strop”.

Today barber shops are few and far between but Gunnedah once boasted a line-up of old-time barbers who became more than just a hairdresser to their customers.

Peter and Fred Le Cussan worked side-by-side in the Conadilly Street barber shop established by their father Bert but it was a chance visit to Gunnedah to visit his mother that saw the Le Cussan name become synonymous with the old-time barbers.

Bert’s widowed mother had married Thomas Barr-Roberts who established the first Gunnedah newspaper for Mr TP Higgins in 1876 and launched his own newspaper The Gunnedah Advertiser in 1881.

During one of his visits, Bert Le Cussan met and married Leah Cushan while his brother William married Beatrice Cushan.

Bert wasn’t even out of his time when he set up his own barber shop in Conadilly Street and the barber’s chairs moved to two other locations before 1931 when he bought his own premises at 161 Conadilly Street next to the then Club House Hotel (now Gunida Gunyah Aboriginal Corporation).

Bert Le Cussan paid 1600 pounds for the site and had the building demolished before rebuilding the shop with living quarters upstairs for 2000 pounds.

The site previously belonged to Frank Porter who ran an auctioneering business.

Born in 1913, Peter was the third of five children with his brother Fred the youngest. He started work at the age of 13 sweeping the floors in his father’s shop, at a time when haircuts cost ninepence and a shave sixpence.

Peter Le Cussan.

During the war years, the Le Cussan barber shop catered for the soldiers stationed in the area on military exercises and the billiards room out the back was a great source of entertainment. The soldiers would often stay too late and Peter would drive them back to camp.

When Peter started work as a hairdresser, he would often slip out the back door of the shop into the billiards saloon and practise until he was called back to cut hair.

In the days before licensed clubs, billiards rooms were popular forms of entertainment and Bert Le Cussan installed three tables in his room behind the barber shop. Peter began practising at the age of 10 and by 18 was an expert with the cue taking on challengers all over the northwest as his reputation grew.

He was known widely as the master of the cue, his reputation gaining more stature when he played Horace Lindrum in an exhibition match in the School of Arts. Lindrum won the billiards match but was beaten by his young opponent 72-21 and 62-19 in the snooker.

After he had competed in the NSW Amateur Billiards 1938 championships, where he finished runner-up, The Referee sports paper commented: “Le Cussan, beyond all doubt, is the most gifted cueist to have appeared in the championships in recent times. He is a stylist and his execution is far removed from the ordinary”.

But billiards and snooker, like most sports, had to take a back seat when war broke out in 1939. Peter Le Cussan could see no future in professional billiards as there was little opportunity of making big money at professional billiards, with no television to provide big stakemoney, so he confined his interest to playing locally.

He was also a topline rugby league player with the Old Boys local team and, for four years in the mighty Bellringers of the 1930s. He turned his hand to cricket and golf, with success, in 1948 winning the golf club championship, playing off a handicap of five.

Dancing was another of his talents and it was at a dance that he met Marjory Ryan, of Werris Creek. They were married in Werris Creek on December 26, 1942, raising two daughters Carol and Sue. The union lasted 55 years.

After 53 years in the trade, Peter hung up his clippers for the last time in 1979, ending a colourful career of a barber who was also a great sportsman. Two of the billiards tables went to Sydney buyers and the third was relocated to the RSL Club Snakepit

Peter Le Cussan died in July 1997, aged 84.

Jim Ryan was one of the old style of men’s barbers, spending 52 years in the trade.

Jimmy Ryan.

He was born at Gunnedah in 1926, and grew up with his two brothers and three sisters on Gunnible, where his father, a World War I veteran, worked as a farmhand. In 1939, with war looming, he worked with his father trapping rabbits for meat and fur. A chance comment by women’s hairdresser Charlie McCann late in 1941, that Les Rock was looking for an apprentice, started Jim on his way to five decades of snipping and clipping.

Les Rock’s shop was a long narrow building just 15’ wide and 47’ long located in Conadilly Street and later occupied by Chalkley’s Drycleaners. In an interview in 1995, Jim recalled that the 1940s and 1950s were glory days for the trade when the barbers would be flat out for the first few hours of the day with all four chairs occupied. At the time there were six barber shops in town with three or four chairs each. A man’s haircut cost one shilling and sixpence, a child’s haircut sixpence, a shave ninepence and a haircut and shave two shillings.

According to Jim, business really picked up when the army came to town in 1942 and camped in their thousands around the area with the soldiers turning up every few weeks for their regulation “short-back-and-sides”.

In 1947 there was a state-wide strike by coal miners resulting in a loss of power for six weeks and Jim recalled stringing up a light on a chord which they operated from a battery so they could see to shave their customers.

He said they had to resort to hand clippers until Prime Minister Ben Chifley put the army into the mines to get the coal out for electricity production. Jim remembered a few famous people who stopped into Les Rock’s barber shop for a haircut, including the Emmanuel family who went on to become a singing sensation with Phil and Tommy Emmanuel rising to international stardom. The then Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur McFadden, also dropped in for a haircut when he was in Gunnedah doing business with Frank O’Keefe.

Back, Bruce Whiteman and front, Jim Ryan.

Jim Ryan worked for Les Rock for almost 25 years and then teamed up with Arthur Millerd accepting an offer from Ray Warne, then manager of the Co-Op, to open a shop in the store. After Arthur Millerd’s death Jim worked on his own for 20 years enjoying the people contact and making many friendships until 1993, when he started a shop in Bloomfield Street. He hung up his clippers in 1994, after 52 years in the trade.

Jim Ryan was an avid sports fan, taking an interest in cricket, football, fishing, golf and bowls. He loved rugby league and served on the club committee for many years, never missing a game. He also served on the golf club and RSL bowling club committees. He died on July 7, 1999, aged 72.

The advent of popular bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones in the 1960s had a detrimental effect on the barber shop, with young men adopting the longer hairstyles of the day.

“Long hairs and skinheads have ruined this game,

“Remember the days when we all looked the same?

“That mug Ringo and his mates are to blame,

“And I guess I’m wasting my breath on you sonny,” the old bush barber lamented.

But as the old saying goes “what goes around comes around” and the striped lollipop poles, always popular in front of a barber shop, are starting to appear once again.

Peter Le Cussan and Jimmy Ryan.

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