The Barbering Biker… adventure before dementia

 

This lady has been gracing our social media screens, astounding us with her hilarious antics and ballsy attitude for quite a while now… just out there doing it… being outrageously different, living life to the max, putting in her all and having fun! But who is this Aussie with her Indian and sharpened Barbering tools?

I was sitting in Launceston, Tasmania and Chris in the Blue Mountains, NSW… we’d arranged to meet at 8:00 am, so I was up early and got all excited to be interviewing this larger-than-life woman whose gutsy and zany style I’ve admired for years. We’d spoken over the phone prior, in preparation for this interview, so I wasn’t super nervous. I’d spent time putting on a dash of mascara and lippy and scrunching up my ever-flat hair to try and look semi-respectable though, for the video interview.

Chris pops up early, raring to go, looking bright and sparky, even with her hair all messed up, saying she’d had her two granddaughters sleeping in with her that night and I laughed as I’d just spent 10 minutes trying to get my hair to look like that, unsuccessfully. There was the most stunning, rust coloured, Hereford skin on the wall behind her, which totally suits her rustic, western, earthy image.

4 years old, with little sis.

Sydney born on the 6th of March in the infamous year of 1959, Chris reckons, ‘I think I’m about 4th generation bloody convict.’ Her folks were hard working-class labourers, Chris remembering her dad coming home from driving a truck all day, only to go do bar work at night, coming home again at midnight, when her mum left for the sewing factory, getting back home in time to organise the kids for school.

She spent her early childhood in Auburn, NSW until the start of high school, then her folks decided they were going bush, to Emu Plains, where they bought the typical half acre block and built a house. There weren’t any books or music in their house while Chris was growing, up but one day, whilst with her dad at a petrol station, he was given a promotional record… a 45 of the Tom Jones song, It’s Not Unusual.

Six years old, already hating school.

It wasn’t until a long while later Chris was able to access a record player, to play it and she recalls, ‘It was like this light bulb went off in my head… I thought oh my God there’s stuff out there… there’s culture and music so I started looking into music, then getting right into artists like Bob Dylan. I began writing poetry and lyrics and exploring painting and sculpture… trying to unlock the parts of my brain that had never been talked about.’

Chris’s mum always said she was a creative, quirky kid, so there was no surprise when Chris wanted to leave school early. From the age of five she detested school with a passion and never wanted to be there… but the law stated the youngest allowable age to leave school, was 14 and nine months. Chris recalls, ‘I hated it. The only time mum would allow me to leave early was if I had a trade… you know in my day, you were either a hairdresser, nurse or a secretary and I didn’t need a high school certificate to be a hairdresser, so I walked the streets of Penrith until I found an apprenticeship that got me out of school… at 14 years and nine months; that was the start of my hairdressing trade.’

‘The day I left school… was the day I started learning.’

Theatrical makeup for Frankenstein.

Hairdressing took Chris to the top of that trade, travelling the world as a well-respected stylist. Forever learning and improving, she did a Certificate in Barbering and another in Trichology[1], got involved with theatrical makeup workshops and massage, even developing a specialised massage technique for hairdressers. Her journey then steered her to theatre hair and makeup which is where her love of theatre began.

Playing Nina, in Dracula.

Chris accomplished this study and career growth along with marriage, learning to ride a motorcycle and babies. Chris did the hippy trek through Europe, married an Englishman and after dragging him back to Australia he wanted a Harley, so Chris became pillion. Not liking that, she wanted to ride, so got her licence in her early 20s… then started having babies, so didn’t ride for about 10 years.

My first bike, with my baby girls.

It’s no surprise though that the gutsiness of this lady is spread throughout her life… she’s no quitter. While doing bits of theatre and teaching hairdressing, a degree in Theatre Theory and Practise, piqued her interest and Chris said to her husband, ‘You know what, I think I’d like to get a qualification ’cause I really love this whole industry.’

Mature aged Uni student

So she did!

Wedding pic, with two random truck drivers.

With a very supportive husband, she knocked over the bachelor’s degree, full-time within three years, while still raising her two daughters… and was blown away realising she’d gone from an early school-leaver, barely in her teens, with no qualifications, to… ‘Having that many bloody degrees and Certificates under my belt.’

With James Dean

In 1996 there was a new theatre about to open, called EVAN Theatre at Penrith Panthers Rugby League Club. It was a 1,000 seat theatre and itching to use her newly acquired skills and knowledge, Chris sent them a letter, telling them they will need a Professional Theatre Manager. She wrote, ‘I’ll work for nothing until you realise that you can’t live without me. You could do that kinda stuff in those days.’

Pre Calamity Jane, my Fat Bob.

But geez that took some major balls!

‘They said, yeah shit, why not, so I went in there and within two weeks I had the job of Theatre Manager… wow, I opened this 1,000 seat theatre!’

Chris loved it… there was rock’n’roll theatre, concerts and comedy festivals, opening up a whole new platform which she fully embraced. After about 12 weeks, management asked her what she knew about football and she replied, ‘Not a fucking thing, I don’t have a sporting bone in my body; why?’ They had a big home ground day coming up and needed a Game Day Producer, so Chris told them she’s a Producer… she doesn’t need to love football, just produce, so she took on Entertainment Manager, Game Day Producer and Theatre Manager… a huge portfolio which she held for 10 years.

Sadly though, it was behind the demise of her marriage; Chris speaks very highly of her ex-husband as he was very supportive of her throughout and very hands on with the children, with her huge working portfolio and time spent there. It bought them an abundant existence with lots of travel and great education for the kids… but, it was a double edge sword; a great lifestyle destroying the family unit.

Looking back and when people ask her would she have changed anything? Chris’s reply is, ‘No, you can never change anything because I would not be here, where I am now.’ The things that one would do if given another chance, is not necessarily something that would work out any different, or better. So, no regrets.

Around the time of her separation Chris recalls, ‘I had another club dangling a massive carrot, with lots of money, trips and cars, so I went with that, but it was clear the day I walked in I’d made a big mistake… I’d followed my head, not my heart! I only lasted six months and left. I tried to go back to the Panthers, but they’d already cut up my role and employed five people to do my job, so my role as it was, no longer existed.

Chris picked up work with the Rabbitohs, occasionally moonlighting with the Panthers when they needed her expertise, until she returned there full time, almost like it was before. But there came that ding moment… where she took stock and told herself, ‘I’m not gonna let this ruin what I want to do in my life, which was to become a bike riding Writer-Producer… for my own shows, so I need my weekends back.’

Yep, we definitely all need that weekend time alright!

She decided to accept a daytime office job… that 9 to 5 deal to keep weekends free for shows and rides!! Chris spent time researching and studying rock icons, writing their stories from birth to death. She’d engaged a musical director and wrote and produced  a number of shows that toured for about 6 years… where the stories of the rock icons would be told, along with performing their greatest hits… all on stage, with imagery behind, on large screens, keeping in time with the stories. These Rockumentaries were just starting to kick some goals… then hello COVID-19!

Chris lost everything, all the work she’d put in, all the tours cancelled, the musicians out of work… she had to walk away, the expense, the time, the passion… just gone. The entertainment industry was hit hard, so unpredictable and turned into such an unlevelled playing field.

Chris, not one to say die, realised she needed to resurrect herself yet again… which is where the idea of the Barbering Biker came about.

Her day job had been cut down to only a 15 hr, 3 day a week gig, so she needed more work, without losing her weekends. The trusty Universe sent her another part time gig, covering the two spare days, in the form of hairdressing work at an aged care facility… perfect! The way she took to the hairdressing again so naturally and finding it so satisfying and rewarding, while she had a lot of fun with the oldies… ‘I just stepped into winding perms and doing stuff like I’d never left the industry.’

She was back where she started… but in such a different way. Chris thought, ‘God it’s like riding a bike, it just never leaves you. I’m stunned to this day, at how easily I fell back into it… then… another light bulb moment… barbering is so hip at the moment.’ The Barbering Biker concept was born… the idea where Chris gets on her bike, travels and somehow gets paid for it… giving her a damn great excuse to go riding.

Chris was always a gutsy rider, wanting faster and better, so there were constant upgrades over the years with her bikes, all customised in her unique style. Her current ride, is a Chief Vintage Classic Indian, called Calamity Jane… and what a sight she is. She’s a big, fat old broad, and really hard work to throw around; Chris recalls, ‘Like everyone loves Tasmania but Jesus Christ, I just found it really hard work.’ Packed up to travel, she didn’t sit well around those tight Tassie twisties.

Sweet Baby Jane.

Calamity Jane on a good day weighs in around 430 kg, so Chris is considering a Royal Enfield Himalayan, to go off road a bit more and get out into the rural areas, where Calamity Jane isn’t suited. Chris and Calamity Jane ride as one, now she is used to the size and weight; she is Chris’s passport to travel, people, places and music. She has a little scooter for hooting around the city, she calls Sweet Baby Jane and when she gets her Himalayan, that will be called GI Jane. She has also designed and making a teardrop trailer, she calls Wild Bill

Forever reinventing herself… this 62 year old, 168 cm tall, cheeky, funky, feisty and sassy granny, is riding around on her iron horse, visiting local towns, pubs and their characters, giving mini makeovers as the Barbering Biker. Being constantly proactive, not reactive, her unique concept… a pay it forward moment, wielding her magic on a local legend, who’s been dobbed in by his mates.

On the way to the Paterson Tavern, Hunter Valley, NSW for makeover number two with recently single, ready to mingle, Pete O’Neil

On the way she captures points of interest, supports local businesses and shares what she’s discovered about each town’s history all whilst being a sight herself, travelling down the roads on her dressed up Indian. The heart and soul of the Aussie town is found within its people and their stories… often down at the local. The bush telegraph is alive and well, as the recounting of tales over a few ales, with the folk from each community proudly calling their town the Best Place in Australia. The first makeover was done in Morpeth, in the Hunter Valley, NSW to a fellow called Spoons…

There’s usually a splash of controversy adding to the tall tales, where truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction. You just can’t write this stuff! To see Chris in action is truly hilarious… I’m sure she has one of the best jobs ever… riding around on her bike, catching up with folk for good times, laughs and authentic, cheeky banter, with a pay it forward, heart-warming reveal like no other. Some of the makeovers to date, from scruffy looking beard and hair to a wolf-whistle worthy moment… this lady really knows her stuff! It’s a great boost for the communities and the folk there… and of course the recipient of such talented and skilled styling.

Her goal is to have these made into 30 minute, weekly, comical TV series, travelling to the community, meeting the folk along the way and in the townships, the history and stories, the Aussie larrikin or local legend that’s been dobbed in for the mini makeover. Makes for great, belly laugh, light TV which is something really lacking to date… and it’s all about real, true blue peeps, no fancy made up shit. It’s a new style of TV show… showing off how a haircut and shave not only boosts a fella’s confidence, but lifts the spirits of a whole community.

Pet fox.

She knows her own styling is way out there and goes to great lengths making her and Calamity Jane noticeable… it’s all part of it… I love her jacket and asked Chris where she’d got it… turns out her and her daughter were dropping stuff off at Vinnies one day… Chris reckons she’s the Aussie Scab version of American Pickers and found it for $5! Her daughter told her to put it back, ‘You’ll never wear it,’ but Chris says, ‘I swear to God it’s the best thing I’ve ever bought… it looks so great, it’s big enough for me to layer underneath and I’ve added fringing stuff, a big Fox head, which I found at a vintage thing… I got my mom to help me sew it on and I love it.’

Peruvian, shrunken head.

As far as blinging up her bikes… Chris just loves the saddle, even though she has nothing to do with horses, then she sees bits and bobs about at markets and places, if she likes, she buys it. ‘I found this beautiful leather belt with cowhide in it… cost me a friggin’ fortune. It wasn’t for me, it was about the bike, so I wrapped that around one of the engine guards. I found a Peruvian, shrunken head once, it’s not real but it looks the part and it’s on the back of my bike. People often gather around to look at Calamity Jane; one day these big burly blokes saw me come back to get my purse out… one says You wanna talk to your husband about this and I pointed to the shrunken head and I said that’s him there. That got them laughing.’

Both Chris and Calamity Jane are pretty spectacular. Chris loves talking about it and whilst there are a few out there that will never get it, the majority love her and the deliberately whacky sense of style. ‘I think my communication skills and my ability to talk to people at any level, whoever they have given me the confidence to just do it, plus my outlook on life at my age is, whatever… I know I come across very ballsy and brash, but I don’t have a thick skin and being out there in the public eye, I have had a few detractors that have got to me and it hurts.’ She has a philosophy that everything that happens in your life there is an upgrade, a silver lining concept, which you sometimes gotta look for it… so she uses that to get something out of each negative.

Barbering BilkerTV appearance for Mental Health live Mullet Makeover.

Another philosophy when Chris is discussing business ideas, is there’s gotta be a win in it for everyone. When she did the pilot episode for the Barbering Biker, at Morpeth, with Spoons,  it felt great as they talked about mental health for individuals… but no one’s been talking about the mental health of the communities.

When Chris left that town, Spoons was playing the spoons and all the locals were there feeling part of it, because they’d dobbed him in. They were all dancing and jigging and Chris left thinking, ‘Wow it lifted the whole town, not just one person… everyone felt vibes by it and had a good time… it’s about bringing fun, cheeky banter, hearing their stories, recognising them and the win is… I get to explore and go on adventures. In any good business deal everyone’s gotta have a win.’

Her favourite saying is from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem and he says ‘There is a crack a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’ It’s strange though how often our home-grown ideas, need to go overseas, to have them fulfilled or validated. A major win for Chris is for an Australian production company to take up this home-grown, unique series. The Texans are just in love with the Barbering Biker, especially with her over the top, western theme… negotiations with Netflix are in the works. She’s keen on taking it all over Australia first, then after an Australian version, there’s plans for an Irish, Scottish, Texan versions. Time is a factor though; Chris loves spending time with her granddaughters, who fondly call her, May-May… and her parents are elderly, so she wishes to be within an airfare away, at the least.

‘I’m very conscious of having ten good years left to pick up the bike and go places… time is of the essence at my age, to do these adventures I wanna do and also be there for parents and grandchildren, that rely on me.’ Chris aims to be a great role model for her two granddaughters. No sitting on the couch crocheting for this May-May! For Chris, ‘Motorbike riding is that focus you need as you can’t allow yourself to think about all the other shit in your life… you just got to think about riding. Every now and then ideas come into the head but they have to go out again… I’m not good at meditating, but motorbike riding is like meditation, in a way you gotta keep focused and stop all the other the noise coming into your head that annoy us.’ Riding is her Zen.

So, why the comrades, inmates and survivors? Chris works for a Union and likes the word comrade… inmates, because sometimes she feels we are all caught up and need to escape which is what she does with her videos… hoping to give a little escape to folk who need that… and survivors, because of late, with COVID-19 and the fallout, we are survivors of some worst times.

From escaping school as soon as she could, to a hairdressing apprenticeship, to producing and managing huge productions and staff and everything in between, a full circle back to her trade and with the unique Barbering Biker twist, this adventure before dementia granny is having the time of her life… riding out, styling the unknown, rural legends.

She’s very down to earth, a truest-blue this one… not one to ever consciously let anyone down. Chris calls a spade a spade, she’s a strategic thinker and believes the most underused and undervalued word is care. She says, ‘There’s one thing everyone should have in their value system is the ability to care… if we genuinely care then we do the right thing by people, that’s a big thing to me. Life is about working and walking alongside people in all its forms!’

I asked Chris the usual… do you think you are extraordinary? She said ‘Yes!’ Wow…I love that… a woman not afraid to be confident in herself and yes, she truly is extraordinary. She believes ‘Everyone should write their eulogy, write what you want people to say about you, at your funeral, because what you want them to say, you should be living your life like that now. For me it’s: she was adventurous, she was crazy, she was cheeky, she was fun, she was honest, she was hard working, she was creative, she had values, she pushed the boundaries…’

So, comrades, inmates and survivors, this is a fantastic idea I think we should all adopt, immediately…

 

[1] Trichology, a specialised discipline from Dermatology, is the scientific study of the hair and scalp, that supports naturopathic and western medicine, endocrinology and dermatology.

 

Jay D

 

 

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