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Outback hairdressers travel thousands of kilometres to provide much-needed service

Hairdresser gives client foils
Lyn Westbury is in high demand up in the Gulf Country.

ABC TV: Back Roads

Hairdressers in outback far north Queensland are in high demand, with customers travelling great distances for a good cut.

Shannon Gallagher shifts in her chair in the CWA Hall in Normanton and grins into the mirror.

She has been busy organising the town's rodeo, but now happily finds herself with aluminium foil crumpled through her hair, as far north Queensland's outback hairdresser works her magic.

Blonde foils are a rare treat in this remote town of 1,400 near the Gulf of Carpentaria.

"I don't know what we'd do without you," Ms Gallagher tells hairdresser Lyn Westbury.

In 2003, Ms Westbury noticed it was not just the banks closing their doors in struggling outback towns — hairdressing salons were closing too.

"It's just a great service for the town," she said.

The benefits of a hairdresser can stretch further than a smart haircut.

Regular contact with a sympathetic ear, and a little pampering, are a big deal, particularly for the strong and resilient people of the bush who might be facing a range of silent stresses.

Normanton Resident Shannon Gallagher is getting foils in her hair
Normanton Rodeo organiser Shannon Gallagher says the hairdressing service is great for the town.

ABC TV Back Roads: Lisa Whitehead

Long road trip fills gap in rural service

"I just love the outback and I just love the people," Ms Westbury told ABC TV's Back Roads program.

"They're beautiful people."

Every six weeks or so, Ms Westbury and her best friend and confidant, Fil Stewart, take a 1,600km road trip across remote northern Queensland's Savannah Way.

They take their mobile hair salon — and a touch of glamour — to hundreds of women, men and children who gather on outback stations, in SES halls, and in beer gardens in anticipation.

They have been doing it for 13 years now.

Two hairdressers in the front seat and Back Roads presenter Heather Ewart in the backseat to Normanton
Lyn Westbury (L) and Fil Stewart show Back Roads presenter Heather Ewart around their patch.

ABC TV: Back Roads

"I just love it. You know, we're all getting older and there's more to life than just sitting in a little town," Ms Westbury said.

"I just want to be out there and just live my life."

Ms Stewart was once a hairdressing client of Ms Westbury's.

Now she is her unwavering apprentice who keeps busy answering the phone, filling the appointment book and sweeping up unwanted hair.

"I don't know how long I'm going to keep doing it, maybe until I'm 80 or 85," Ms Stewart said.

She said there had been lots of laughter, and more than a few tears, along the way.

"I have a saying: I haven't grown up yet, so I've got things to do," she said.

"Sometimes you know, you get there and you're just the listening ear that they need."

Some of Ms Westbury's clients live on huge cattle stations and drive hundreds of kilometres to see her.

Occasionally they will meet on the side of a dusty road for a cut.

Ms Westbury pulls out a fold-up chair and a mirror, and goes to work.

Hairdressing service a vital part of community

There is no shortage of customers. Today the women are in Normanton, eight days into their trip, at the CWA hall.

"Sometimes I think Lyn knows more about what's going on in this town than I do," Ms Gallagher said.

She does not know what the community would do if the hairdressing pair stopped coming.

"It seems such a small thing, but it's huge when you don't have a hairdresser. It's massive.

"You'd be amazed, being involved with recruitment in various organisations, how often people interviewing for jobs want to know if there's a hairdresser in town."

Four days ago the hairdressers were 155km away, in the beer garden of the only pub in Croydon.

Publican Eva Garde was perched on a pub stool, with a makeshift mirror propped on a table.

Publican, Eva Garde interviewed by Back Roads regarding Normanton Hairdressers
Eva Garde says Ms Westbury is always giving her words of encouragement.

ABC TV Back Roads: Lisa Whitehead

The haircut was a chance to stop for a minute and do something for herself.

She has been running the family business since her husband Eddie and son Sandy were killed in a light plane crash three years ago.

"Lyn's been through a lot too, so you can relate and give a little bit of advice," Ms Garde said.

"It's just the little things that they say, and they give you a boost and they also do your eyebrows and some waxing."

Her long-distance hairdresser is "one in a million" and is always giving her words of encouragement.

"[She tells me] to get out there and live your life. You feel good and then you have a little bit of a laugh."

Building strong relationships

When Ms Westbury and Ms Stewart pack up their four-wheel-drive and head to the next town, their clients remain in their thoughts.

"I do get a lot of sad stories, but when I get home I give them a tingle, just a little phone call to see how they are," Ms Westbury said.

"I think that's part of human nature isn't it, to feel wanted, to feel needed," Ms Stewart said.

"I always say to people 'You know, there's plenty of love here. Come on. Come and get it'."

The hairdressers' unique road trip features in Back Roads at 8:00pm, Monday on ABC TV.