THE first thing you notice when you walk in is the top hat and bowler. On display in a glass case, the bowler is labelled Christies of London; the top hat, 100 years old, is made by Woodrow and Sons of Piccadilly. These hats are beautiful, deeply black, assured. They make you want to do something elegant with your feet and a cane.
“I’ve always loved hats,” Darren says, explaining his collection and his decision to sell it. “It’s sad that they’re hidden away. They should be out there for people to enjoy.”
Darren George Hair is tucked away in a side street in Sunderland Bay. Booming Bass Strait is just down the end of the road. In April he and his partner Danny will have been here for six years.
Darren is actually Darren George Talbot, a Newhaven boy who went to Newhaven Primary and later Wonthaggi Tech because he was always good with his hands and the tech also offered instrumental music. He played trombone for six years in the Wonthaggi Citizens” Band.
He’d always wanted to teach and trained as a primary school teacher before he succumbed to the irresistible appeal of hair. He laughs. “I’ve got a short attention span. Hair dressing offers lots of little projects, little sculptures in hair. Cutting, colouring ... it’s renewable art.” He’s always had an aesthetic eye, always liked things to be neat. He rolls his eyes: “To the point where I would tidy my brother’s room.” My hand rises involuntarily to pat down my shambolic hair.
Moving back to San Remo to do his apprenticeship at Tangles, he completed his coursework at Flagstaff College in the city and loved the mix. A "country boy with a city heart”, he’d early formed an enthusiastic attachment to Melbourne. His mother’s parents lived in Montmorency. In the school holidays he and his nan would catch the train into Princess Bridge, would travel along that line with all those magic-sounding stations: Eaglemont, Ivanhoe, Alphington ...
The trains themselves were a source of wonder ─ early on the old red rattlers, then the blue trains, then silver ones. Everything was exciting. You’d walk up the walkway at Princess Bridge and see the entrance to Flinders Street station framed in the exit; go to the pictures at the Russell Street cinema; watch planes take off from the observation deck at Tullamarine ...
Then there was always coming home. That intake of breath as you come round the bend from Anderson and take in that wondrous expanse of water that is Westernport.
For Darren is deeply, unabashedly local. His paternal great-grandfather was a Wonthaggi coal miner who took up a soldier settlement block outside San Remo. His grandfather fished for couta and shark out of San Remo before he retired to run the Newhaven Caravan Park with Mary, his wife. “The caravan park beach was our playground,” Darren says.
His Melbourne nan had a holiday house in nearby Surf Beach and today, aged 90, lives in Cowes. Darren’s parents, Bruce and Caroline Talbot, met at the Newhaven Yacht Club. Caroline worked in the primary school office for 25 years; the school hall bears her name. Mary Talbot has a room named for her at St Augustine’s church, San Remo. The connections run wide and deep.
And there’s the sea. “I love being near the water,” he says. Not in it, he clarifies, but nearby. “Having grown up surrounded by the sea, I love seeing it, smelling it, hearing it. Sea water has a very different energy to me from fresh water rivers and lakes.”
It matters to Darren, this deep sense of groundedness. He feels lucky because he hasn’t had to move for work. “I’ve done a lot of travelling but I like familiar things. I like coming back. It’s sad when people have no connection with where they live.”
He plays piano these days rather than trombone, although less often than he’d like. But he always has music on at work and at home, especially when he’s in the garden. It’s become an adjunct to his other creative work. He’s also had a longstanding and loyal affiliation with Offshore Theatre and the Wonthaggi Theatre Group.
But the big project, shared by him and Danny, has been to create a house and salon where they could happily live and work. When they took it on, the house was a very small and bare weekender; there were no fences, no trees. Today it’s transformed.
Inside, the house and salon serves as a gallery for the work of local artists. Paintings and photographs cover the walls. Darren’s especially fond of the work of Peter Walker and John Adam. There are landscapes and seascapes and figure studies. I notice a painting of a shell by Graeme Henry.
The garden comes in from outside. “We’re leaving a legacy,” says Darren. “I love deciduous trees - the shade in summer, light in winter.” Windows everywhere frame different views. Light pours in. And there’s the smell and sound of the sea.
It’s a dynamic recipe, this embedding of the new in the old, the contemporary and the timeless. It bears different fruit for different people, depending on the factors they bring to the task.
Darren’s just grateful. “I’ve been lucky enough to have everything come together,” he says.
December 4, 2015
I enjoy going to Darren’s studio/salon to have my hair cut and coloured. As I walk in the door I look forward to seeing what interesting objects are visible that day. Sometimes it is a beautiful bowl with a lovely arrangement, other times it can be something quite whimsical, or a vibrant painting. Darren and Danny make going to their salon an enjoyable experience.
Jan Fleming, Cowes