It will have been 60 years since Michael Selig came to Naracoorte and established one of the first hair salons on October 25.
A European immigrant, Michael had been trained as both a men’s and women’s hair stylist in Yugoslavia. He started out sweeping snow from his uncle’s barber shop, and by the time he was 18 he had his own business.
In 1944 he and his family were evacuated to Austria. Michael was placed in a camp from May to July in 1945, and when he was released he and his family were reunited.
Unfortunately after the war, Michael struggled to find work as a hairdresser. He was about to resign himself to the life of an Austrian factory worker when he received a call from one Mike Pawelczak.
Mike had been friends with Michael in Austria, before migrating to Naracoorte, Australia. With Mike and Laurie Saunders, Michael would be loaned money for five tickets to Australia, and guaranteed work for two years.
So, Michael and his family – his wife Rosalia, his maternal grandmother, his sons Karl, Stefan and Michael, and his daughter-in-law Elizabeth – boarded a ship for a new beginning.
They arrived in Australia in 1955, and Michael went to work as a barber for Pete and Robert Moyle for six months. When the Moyles purchased a women’s salon, Michael became the manager for two and a half years.
Soon he had opened his own salon, Michael’s. The salon was originally in the RSL building, before moving to Ormerod St, and finally to its current residing place in Smith Street (where it’s renamed Selig’s).
During the salon’s heyday there were around 12 staff. And as the perms and beehives grew higher, the staff continued to be flat out.
Michael Selig himself set the example, beginning work in the early hours of the morning, working through his lunch hour, and staying on his feet until late at night. Sometimes he would work until 3am in the morning to make time for the farmers who couldn’t come into town during the day.
Michael didn’t have a driver’s licence either, so after work he would commence the long walk home before doing it all again the next day.
Jean Marr, one of Michael’s apprentices, has nothing but admiration for her old employer’s hard work and commitment.
“I’m forever grateful for Michael Selig for giving me the opportunity to learn the trade,” she said.
“He was a true professional. He taught me business acumen, ethics, and to have respect for every client, regardless of social standing within our community.”
Jean and Michael eventually became friends, with Michael helping to train her son, Scott, in barbering and men’s styling skills.
"Michael was, above all, patient and kind. I remember him with great affection.”
Fishing was one of Michael’s great loves, recalls Jean, as was food. But it was his family that he cherished most.
“He would do anything for his family.”
The Seligs had come to Australia with only a couple of pounds in their pocket, and at the beginning could only speak German. But everyone in the family worked hard to make the best life for themselves.
Within 14 months of being in Australia, Michael Selig Snr had paid back the loan for the cost of their tickets (180 pounds).
And the Selig salon, explained Jean, was immaculate. All of the Seligs and staff helped with the cleaning, and took great pride in their beautiful salon.
Jean Marr was “born to be a hairdresser”. When other girls at the time were being told to stay on the farm, Jean would drive 11km into town to work at the salon, undertaking five years of training before becoming a registered hairdresser herself.
“It was hard to get an apprenticeship, even in those days. But he (Michael) paved the way for his family and 23 other apprentices. He was a great teacher.”
As for clients in the 1960s, coming into the salon was a weekly ritual. Whether it was a shampoo, a trim, a perm, or a beehive, the appointment had to be kept. Hairdressers’ equipment included marcel tongs, pin curls - even beer came in handy as a hair lotion.
Jean Marr still helps out her own family at Hair on Robertson. Michael Selig died in 1982.
His granddaughter-in-law Pam Selig began working at the family salon 29 years ago, and is now its sole hairdresser.
Hairdressing, like other modern industries, has changed over the years. Changes in fashion has meant a more ‘natural’ look for many men and women, and back then a shampoo used to only cost a shilling. In the 21st Century, rising overhead costs for salons means that more hairdressers are working from home.
There is also the rise of hair ‘experts’ on Youtube, something Pam is skeptical about. While much of a hairdresser’s work still focuses on creating original cuts and styles, they still have their work cut out for them when something goes wrong, whether it’s a dodgy bleaching job or a self-styled fringe.
“We (hairdressers) have four years of training, and are here to help you with things such as cuts and colouring,” Pam said.
Pam still has her weekly regulars, but walk in appointments are becoming more popular as modern clients try to find enough time in their days.
And like her grandfather, Pam goes the extra length for her customers who don’t live in the suburbs. Farmers only have so much time when they’re in town, and so Pam often sees them early in the morning.
At Selig’s, the decor and equipment may have changed over the decades, but the commitment to excellent customer service remains the same.
And on the wall is a photo of the man who started it all – a black and white image of Michael Selig Snr on a ship, bound for Australia.
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