It was a cross between going to the dentist and going to the movies.
Mick Mavromatis stood, thin scissors in one hand and lolly in the other, while dressed in a white apron in his barber shop in Ellen Street.
My friend David Martin and I were in first-year high school, but as customers we enjoyed those lollies that were a trademark of the late hairdresser’s style of business.
Every six weeks or so we would prop our bicycles against one of the street’s veranda poles and take a seat to wait for our turn in the big chair.
It was the 1960s and the puffing locomotives still travelled down our curved main street.
In those days, dentists wore white coats and lollies were a treat reserved for the movies.
Mr Mavromatis didn’t say much as he lathered our necks for a “square-cut”. When he did speak his accent was obvious.
These days David doesn’t need the barber quite so much and my hairline is receding. But that bygone era of service in the almost-sterile barber shop will be long remembered.
The late Greek-born Mr Mavromatis, who spoke five languages and was orphaned at 13, ran shops in Alexander Street and Ellen Street for 61 years. He died last year aged 86. In Monday’s Queen’s Birthday Honours, he was posthumously awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community.
His son Kim said he and Mr Mavromatis’s widow Angela and family were proud of the honour.
“Dad emigrated from Egypt to Australia after the Egyptian Revolution and the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952 which ended British occupation. It was a time of great turmoil in the world – Dad was looking for his Garden of Eden and found it in Port Pirie,” he said. “He loved everyone.”
Mr Mavromatis was inspired by the Greek Orthodox Church’s care for him as an orphan. Based on a promise he made himself, he went to the hospital, nursing homes and private homes to give free haircuts. “For 60 years, I did that,” he once said.
“When I was in Port Said, the Greek Orthodox Church and the school, did a lot of charity work. They had about 10 or 15 wealthy people and they used to give breakfast to all the orphans.
“I said to myself, those people used to buy us uniforms, shoes, underwear, shirts, school uniforms, feed us breakfast and I said how lovely those people are and, if I ever get rich, I am going to do the same thing.
“But I never became rich, so I said, ‘the only way I can pay back what I promised to myself was to do free haircuts, the job that I do.
“When I came to Port Pirie, I went to the hospital, nursing homes and private homes and gave free haircuts and never took any money.”
Kim said his father had enjoyed making people happy – making people look good.
“For Dad, the barber shop was more a club than a business – membership was $8 - and for that you could sit and relax, have a haircut, get your beard trimmed, read the paper, listen to the ABC and solve the problems of the world,” he said.
“Dad was a perfectionist – he was an artist – he was an honest, honourable man - respectful of everyone.
“Dad literally left his mark on us all.”