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Mohawks And Mullets: A History Of Hair In Australia

Hairstyles play a big role in being able to date old photographs.

29/09/2016 12:43 AM AEST | Updated 02/10/2016 6:12 PM AEDT
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Public Record office Victoria
In 1976, Christine Gonzales was the first female engineer at Victorian railways. She made the 'hippie' hairdo look quite fabulous.

Your hairstyle is a major part of your identity but it's also an important visual reminder of a time in history. Ever wonder when a photo of ancient relatives was taken? Take a good look at their hair. Along with clothing, it's a simple way to place a time frame on a photo.

In the late 1830s, Melbourne was undergoing a transformation from a simple farming settlement into a fully functioning city. At the same time, the wonder of photography was enthralling people around the world.

By the 1860s the Victorian government hired teams of photographers to capture life around the city, capturing the unique infrastructure as well as its community. From an historical perspective, this initiative to use government photographers, really set Melbourne apart from Sydney.

The Victorian Archives Centre, in North Melbourne, is holding an exhibition of photos from the Public Records Office Victoria, featuring all the wild and wonderful hairstyles that make up Australian history. The photos are displayed alongside snaps from community street photographers.

Public Records Office Victoria
1960-1970: this lady wore the beehive beautifully as she posted for a photo at the State Bank, opening a safe.

The exhibition's co-curator Kate Follington told The Huffington Post Australia hairstyles are a great reflection of identity.

"The photographs that we've chosen are styles that we think reflect social movement and change at different periods throughout Victoria's history. For example, 'the bob' came along at a time when women were demonstrating their independence. We can also see that we tend to follow trends from overseas, for instance the beehive from America," Follington said.

"The mullet tends to be a style that some countries have adopted more passionately than others, Australia being one of them. It's interesting to see that while popular at different times throughout history, many hairstyles such as the mullet and hippy hair are still worn today."

So let's take a good look at some of the hairstyles that shaped Australian history.

The Bob

Public Records Office Victoria
In 1934 this young woman worked at an umbrella manufacturer, sporting the Bob hairstyle that had been popular throughout the 1920s.

When the Bob first appeared in 1915 it caused a storm. Never before had society been subjected to the sight of a haircut so short it barely touched a woman's ear lobes. The style was short with a little curl and, by the 1920s young women were queuing outside barbershops, eager to have their hair chopped off.

It was a time of independence for women who had cast their right to vote and many were working in what were traditionally mens' industries. So, the Bob was seen as a way to embrace a type of androgyny. The Bob hairstyle paid homage to this post-war exuberance when women embraced all that was wonderful about being young; dancing to jazz music, smoking in public and throwing caution to the wind.

Short Back & Sides

Public Records Office Victoria
The short-back-and-sides is still the most dominant male hairstyle today. This photo of a man with an artificial arm was taken in 1920.

During the first world war, a Short-Back-And-Sides cut with a clean shaven face became the norm. It reduced the spread of lice and, with the arrival of gas as a weapon in 1915, it became a 'safe' hairstyle to maintain. Also, beards and sideburns could hamper the effective seal of a gas mask. Thankfully the invention of the safety razor in 1902 meant the soldiers could shave off any facial hair, even when languishing in the trenches.

Many returned servicemen maintained the Short-Back-And-Sides and, by the mid 20th Century, it became the dominant masculine look. This image of a man sawing, using an artificial arm, is believed to have been used to encourage injured soldiers to return to work.

The Queue

Public Records Office Victoria
1881 Ah Tun, a police mug shot of the gardener who had been charged with 'larcency in a dwelling.'

The Queue was traditional to regions in and around China, adopted from the early 17th Century. Early Chinese immigrants to Melbourne, in the 1880s, still wore the Queue (as shown in this police mug shot). The Han Chinese liked long hair as a sign of virility and beauty. The Queue was quite different as it required the front part of the hair to be shaved off.

The Han Chinese had the Queue forced upon them when the Manchus conquered Han territories and replaced the Ming Dynasty with the Qing in 1644. The traditional style was to shave the front of the head, with the rest of your hair being braided. When the Manchu forces spread across China in the 17th and 18th centuries, anyone who dared to oppose wearing the Queue, was executed. So, having your plait cut off became a symbol of defiance.

The Victory Roll

Public Records Office Victoria
The Victory Roll was popular in the 1940s. This police mug shot shows a waitress charged with robbery.

The Victory Roll was also known as the 'backward roll' and became popular in the 1940s. One reason it caught on was because when goods were rationed during WWII, it was difficult to get hair pins and other hair accessories.

The hairstyle evolved as women would roll their hair around headbands made from old stockings. It also helped to keep the hair out of the way as many women worked in factories with dangerous machinery. At night, the ladies would unfurl their hair into the glamorous Victory Roll. The name was coined after the manoeuvres of fighter pilots who would loop their planes in the air to celebrate victory after a battle.

The Mullet

Public Records Office Victoria
The mullet arrived in the 1970s and was still around in the 80s. Here are some high school students in Footscray in 1988.

The Mullet was also known as the 'lion's mane' and was popular in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s. The word 'mullet' is said to come from the fish of the same name. Love it or hate it, the Mullet became a symbol of working class Aussie identity and set them apart from the white collar conservatives.

Interestingly, the Mullet's origins have been traced back to the 6th century, with a 'Hunic look' of growing hair long around the head, but short at the front. Historians believe one reason might be due to keep the neck warm and dry, while eyes are free and unobstructed.

The Mohawk

Public Records Office Victoria

The Mohawk hairstyle got its name from the indigenous people of the East Coast of North America and Canada who removed almost all their hair, apart from a square piece of long hair on their head. Today, the Mohawk is linked with the punk scene of the mid-1970s, made popular with bands like The Sex Pistols. The hairstyle of the 70s actually symbolised a movement against the political conservative parties.

The 1980s punk culture in Melbourne also introduced a 'DIY-ness' to the city's vibrance and creativity that many believe still thrives.

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