A MOBILE barber shop with a focus on a fresh cuts and conversations around mental health has been making its way across the New England region this week.
The Walkabout Barber service is the brainchild of Brian Dowd, an Indigenous trauma recovery specialist with 20 years experience in social and emotional well-being.
He originally started cutting hair as a way of connecting with his son, who was later diagnosed with autism.
His team are no strangers to the region and have travelled to Ashford, Inverell, Tingha and Tenterfield for the first time since 2019.
Mr Dowd has enjoyed being back on the road, visiting regional communities after COVID-19 restrictions kept them grounded for the last two years.
"It definitely feels like the shackles are off," Mr Dowd said.
"The people out in the bush are salt of the earth and they don't always have access to these sort of services," he said.
"People love us at Tingha, we pull up in the main street street there and open our doors to them.
"They really accept us in that community and Inverell was a really big day, too."
While there, Mr Dowd said he had the privilege to tidy up the local police inspector Rowan O'Brien's hair in his chair.
"Rowan and I shared some deep conversations, and his family's journey touched my heart! At the end of the day our work uniform doesn't define who we are, but what does define who we are is our ability to show compassion without fear, to offer help without being asked, and to never judge anyone without walking a mile in their shoes first," he said.
The team did about 75 men's cuts and had over 50 women come in at Inverell.
"But to be honest, it doesn't matter if we do one or 50, if we can change one person's life with a conversation and a haircut, we've done our job.
"We want people to feel accepted and have their stories understood.
"If something is bothering them and they want to talk to someone outside their family circle or usual support networks they have that opportunity."
Mr Dowd has spent most of his life in Newcastle and has a barber shop at Warners Bay.
He is constantly looking at new ways to service the community and travels with his trusted team.
He let them finish off the week in New England while he went to Sydney for meetings about future plans across the state.
"The journey we're on is a blessing every day. When I bought a set of clippers to cut my boy's hair I didn't realise how big this was going to get," Mr Dowd said.
"The concept has its own heartbeat now and we're real people doing real things."
The Walkabout Barber team will be at Lang Street in Glen Innes on Friday.
"We've got our three barbers, two beauty therapists and our bus driver still in town," Mr Dowd said.
"They're working hard while the boss is in meetings; it's hard to leave it when you build something like this from the ground up, but you don't want to micromanage people either.
"I'm all about giving people opportunities to step up; they're doing really well and I'm only as good as the team I have around me."
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