- November 13, 2021
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The hair salon at Parliament House is more than a place for politicians and staffers to get their hair done – it is a sanctuary from the hurley burley of sitting weeks and a place where party lines don’t matter.
Hairdressers Martine Kendall and Lizzie Scott know this all too well – between them they cut the hair of the nation’s politicians for 43 years.
Lizzie started at Old Parliament House in 1978 and moved to the new Parliament House a decade later, before retiring in 2007, after coiffing the hair of every one from Gough Whitlam to Michelle Grattan. Her successor, Martine Kendall, finishes on Friday at the Parliament House salon Capital Hair after 14 years behind the chair.
COVID has played havoc with the business, shutting out politicians and closing Parliament House itself at times. But the Department of Parliamentary Services says a salon will continue.
“In line with the retail strategy announced in March 2021, there will be an expression of interest for hairdressing & beautician services going out to market through JLL in Canberra early in 2022. The Department of Parliamentary Services is current seeking the services of a temporary hairdresser for the interim period,” a department spokeswoman said.
“Martine has been in Parliament House over many years and she will be missed, in particular by her regular customers. DPS wishes her well for the future.”
Both Lizzie and Martine approached their job their same way, that it was about the people, not the politics.
Lizzie, 79, a former model and barrel girl for In Melbourne Tonight with Bert Newton and Graham Kennedy, was always a sweet, effervescent antidote to whatever political treachery was being planned in the halls of the Senate or House of Representatives.
“I think one of the reasons I lasted that long was that I’m not really that interested in politics,” she said, matter-of-fact.
Canberra MP Ros Kelly and ACT Senator Margaret Reid at the opening of Capital Hair in 1988. Picture: Supplied
Martine agreed, saying she rarely talked politics while tending to the hair of anyone from then Greens leader Bob Brown to Liberal treasurer Joe Hockey.
“If they asked me my opinion, I’d tell them. But it was very rare. It was their chill time, their relaxed time,” she said.
“You’d see them in Question Time being absolute lions and tigers but in here, they were different. You’d see the family side. They’d ask how the kids were. We’d have a laugh about anything and everything. And the beautiful thing was, it was all kept within these walls. People trust their hairdressers.
“I used to have little palpitations when I saw the [appointment] book sometimes. You’d often have a Liberal person sitting next to a Labor person. But they’d just come in and say to each other, ‘G’day mate, how you going?’.”
Lizzie with Bert Newton when she was a barrel girl for In Melbourne Tonight. Picture: Supplied
Lizzie started the salon at Old Parliament House in October, 1978. Before then, barbers used to come in from Manuka or Civic to cut the pollies’ hair. She was happy to work the three days that parliament sat.
“Joan Child was the first speaker of the house and she was just the loveliest lady. And I used to do her sister’s hair. You do get connected to these people and you see another side of them. The real side, not the theatre side,” she said.
Lizzie moved up the hill to the new Parliament House in 1988, to Capital Hair, which is still next to the gym and the pool.
“By then I had lots of clients like Flo Bjelke-Petersen, senator Kathy Martin, Margaret Guilfoyle and those kind of people instigated having a hairdressers. They were on my side [to shift to the new Parliament House]. It was kind of like, ‘Well, if the wheel’s not broken’. I did put a tender in though,” she said.
The salon was opened in 1988 by Canberra MP Ros Kelly, her then young daughter helping to cut the ribbon – with hairdressing scissors, of course.
As well as the pollies, she would go to Government House to tend the dark locks of Dallas Hayden when her husband Bill was the governor-general. She also did the hair of then president of Ireland Mary Robinson when she visited Canberra.
Martine met Lizzie when she was a single mum of two young children. Her father was a security guard at Parliament House and knew Lizzie was thinking about retiring.
“And we met each other and had a few months of chatting. She didn’t want to pass the baby over to anyone,” she said.
Martine Kendall said it was always a privilege to go to work in such an iconic building as Parliament House. Picture: Karleen Minney
“Exactly right,” Lizzie confirmed.
“It started like a beautiful friendship for the both of us,” Martine said.
“It was meant to be,” Lizzie said
Martine took over the salon in 2007. She remembers her first customers were hirsute Labor senator Kim Carr, then Liberal treasurer Joe Hockey and Greens leader Bob Brown.
“They were the main ones I saw for the first couple of weeks and it was quite daunting,” she said.
“I’d come home and my mum would say, ‘Martine, they put their pants on one leg at a time, so they don’t need to be treated any differently’.
“And it was scary because these are high-profile people. But once I got the gist, it was okay – ‘Do I call you Senator?” ‘No, call me Kim’ – and we went from there.”
Martine most loved cutting the hair of now retired Greens senator Bob Brown.
“He was the most beautiful, gentle man I’ve ever come in contact with,” she said.
“Every time he had a haircut, he’d put 50 cents out for [my daughter] Ella. You know, ‘Tell Ella to put that in her piggy bank’.
“These people are such beautiful-souled people. They go out and do a job but in here we have a beautiful connection.”
Lizzie cut the hair of prime minister John Howard. Martine cut the hair of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, but always in his suite. Lizzie laughs remembering she used to cut now treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s hair “when he had hair”.
Despite being around so long, Lizzie never got her hands on some of Parliament’s most celebrated coiffures including Bob Hawke’s magnificent mane or Bronwyn Bishop’s immaculate chignon. She did blow-dry Julia Gillard’s hair when she was staffer but when Gillard became PM she had her own in-built hairdresser in partner Tim.
Lizzie Scott remembers cutting Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s hair “when he had hair”. Picture: Karleen Minney
Both she and Martine experienced some occupational hazards – such as never knowing when the bells might ring commanding politicians back to the chamber to vote on a division.
“You can’t control what happens in this building. Once it sits, that’s it. It’s like herding cats,” Martine said.
“I always say, ‘My book will be okay until the bells go’. I’ve been half-way through haircuts, I’ve been half-way through a blow-dry – one lady literally ran out of the salon and into the chamber, and she still had a towel on. Luckily, she had a black jacket on so you couldn’t really tell.”
Lizzie Scott shaves the hair of Josh Frydenberg for charity when he was a staffer for prime minister John Howard. Picture: Supplied
Martine won’t tell who she didn’t like to have in the salon.
“I probably had some challenging ones in my time, but you soon know how to sort them out,” she said.
“And the staffers, too, you’ve got to sort them out. Especially the newbies – you need to remind them, ‘This is how this works girlfriend’.”
Lizzie, who lives in Monash, still tends the locks of her neighbours. Martine, who lives in Coombs, is renting a chair in a friend’s salon in Queanbeyan post-Parliament House.
Martine has mixed emotions about leaving, not least in the midst of COVID chaos about who can come and go.
“I’ve missed saying goodbye to a lot of my pollies, some of the interstaters,” she said.
Martine says working in such an iconic building as Parliament House, crossing the marble foyer each day to get to the salon, always felt like a privilege.
“We’ve had a ball in here and met incredible, amazing people,” she said.
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