Rocky Carlino, local Many barber of more than 50 years

'I'M AN ARTIST': Rocky Carlino at his Barber Shop in Manly. Picture: Geoff Jones
'I'M AN ARTIST': Rocky Carlino at his Barber Shop in Manly. Picture: Geoff Jones

"I ARRIVED in Australia with my parents and four other siblings in 1969. We didn't know a word of English.

It was bloody hard but the Australians we met had a great sense of humour and friendliness and they made me and my family so welcome.

It was a terrific sacrifice by my parents but I still say the best thing we ever did was come to this beautiful country and live in Manly-Warringah.

Umberto "Tony" Galluzzo came from the same town as us in Calabria (Grotteria) and was best friends with my father. He owned Tony's Barber Shop in Whistler Street (Manly) and my father said to Tony, 'can my son come after school and sweep the floor?'

So for two years from when I was 13 I used to go from St Mary's in Manly and sweep the floors after school. I'd do Saturday mornings as well and school holidays. I taught myself English by listening to people and talking to customers while sweeping the floor in the barber shop.

When I was 15 Tony took me on as an apprentice. I'd go once a week to Ultimo College for classes and to Mr Galluzzo's garage on a weekend to practise on my father and brothers. My first haircut I was very nervous but I got better as I went.

I stayed with Tony until he retired in 1988. He was the only boss I had in my life until I married Maria! We moved to the Short Street shop (Manly) in 1989 and have been here ever since. I'm on my own most days but we've had three other barbers - Frank Chiarella, my uncle John and Vince Condomitti - work here over the years.

I've been cutting hair for 50 years and more than 300,000 haircuts.

Rocky Carlino

I've been cutting hair for 50 years and probably done more than 300,000 haircuts. I'm an artist. I've got the reputation as the Michelangelo of the scissors! But hairstyles have changed and so has customer loyalty. They now go to modern barber shops which open seven days and get number ones or number twos. If you're a real barber you use scissors. Scissors work is very important.

I met Maria when she was a legal secretary in Manly and I was in the barber shop with Tony. We used to meet for a coffee and lunch in the old arcade off the Corso. We kept it secret from our old-fashioned parents. We got to know each other over two and a half years.

That's how you truly fall in love and find commitment, not by meeting over a phone. Our first two years of marriage we had no car and were running for buses every day while we were saving for a house. We had three wonderful sons - Vincent, Michael and David - and consider ourselves very lucky.

Apart from work and family, my other great love is football. In 1997 I went to the committee at Brookvale FC and said I'm keen to take over as Premier League coach. You can imagine the response from some of the Italians. They were like 'you want to be a coach? You're a barber!' They all took it as a bit of a joke but I was serious. One of them said 'do you know if we give it to you, we can sack you at any time?' I said 'no problem'.

What a time we ended up having! We won six Manly-Warringah championships, two grand finals, the Champion of Champions title and represented NSW in Perth at the Australian Championships in 2003 and finished runner-up. There was great satisfaction within the Italian community. It was a meeting place every weekend to come and watch this team play beautiful football.

When I started to wear suits and ties to games, it was a big talking point. No-one had done it before. I wanted to be like Arrigo Sacchi from AC Milan. I was trying to raise the standard in the competition. I was a good loser - I never complained - but if we did lose I would come home and go straight to bed so I didn't have to talk to anyone! I never did get the sack. I resigned after seven years after winning everything and raising the level of soccer on Manly-Warringah thanks to a great bunch of players, support staff and supporters from the community.

I'm 65 now and retirement is on the cards, probably within the next two years. Life is too short and we've lost too many good friends lately. You start to think 'how much time do I have?' I've started to slow down a bit. I close the shop every Wednesday so I get to spend more time with the two best people in my life - my wife and my mother. Maria and I play tennis or go for a walk and then have lunch with my mother.

People ask me what I will miss most when I retire and I always say the customers. They are like family to me. I have met so many wonderful people. Celebrities like Tim Farriss and sportsmen Kel Nagle and Brett Stewart, Brad Hazzard and Mike Baird from politics... the list goes on.

Famous or non-famous, I treat every customer the same and always take pride in my work. I give them my full attention. I don't see a dollar sign when they walk in. I think how I can make their day a little better.

ROCKY CARLINO: At his Barber Shop in Manly for Meet the Local. Picture: Geoff Jones

ROCKY CARLINO: At his Barber Shop in Manly for Meet the Local. Picture: Geoff Jones

Every day I look forward to going to my shop and talking to people. The only topics not allowed are religion or politics ... I change the subject to sex when that happens!

I also like to help pensioners or the homeless or those doing it tough with a free haircut or cup of coffee or a few dollars. And for those who can't get to the shop, I will often go around to their house to check on them and give them a haircut if needed. That gives me great satisfaction. They have been friends for years but they might be too old or sick to get to me so I go to them.

It will be hard to walk away from all this but Rocky's going to ring the bell for the last round very soon.

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