Matthew Clarke: Purveyor of Style and Cheryl Clarke: Devoted Mum

Matthew

I am the local telegraph pole. Very little goes on in Surry Hills that I don’t hear about. Well that was historically the barber shop’s role. You would go in on Saturday, you would find out what’s on, who’s doing what to who and when. Unconsciously that’s what we’ve created- The Barberia.

I initially lived on Cleveland street in 1982 it was a very different place back then, mainly Turks but still a lot of skinheads and punks.

It’s a lot safer now than it was in the early days of the Barberia twenty-five years ago. What people forget is the really big street alcohol problem in Surry Hills. The police considered the corner of Campbell street and Crown a “no go zone”. They told the publican “You read into that what you will. If you have trouble we won’t come. (The flip side was), you won’t get any trouble from us.”

There were a lot of muggings on Bourke street. The bikies were there. You were buying car radios at The Clock! To walk over to Dimitri’s pizza Cheryl would take our rather mean looking dog, just because of the amount of people getting bashed down at Reservoir street.

The Bentley Bar was a really amazing time in Sydney. I remember finishing work on a Saturday evening and leaving at midday the next day from the Bentley bar. Whenever the movie Trainspotting came out that changed things a bit. A lot of the club kids started to get into heroin, we noticed there were a couple of deaths. I never saw the innocence in Trainspotting and what it did to legitimise heroin use.

There was a big baby boom in 2003. All of a sudden the kindergarten on Crown street had 80 kids and Bourke street was similar. There was a lot of parents, like- minded people who got in early with the housing when it was affordable and this family community grew as well.

The most important change in Surry Hills was the Eastern Distributer. Bourke street and Crown street were Parramatta road continuously. I still am offended that people protested the Eastern Distributer because without that, Surry Hills is still a really shit suburb. The Eastern Distributer made Surry Hills a village. Fight the good fight when you protest!

A lot of people who created the area were forced out due to the price rises and that’s really sad. They are the first ones out. It happens to gay communities around the world. The creative types who are drawn to the inner city, all of a sudden they are gone.

I can’t see Surry Hills changing much more.

The most important thing in life is family, friends, community. I know it’s a cliché. It’s really important to be able to rely on people. More importantly, for Cheryl and I, we want to be that reliable person for people. We want to be dependable. We are there. The salon is really important to some people.

Back in the Bentley Bar days it was very colourful, everyone used to drink there. A couple of the boys went by the wayside and ended up in gaol. I was the person they could come out and see when they got out of gaol because I would be standing in the front room of the salon, my house. Straight out of gaol they’d think, “I’ll go see Matty at the Barberia. He’ll be there.” There is some joy in that.

What advice would I give to my younger self? Buy that apartment.

Cheryl

The main changes have happened already in Surry Hills. I wouldn’t go get a pizza down the road without taking my dog 15 years ago. You couldn’t even buy an apple in Surry hills 25 years ago. Now you have got such a choice of grocers.

We find community in cafes like this. The lady who owns it puts on the most amazing Christmas party and asks everyone who lives around here to come.

A turning point in our lives was when we had our shop across the road. We didn’t have a lease. Our rent at home was going up, our shop rent went up we thought, “What will we do?” We knew we were going to be pushed out of the area. We ended up buying our place down the road. By Surry Hills standards we got it cheap. That was a turning point because it meant we had two more daughters after that. We could afford to stay on Crown street.

The area today has become more expensive

Friends, family and community are important for us. We’ve always said to people, our family and friends, you can call us any time, either day or night. People have done that.

Our customers are important. You get to know them after you’ve seen them for 15 years.

What would I say to my younger self? Take care of yourself better.

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