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Clipping off trauma: Walkabout barber helping Indigenous communities emerge from COVID-19

Brian Dowd at his mobile barbershop Source: Facebook

A mobile barbershop in a converted trailer isn't the first thing that comes to mind as an ideal setting for mental health counselling. But an Indigenous trauma counsellor is using clippers and barber's chair to get Indigenous Australians to open up about mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Walkabout Barber has joined hands with an Aboriginal community organisation to help the first people come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, not just looking good but feeling good as well.

Awabakal, an Aboriginal community-controlled health service in the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens and Hunter Valley regions, has roped in a mobile barbershop to respond to the challenges some Indigenous communities are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The initiative was designed as a way to make families doing it tough feel a little bit better during COVID-19,” Awabakal’s community relations manager Toni Johnson told NITV Radio.

A kid's haircut by Walkabout Barber
A kid's haircut by Walkabout Barber

Under the program, a local Aboriginal mobile salon is offering free back to school haircuts to kids in Indigenous communities, which has now been extended to all Awabakal clients. 

“Anyone who accesses Awabakal services whether they are a medical patient, a family of the pre-school, a client of disability or aged care and members are all eligible… as long as they access Awabakal services, we wouldn’t turn them away,” Ms Johnson said.

But it’s not just a hair cut that people get.

Brian Dowd, the founder of Walkabout Barber, is a qualified trauma counsellor who has lived in the Newcastle area for most of his life. Besides his Warners Bay barbershop, he also runs a mobile barbershop and goes out in the communities, giving haircuts and providing trauma counselling.

Brian Dowd
Brian Dowd

Fresh outside, fresh inside

But because of the COVID-19 restrictions, he hasn’t been able to go out in the communities much and had to shut down the Warners Bay shop for two weeks.

“A lot of people started inboxing us to say ‘can we come just for a haircut and a talk’. So, we opened it back up for a couple of days a week for the first month and now we are up to three days a week,” Mr Dowd told NITV Radio.

“We are still providing a space where mental health first aid can be provided as well as you can get fresh on the outside and fresh on the inside.”

Mr Dowd says his mobile barbershop works as a perfect setting for people to open up about their mental health. 

"It does because when we go out in remote communities, often trauma is hidden from family members. Sometimes families absorb trauma. That's nothing for them to see somebody self-harm. They have seen that constantly around them... but it shouldn't be normalised." 

Brian Dowd of Walkabout Barber providing a back to school haircut
Brian Dowd of Walkabout Barber providing a back to school haircut

He says people in remote communities are going to need his service now after the COVID-19 more than ever before.

“A lot of people are at home with mental health issues, obsessive-compulsive issues, anxiety, depression. Being in lockdown and not being able to do anything that they normally would do, has led to people to have more despair in their life,” he says.

“If my story saves one life, it’s worth telling”

Mr Dowd says he was meant to be a rugby league star when at the age of 27 he “threw it all away” and tried to take his own life.

He spent the next three years turning around his life and became a qualified trauma counsellor.

He says telling his own story helps with counselling people.

“I went into depression when things didn’t go my way and my contract got torn up. I was only way to jail, I was drinking, I got into the drugs.

“I think it’s for people to see that somebody’s been as deep as you can get as I went and come out of it, something that I have been able to do, resonates with people. And people listen.”


People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. 

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at


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