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"I don't care if you've been to prison, got a tag on your leg, or you wear a $10,000 Armani suit..."

September 18, 2022


(L-R): Rayne, Ace and Patrick in front of Rayne's mural at Ace of Blade. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

By Peter Holmes


There is a buzz around the new barber shop Ace of Blade in the Orange Arcade.


The Orange News Examiner spoke to barber Ace about fades, family and finances, and shop hand Rayne about the striking mural he painted inside the premises.


Ace


You must have good connections in town because your posters are in windows everywhere.

Ace: To be honest, man, my attitude is if you want it, you have got to go and get it. I got a bunch of posters, knocked on doors and said, ‘Hi, I’m Ace, I’m opening a store right next door, can I please put a poster outside?’ and most of them allowed me to put one up.



Is this your first shop?

Ace: This is the first shop I've owned. I've run a few stores but only as a floor manager.




Has it been a dream for a while?

Ace: Anyone who’s a master at their craft envisions having their own business one day where they can work and do things to the quality they see fit.


I have been a barber for 14 years, and it’s been my dream since I was 18, 19 to have my own store. I didn’t have all the money to begin with, so a lot of the stuff in the store I built myself and taught myself. I did a lot of tiling, those were 1200mm by 600mm tiles so I was a little bit “how-you-going” with that, but you never know you can do something until you try it.

YouTube videos?

Ace: YouTube, TikTok, some of the tradies I know came down and gave me a hand. To be honest I wouldn't really call it my shop, I’d call it my friends’ shop because all the boys showed love and helped us out physically, or put the word out there.





Are you from Orange?

Ace: I’m originally from the Gold Coast, and moved here four years ago.



Why?

Ace: My brother trains upstairs at the Pollet’s Martial Arts Centre, he's one of the head coaches. I wanted a change of pace from living on the Gold Coast - it was hard to focus on something because there was always the beach, the bar, the friends to hang out with. Here you have two options - you either stay at home or you go to work.


That's a nice way of saying there’s nothing to do!
Ace: There’s the bush, you can go out there, and a few bars around, but for me I wanted to do something more. Our coach is here - Kyoshi Pollet.

You train as well?

Ace: Yes. It's good to keep your mindset healthy and clear. When I moved here it was because I got a job opportunity to work at a different store in town. I wanted to live with my brother because he’d been gone for about a year or so.




You’re tight?

Ace: Oh of course. He’s younger.


How old are you?

Ace: Twenty-four. He’s 22. At the end of the day having a brother is an asset. Someone you can go to. I guess a lot of guys try to get away from that, but if I'm having a bad day I just go home to my brother, hug him for a minute and that's it, I feel good. Everyone needs a person like that in their life. They reckon in six more years I'll be an Orange local.


Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Six? I don't think so.

Ace: Ten years is when you become a local I’ve heard.


I think you’re looking at more like 25, and even then…

Ace: I enjoy Orange more [than the Gold Coast]. It's way more personal; if you're nice to people, people are nice to you, if you’re not nice, then people reciprocate that energy. It’s a community. When you live in a city it's a lot of strangers. Nobody knows each other. People just keep to themselves.




Did you grow up in a barbering family?

Ace: Yes, I'm a second generation barber. My father was a barber and his uncle was a barber who taught him. My father is originally from Iraq. He learned in Iraq and then came [to Australia] in the 90s. I've been in barber shops ever since I opened my eyes to the world.


When I was five or six years old I would be sleeping on the floor, giving out drinks, talking to everyone. When I was 12 years old, I had my own (barber’s chair) and I started cutting hair.

By 11 I could do any kind of beard - long beard, short beard, line-ups, clean shave. I’d mastered it, so by 12 my Dad gave me a chair and I had my own customers. I was still a little shorty, so I’d have to have something to stand on.



Dad is retired from that industry now; it takes its toll on your knees and your hips. He's in his 50s now.




And your shoulders?

Ace: Most barbers tilt their head and lift their shoulder and you’ll be working like this for eight hours. You never see a barber work with their head straight. I can't see the hair properly unless my head is tilted.


Product on display. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

You can feel damage already?

Ace: Oh yeah 100 percent. If it wasn't for keeping my physical maintenance upstairs [at Pollet’s] and being aware of having to do mobility exercises and generally take care of your body, I’d be limping.


You’re moving in a semicircle all day, very tiny movements so you don't get to stretch. It makes the muscles around your shoulders very tight. It’s like any job, you've got to be aware.

How have haircuts changed since you were a young fella?

Ace: It went through trends. When I was a kid the big trend was like a number three on the side, spiky hair on top, Jersey Shore-style. Then the whole Justin Bieber mop phase, flips; and then around 2013 the old school stuff came back - ‘50s, executive haircuts, slick backs; and what came with that was fading, zero fades and skin fades.


The haircuts got shorter and slicker and that created a constant need, because you can do a skin fade and two weeks later you can do another skin fade.




As someone who buzz cuts their own hair with clippers, can I ask: What is a fade? Like a seamless decrease in length across the hair?

Ace: You’re breaking the line between super short hair and long hair, so you’re fading it and blending it.


Is that done by changing the size of the guards on the clipper, or do you just gradually press down harder?
Ace: I do a lot of free hands. I don't rely on my [guard] number. I enjoy having that control. A lot of guys will set it to zero [1.5mm] and fade from there.

Don’t you get a line at the join if you’re changing guards?

Ace: That’s where your skill comes in. I do a gradual sequence where each line of hair is slightly longer, or shorter, than the last, so it’s a perfect gradient from nothing to something.



Price list. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

How are you going at running your first business?

Ace: To anyone my age doing this, it’s not about hard work, it’s more about being organised, being ahead and knowing what you’ve got to do and just get it done, get it out of the way.


There are a lot of fine details like sorting out rosters and payslips. I’m a person that prefers to do it myself to save the money. If you can’t afford something, see what you can do, and the rest, give it to a subcontractor or an accountant.



I’m still learning in terms of being on point with things, having the pays coming at the same time, same day, making sure you’re on top of advertising, accounts. The nitty gritty.




What’s the maximum time you’d spend on a cut?

Ace: About an hour. That would be a long-haired executive cut, with a low-tapered skin fade that required a lot of scissor work, and a good understanding of weight distribution throughout the hair. Making it easy for the customer to style.


I can make you look perfect in the shop but [what happens] once you leave and wash your hair? You have to do it in a way so my customers can maintain that same look.


You worked at all types of barber shops in Queensland?
Yes. Lower economic class, the higher economic class. I worked at one store in Brisbane city that would charge $120 for a haircut. That included disposable razors and machine heads, it came with whiskey. That’s a white collar shop - investment bankers, lawyers, doctors. You’re getting about $800 in tips a day. You’re making double your money in tips.

People tip hairdressers?

Ace: Absolutely. People like to show love and support. In our shop we take our tips and give them to our apprentices straight away because they work hard and don't earn much.


But I don't care what money bracket you're in. When you walk into the shop I have the same respect as I do for anyone, the same courtesy.


I don't care if you've been to prison, got a tag on your leg, if you walk in with a $10,000 Armani suit. You will get the same great haircut, the same service, have a chat, shake your hand and thank you for coming down.



I wanted to create something where everyone could come. That’s why I wanted to give a guy like Rayne a chance. There’s a lot of missed opportunities for people like Rayne, who just get dismissed because of their ethnicity, which is crazy to me.



I encourage everyone and anyone, no matter who you are and what you’ve done in life, just to come down.


You don't have to get a haircut, if you just want a picture with the artwork. If you feel bad or are feeling down or don't have any money, that's fine, I’ll cut your hair. You can pay it later, or pay it in a different way. I want guys like me to be inspired.

I’ve walked past and seen people out the door waiting for a cut. Do you freak out when it gets hectic?

Ace: Between myself, Rami and Patrick we share almost 60 years of barbering experience. A lot of barbers will freak out if they see a busy store, but … when it gets busy I feed off that energy.



Ace tilting at the back. Facebook.

The boys are still bothering me about putting a TV in but I don't think I'm ever going to do that. I want people to come in and chat. When I was a kid I loved the energy in my dad’s shop, all the dads and mums and kids, all talking.





Your parents were born in Iraq?

Ace: Yes, and they came here in the ‘90s. They left during the peak of Saddam’s [Hussein] rule. They applied for a visa. My dad waited almost seven years to come here through the UN. The first place they went was the Gold Coast.


He was a barber in Iraq?
Ace: He had one of the largest shops in Najav [a city in central Iraq]. It was a 16-chair barber shop. It was pumping all day long and was the epicentre of style and fashion for young men, which is kinda what I'm trying to do here.

Has he seen your shop yet?

Ace: He's seen it on video not in person


Is it important to you what he thinks about it?

Ace: My relationship with my dad has been interesting throughout the years, but doing this has brought us closer together. I always call him for advice.



He's not the type of expressive person to let you know. I think for the first time he’s genuinely proud of what I've accomplished.



Is there hair you don’t really like to cut, if it’s dirty?

Ace: Some guys with low self esteem, it prevents them from maintaining basic hygiene, but for me it's important that I focus. If I see a young man who doesn't seem like he's very confident, or doesn’t want to look at himself, a haircut and a good chat can go a long way. Some come back and say, “Hey I went for that job and I think I'm going to get it!” Awesome bro! It's a ripple effect.


So in the shop are barbers Ace, Patrick and Rami, second-year apprentice Eric and shop hand Rayne, who might progress to an apprenticeship?

Ace: Yep. I put them through three months to see if it suits them. It's very high-paced, a lot of pressure, it’s chaotic bouncing back and forth. Apprentice Eric showed he had the pace and gusto. If Rayne does the same thing, he’ll get the same opportunity.



My dad taught me a lesson. I asked him for money, and he said, “I’ll give you the money, but do you deserve it?” As a man, you should ask yourself, do I deserve it? If you don't, then go and do what needs to be done to deserve it. I'll give these guys the opportunity and if they want it, I will teach them all the skills - I want them to do well. Eric is my sixth apprentice.



When I came in the other day to line up the interview, did I hear you giving praise to God?

Ace: Yes. I think I said, “All grace and gratitude to Allah”, which is just God in Arabic. I think there is a higher purpose, something afterwards. This may be a test. I believe there is a higher power than me, nothing can come from nothing. I have my faith and it keeps me grounded.


Whenever I feel like my ego is being inflated, I remind myself it's not my money, because that can be taken, it’s not my car, that can be taken. It’s your morals and values and boundaries, they stay.

You see a lot of people my age, they start making money, they're above everyone. Like, “Don’t talk to me, I’ve got a digital guy, accounting guy”. Humble yourself, because while you’re saying that, have you looked after the employees making you that money? Have you given them bonuses? Overtime? Have you taken them out for dinner every few months?



 

Rayne Huddleston, 22, has the dual name of Urulah Nyiyapali Ngardi.


Urulah means storm coming. Nyiyapali is from Roy Hill in the Pilbara, Western Australia. “That’s my father’s tribe,” he said. “Ngardi is from my mother’s tribe in Ngukurr in the Northern Territory.”


How does a WA boy wind up on the Central Tablelands of NSW?

Rayne: I was visiting my mother, travelling around a bit with my aunt. I got involved with a bit of activism and travelled for a bit, getting First Nations people to stand up for their people and their land rights.


You grew up in Western Australia?

Rayne: I was born in Port Hedland, Western Australia, but I grew up in Palmerston in the Northern Territory, and Canberra. Travelled around a bit, back and forth.



My mum lives here in Orange. She moved here with my stepfather. I just came down for a visit a couple of months ago and decided to stay permanently and maybe do some art around town, get my face out in the community.




You reckon you’d like to cut hair one day?

Rayne: I want to take the barbering skill back to WA to help my people over there, freshen them up. I’d probably start off somewhere in the Pilbara where I was born, Port Hedland, probably open a shop in the mall.



Rayne Huddleston's artwork at Ace of Blade. Facebook.

Last time I was there they didn't have any shoe shops, barely had any shops.


My people are starving in the streets, looking like homeless, Third World refugees on their own Country. So I’d like to give them a haircut to make them feel good about themselves and freshen them up, and make them feel confident to go and get a job and whatnot.


The Wiradjuri totem is the goanna, but the mural you did in Ace of Blade is more sea-based - turtles, stingray, crab, jellyfish. Is that related to your totems?

Rayne: My totem in WA is a sea turtle, and in Ngukurr is a catfish, and on my nana’s side it is a night owl. The sea turtle is a totem from WA, but the other ones, they’re local to Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory - stingray, mud crab, jellyfish, barramundi, black bream.


When you start a piece of art like this mural, do you do a guide drawing first or just get stuck in?

Rayne: It all depends. Brother Ace commissioned me and he wanted a lot of dots to fill the wall out, so I drew it up first and went for an oceanic theme of all the sea animals, so I didn't have to mix and match a kangaroo next to a mud crab, you know?


Can you just do it, or do you need certain Knowledge before you start?

Rayne: The cross hatch design has been passed down to me over generations. That's strictly East Arnhem Land. See the three strokes? Three reds, three whites, three yellows. My grandfather does the same cross hatching, my grandfather’s father, all my uncles. That's from our region.




What sort of brushes do you use?

Rayne: I get nice ones from my grandfather. My family are all artists.



It makes a difference.

Rayne: Yeah, you’ve got to get good brushes, good canvases - double thick. Single canvases dry out, colours fade. My people back in Arnhem Land just use weeds for their brushes and bark for their canvas.


What about the dots, what’s the secret?

Rayne: That’s a circle sponge.





Do you want to make a living by painting one day?

Rayne: I'm not too sure. I just like to use it as a hobby. I think if I paint too much and people are rushing me, it takes the spirit and creativity away, and I'm not painting for myself, I'm painting for the money.


Can you see yourself using your art as a tool of protest?

Rayne: At the moment I'm just trying to inspire more people with bloodline to Country to paint and practice yidaki - I like to play the didg every now and again. Practice culture and don’t stop.


Ace of Blade is on Facebook and Instagram.


Rayne is Facebook and TikTok and Instagram.


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