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Barber's chair

Not a hair out of place.

A blue leather barber's chair with white handles displayed in a room with a brown wooden door behind it.

In 1927, Canberra was a fledgling city with few services. When Parliament House opened, it was like a ‘town within a building’, with its own barber, post office, banking and dining room for the politicians and staff who worked here. 

The barber, and later the hairdresser, was an essential service within the building. This was especially true with the advent of television in the 1950s, when it was important for politicians to be camera ready. 

This chair, used in Parliament House from 1960 until it was shifted to Australian Parliament House in 1988, was manufactured by the Koken Barber Supply Company in the United States. Koken’s chairs were the first to incorporate a hydraulic lighting mechanism, allowing the barber to lift and lower clients with ease. 

A close up image of the barbers chair.

A close up image of the barbers chair.

Old Parliament House functioned as a ‘town within a building’.

Visual description

This swivelling barber’s chair has a circular pedestal base of white enamel. It has a pivoting, decorative chrome footrest, featuring the word ‘KOKEN’ and ‘REG US PAT OFF’ engraved on the upper surface of the footrest, and ‘KOKEN COMPANIES’ engraved on the lower surface.

The chair has white enamelled arms, a circular seat and a square back with a separate neck rest. A white-handled lever, used to adjust the height of the seat, is on the right of the chair. The seat, back and neck rest are upholstered in dark green leather. The chair is just over one metre tall and is about one metre in diameter.

The chair is well used. There is evidence of perming solution and hair spray on the leather, while traces of talcum powder remain in the grooves of the footrest.

Cecil Bainbrigge was the barber for more than a decade in the 1940s, and managed the Parliamentary Barber Shop. At first the barber shop only catered for men but when more women began working in the building, a hairdresser came on staff.  

From 1978, Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Scott worked from a small room in the southwest wing of the building as the onsite hairdresser. She worked in the building until its closure in 1988 and then transferred to Australian Parliament House. 

See the barber’s chair in Furnished.  

This black and white photograph depicts hairdresser Lizzie Scott, arranging Speaker Joan Child’s hair. Joan is sitting in the barber’s chair and is covered with a dark  cape while Lizzie stands to her left wearing a white shirt and jeans and holding a black comb.

Speaker Joan Child and Lizzie Scott in the salon in Old Parliament House, September 1985. Credit: Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth Scott, Museum of Australian Democracy Collection

This colour photograph depicts the inside of Lizzie Scott’s salon. Gary Nehl MP sits in the barber’s chair with Lizzie standing directly behind him. They  are reflected in a circular mirror which is mounted on the wall. Under the mirror, there is a counter which is littered with pot plants, hair spray, tissues, scissors, spray bottles, creams, postcards and an ashtray. Surrounding the mirror, are photographs of people in colour and black and white.

Lizzie Scott and Gary Nehl MP in the hairdressing salon in Old Parliament House, 1988. Credit: Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth Scott, Museum of Australian Democracy Collection


Who sat in this chair?

Politicians and staff were clients of the barber and the hairdresser. Lizzie Scott recalls several famous clients, including were Flo Bjelke-Petersen, Kathy Martin, Margaret Guilfoyle and John Howard.

Scott remembered her clients fondly, particularly Joan Child, the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, describing Joan as ‘wonderful’. Scott was paid directly for her services and did not take clients from outside the Parliament.

Can I still get my hair cut at Old Parliament House?

No, sorry. For heritage and conservation reasons visitors aren’t allowed to sit in the barber’s chair. Best to get your buzzcut elsewhere.