Woonona Bulli barbers and hairdressers: The mysterious Fred Williamson

Williamson Hairdressers Bulli edited

Hairdresser and tobacconist, Eric Francis “Fred” Williamson (left) outside his shop on the main road Bulli about 1921. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

Hospital Road Highway Intersection BUlli Google

Where Memorial Drive meets the Prince’s Highway at Bulli is where Fred Williamson’s barber shop once traded. Picture: Google Streetview

NOTHING remains of Fred Williamson’s hairdressing salon at Bulli today.

Where his barber shop sat, Memorial Drive spews a seemingly endless flow of vehicles onto a congested Prince’s Highway, opposite Hospital Road.

Eric Francis “Fred” Williamson was operating a hairdresser or barber shop in front of Pritchard’s Music Hall at Woonona as early as 1906. This was the year when his barber shop, along with the music hall and Sid Miller’s confectionery and stationery store were completely destroyed by a fire.

Hairdressing saloons or barber shops were much more than a place to have your hair cut, and to have a shave during these times. They were often fronts for much more dubious enterprises, such as gambling. A typical hairdressing shop in the Woonona Bulli area during the 1920s and 30s would have had the barber and tobacconist at the front, with a billiard room to the rear, where a radiogram broadcasting horse racing was often found, along with the local ‘pencil’ or ‘SP bookie’.

I’m unsure of the exact year Fred Williamson opened his shop on the main road opposite Hospital Road, but he was there from at least 1919. There were a group of shops clustered around this area at the time.

The South Coast Times reported on June 7 1940 that “old Fred” was injured when struck by a car crossing the main road near his shop. He was admitted to Bulli Hospital with a fractured jaw and facial abrasions.

Fred was still running his barber shop in 1946 when, now aged 75, he was mentioned in the local newspapers after winning a hamper in the Bulli Hospital raffle.


Williamson 2 advert 1930

Fred Williamson’s newspaper advertisement from 1930

Eric Francis “Fred” Williamson died at Sans Souci, Sydney in 1954 at the age of 83. His old shop, opposite Hospital Road, was rebuilt at some stage and, along with another three shops, were demolished by the NSW Government department to make way for the extension of the Northern Distributor (Memorial Drive) in the 1990s.

Besides the mysterious Fred Williamson, here are a few other blokes who ran barber shops in the Bulli Woonona area in 1928. The South Coast Times reported on February 10 1928:  “The local barbers, viz.: T. Quilky, E. O’Keefe, C. Taylor, F. Carew and F. Williamson have arranged a friendly swimming match Sunday afternoon. Quilky and O’Keefe are giving the others 3 seconds start in one length of Bulli Baths. Con Quilky is starter.”

Quilky’s barber shop was in the old hardware store (I think it’s about to become a gymnasium these day!), opposite Stokes Lane on the Princes Highway. Can anyone name the location of the other three barber shops (E.O’Keefe, C. Taylor and F. Carew)?

Also, maybe our readers can name a few Bulli barbers of later years. Remember the barber shop at the corner of Molloy Street and the Princes Highway in the 1970s and 80s?

When I first requested information on Bulli and Woonona’s barbers on the Looking Back Facebook Page in 2015, these were the responses:

Cindy Harrison: “My grandparents talked about Jack Cowan who had his shop at East Woonona although that was in the 1960/70’s from memory. Jack lived in Monie St and would come around and cut my sister and my hair. Shaz had curly hair so her fringe would be cut so short it would curl up and look ridiculous, I would try and hide under the bed to avoid a cut but sadly although my hair was straight it looked identical in the end.”

Terry Sperring: “Cindy Harrison, quite right, one half of the shop was the barber, the other was fish and chips wrapped in newspaper like no one knows how to cook these days ! I lived near the circle 1954 til 1974 when I married and moved away.”

The late John M. Jones OAM: “The two shops on the east side of main road Woonona both had interesting additional businesses. Everyone knew where to place a bet as well as having their hair cut.”

Tom Sellers: “My pop Tommy Clark and his brother Snowy owned a barber in Woonona in the 1930s where Liquorland is now, until they both went off to war in the 40s. When they came back they bought the old bank in Woonona just up from the pub Hoopers and it was a barber’s and sports store. My pop sold it in 1973. My nan has told me F Carew had his shop across the road from Popes rd Woonona.”

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