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From close crop to porn prop

Canberra Museum and Art Gallery collections manager Graeme Tie with the relic that has even been used as a prop in a porn flick.

Canberra Museum and Art Gallery collections manager Graeme Tie with the relic that has even been used as a prop in a porn flick. Photo: Jay Cronan

Canberra's Museum and Gallery is hoping a sex addict may be able to shed some light on the provenance of a recently acquired item in its collection.

Rowan Henderson, the curator of social history at Civic's secret treasure for the past five years, wants to know what late 1990s Canberra porno flick featured the barber's chair from Mick O'Brien's Manuka barber shop.

Not your average Trivial Pursuit question!

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The chair, a splendid circa 1940s device that wouldn't look out of place in a dental surgery, is one of the few Canberra artefacts which has supported the well-covered posteriors of a succession of prime ministers and the butt naked derrieres of adult entertainers.

To begin at the beginning, Harold (Mick) O'Brien was born at Hall in 1913 and was apprenticed to a Kingston hairdresser in 1931. He struck out on his own in 1936 and, over the years, developed his business into O'Brien's Hairdresser and Sports Store, doing cuts at Riley's Newsagency.

Sidelines included a lending library and a dry cleaning agency. Customers included senior politicians, among them several prime ministers and others of cabinet rank.

Harold ''Mick'' O'Brien, centre, with the famous barber's chair.

Harold ''Mick'' O'Brien, centre, with the famous barber's chair.

''According to Mick (who died in 2000) either Ben Chifley or John Curtin (he couldn't remember which) came into the shop wanting a haircut only to find about half a dozen schoolchildren ahead of him. Chifley or Curtin, whoever it was, gave each of the children two shillings to allow him to go first,'' Dr Henderson said.

The chair, which is believed to have been acquired in the 1940s, occupied pride of place in the shop until it closed on June 27, 1998. It was then acquired by Robbie Swan of Eros Foundation fame. ''Apparently it lived in his bathroom for many years and was used in an adult entertainment video production in the 1990s. I'm almost afraid to ask how it was used,'' she said.

The name of the film, and the role played by the chair, are two details the CMG would like to know so it can''flesh out the narrative''.

''I like it (the chair) because it has got both of those histories,'' Dr Henderson said. ''We (the museum) don't have much that has links with the adult entertainment industry that was once such a big part of the ACT. Didn't they used to say that Canberra could be summed up by pollies, porn and pyro?''

The chair is a natural fit for the CMG which regards itself as Canberra's most down-to-earth cultural institution. ''We try to position ourselves as a community museum; something that celebrates Canberra as a place to live and not just as the national capital,'' she said.

Mick O'Brien's chair is just one of many treasurers that makes the Canberra Museum and Gallery a territory treasure that deserves to be celebrated by visitors and locals to a greater degree than it is.

It is, for example, home to what is probably the most definitive collection of works by Sidney Nolan in the country. This can trace its origins back to the mid 1970s when Nolan gifted 24 of his works, including paintings from the iconic Ned Kelly and Burke and Wills, to the people of Australia. More paintings were given over the years and, in 2010, the foundation collection was moved from Lanyon Homestead to a new space at the Canberra Museum and Gallery in Civic.

5 comments

  • I have found memories of Mick O'Brien.
    He was the bloke to see for cod hooks, .22 bullets, fire crackers and good yarn about fishing Canberra's waterways when it was a different place....you could even get a haircut in the same shop.

    Commenter
    dusty
    Date and time
    May 22, 2013, 11:57AM
    • That would be "buck naked derrieres".

      Commenter
      enno
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      May 22, 2013, 4:41PM
      • That's fond memories of Mick O'Brien...and the day He and his dad landed that big cod at the falls back in the 30's.

        Commenter
        dusty
        Date and time
        May 22, 2013, 5:00PM
        • That's hilarious, Mick and Mattie were my grandparents and Bill is my uncle (centre of picture), and as far as I remember there were two identical green chairs... When we were kids sometimes my grandparents would mind my sister and i at the shop and we would sit in them when there were no customers. It is nice to know at least one is still in original condition!

          Commenter
          Vanessa M
          Date and time
          May 23, 2013, 7:43AM
          • So why is the person who would know about this object a 'sex addict' and not just a normal person with a normal interest in porn.

            Commenter
            Steve
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            May 23, 2013, 7:54AM
            Comments are now closed
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