Real Life

From Jamaica to Australia, this hairdresser shares her journey and the time Heather Ledger was her client

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Evadney Wootton, 66, from Hobart, Tasmania, shares her story with Take 5’s Theo Rule:

The hairdresser looked at me with alarm as I entered her salon.

“I’d like to have it set, please,” I said, referring to my afro.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” she replied, baffled by my request.

It was 1980, and I had recently moved to Perth from the UK for work opportunities.

Evadney Wootton before she was a hairdresser (Image: supplied)

Jamaican by birth, I noticed there weren’t many people with my kind of hair in Australia.

After trying different salons, I realised that if I wanted one which specialised in afro hairdressing, I was going to have to create it myself.

I had just given birth to my daughter Cleonie, but I knew I had to make a difference, so I decided to quit my job in dentistry and move back to the UK for a couple of years to study afro hairstyles.

After completing my training, I returned to Perth and began styling in my own home.

Evadney and her daughter Cleonie (Image: supplied)

But word got out about the new hairdresser doing afro styles and I soon needed to expand.

I contacted the Hairdressers Registration Board to seek permission.

“What sort of thing are you doing?” asked the man on the phone.

“Dreadlocks, afros, braids and extensions,” I replied.

“Well, you’re allowed to do that,” the man scoffed, “because that’s not hairdressing.”

I was shocked!

Evadney made a mark in Australia (Image: supplied)

I rented a room in the city and was soon styling hundreds of customers.

I had many curious Caucasians coming to me.

“Can you give me dreadlocks?” asked some.

Because my salon was in such high demand, I began taking on apprentices, many of them refugees from Somalia in need of work.

But in 1990, I received a letter from the Hairdressers Registration Board informing me my service was now considered hairdressing, and without a licence, I had to terminate my practice immediately.

It devastated me to close up shop and tell my employees it was over.

But I wasn’t going to give up.

Evadney creating dreadlocks on Caucasian hair (Image: supplied)

I spent the next few years doing my apprenticeship to earn my licence.

In 1993, I opened a new salon in Perth called Blackberries Dreamhair, which attracted many high-profile clients, including Marcia Hines and AFL player Nic Naitanui.

By then, Cleonie had started acting in several TV shows.

One day she brought a castmate in to have his hair done.

The charismatic young actor plonked himself down in my chair.

With Heath Ledger (Image: supplied)

“Hi, I’m Heath Ledger,” he said, smiling.

Heath was incredibly down-to-earth and remained good friends with my daughter right up until his tragic passing.

Three years ago, I decided to hang up the tools and move to Hobart, only to notice there were a lot of young Africans living in Tasmania.

My plan is to start a school for hairdressers, which specialises in dreadlocks, afros, braids and extensions.

Even though I’d hoped to retire, I’m not complaining.

Introducing African hairstyles to Australia has been the joy of my life and it’s an honour to pass that skill on to the next generation.

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