Wayne Dawe strikes you as the sort of bloke who would never tell you if he were crook.
But back on 8 March, he knew something was wrong. He was short of breath and felt a lump in his throat when he swallowed, although he couldn’t feel it on the outside. He went to the GP who told him his thyroid was enlarged. The biopsy showed it was cancer.
“It all happened so quickly,” Wayne, 52, said. “I went to see a specialist … the next day they operated on me. They said it had taken up about 80 per cent of my throat.”
Wayne spent 19 days in Canberra Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit after the operation to remove his thyroid and to undergo a tracheotomy. He remained in hospital for six weeks.
Talking about his own problems doesn’t come easily to the man who, for the past 31 years, has been listening to everyone else’s – and keeping their secrets. When you run the barber shop in a country town like Yass, it pays to be a good listener.
Wayne was the face behind the Liberty barber shop in the main street of Yass, coming into town each day from the family property at Binalong, about 30 minutes up the highway. His wife Kim would take off in the other direction to the Post Office at Harden, which she ran. Today, both have given up their jobs to spend quality time with each other and the family.
“All this has been a lot tougher on Kim than it has on me,” Wayne said. “I was asleep for most of the time.
“Nineteen days in the ICU is a long time. But the staff were amazing – even the doctors made Kim cuppas.”
The couple has been married 31 years, meeting when Wayne was asked to DJ Kim’s sister’s 21st.
“I’ve been making a nuisance of myself around her ever since,” he said. “But I know I could not have gone through any of this without her. She’s been amazing.”
And so, according to Wayne, were staff at Canberra Hospital.
“I particularly want to thank the staff in Ward 9B and the ICU,” he said. “They were incredible.
“Now when I go back for treatment they tell me how good I’m looking, compared to how bad I looked the last time they saw me.”
Wayne and Kim said support from the people of the Yass Valley had also been remarkable throughout the ordeal.
As the town’s barber for more than 30 years, Wayne knew just about everyone in town. Not only did he cut their hair, he also listened, kept confidences and listened some more.
The Liberty salon’s history in Yass says a lot about the people who have run it. Wayne is only the fifth tenant since it opened in 1939. He has handed his scissors over to Alana Pack-McLucas, of whom he speaks highly.
“I really want to thank all my clients,” Wayne said. “I’ll particularly miss all the little ones – some of them I remember who came in and sat on the booster seats started bringing in their little ones for a cut.”
“I’ll miss the social side, too.”
Wayne said he and Kim would now share some quality time together with family.
“This has been a life-changer for us,” he said.
He will continue with treatment and, depending on how that goes, reconstructive surgery is next on the agenda.
“I feel great now, we’ve done a few little trips and I’ve enjoyed that. We went down to Tumut just for fish and chips the other day, that’s the sort of thing of thing we want to do.”
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One of Wayne’s best customers was the Mayor of Yass, Allan McGrath, who this week named Wayne as the inaugural winner of the Good Citizen Award.
“This award acknowledges, with thanks and appreciation, the service, patience, discretion and many kindnesses Wayne displayed in looking after the tonsorial needs of boys and men in Yass over the past 31 years,” he said.
“As a barber, counsellor and friend, Wayne will be sorely missed by all his regulars who, I’m sure, join me in wishing him all the best for the future.”
Cr McGrath also put his feelings for the barber down in poetry, describing his friend as perfect in almost every way – except for choice of radio stations in the salon – John Laws and then Ray Hadley. Not a hit.