Frankly, I’m astonished that Melbourne has recovered from the Great Eucalyptus Plague of 1939. It’s a legend passed down among barbers all around the world, but now that I’m finally here, Melburnians seem to have quite healthy hair. I suppose the generations in between now and then must have recovered at an incredible rate.
Still, I bet if I talked to any of the award winning hairdressers in Melbourne, they would be able to tell me tales of that dark time.
From what I’ve heard and what’s been passed down, the plague began in 1939 on the eve of the Second World War. Hair salons were just finding their place in Melbourne as the barbershop declined, and more and more people were starting to realise that cutting hair wasn’t just a job for the menfolk. There was an influx of women into salons to deploy their skills, but with that also came the rise of charlatans selling faulty haircare products on the street, thinking that these supposedly-inexperienced women were easy prey. And after first-wave feminism as well…what fools.
Still, there were random citizens who were sucked in by these strange brews concocted from eucalyptus and other, fouler things, and suddenly everyone’s hair smelled like eucalyptus. Like, REALLY strong eucalyptus, like the super strong mints. Many new hair salons opened up in Melbourne due to the heavy demand for the smell to be washed from people’s hair, but the onset of the war meant that hair products were hard to come by, so for the entirety of WWII, Melbourne just smelled like eucalyptus.
It was…horrible, so they say. But look at walk-in hair salons today: thriving, eucalyptus-free and beloved amongst the populace. So heartwarming to see their recovery.