Service member 118040 was a quiet man. It troubled him when I asked,”May I take your Black Watch Glengarry to school for “show and tell?”. It was the only physical reminder he had left to remind him he had served as an adolescent with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers in WWI. Certainly, I gave an elaborate one sentence talk on the bonnet when he approved. As it happened, after that, as was the custom, I stuffed it into my school bag, on the peg, in the corridor, outside the classroom. Neither of us saw that object again. Gone! Disappeared! Stolen? Who would know? Many fine objects of memorability, once owned by this family, went the same way from that corridor. Seventy years later I still feel the loss of that piece of cloth. What he lost was more than a cap, I remain sure he was forever concerned by me.
He worried me as well. He alway wore a hat. A battered old thing covered his pale skin, his comb over hair style, and his face when he worked. On Sundays he wore a new Akubra fedora. Both hats were of grey felt. In the nineteen fifties all men wore felt hats. They were smart things but most of all they were a reminder to Br’er Rabbit, or if you prefer Flopsy, to run whenever they saw a man with a gun. Rabbits were more plentiful then than hats, however style dictated a need for hats. The slow ones in the pots, gave their skins to be made into headwear for men and women. It troubled me dad wore a hat, because I had too had to wear a school cap, and I was a boy uninterested in resembling an old man.
They were ridiculous things. The short peak barely covered your forehead and your nose and your ears got sunburnt, or in my case, they developed chilblains in the winter. I hated them. To be seen on the streets before or after school not wearing one met with admonishment from a teacher. Like the unfortunate time I guessed everyone was locked into their homes for the night, and I flipped off to the shop. Just for a second. I failed to stop at the corner. Mr Plod came around the bend behind me and flashed his blue lights seconds after I changed direction. This time I wasn’t wearing a hat, but before marching toward me he reached into his car, and put on his cap. I knew the admonishment was going to be at least as severe as it had been to be caught cap-less after school.
Today I wear a hat. I learned its value in the outback. It keeps the sun out of my eyes. It shades my blotchy brow and sun damaged ears. I also once wore the hat with pride. The Canadian Mounties crown of the hat was just as the founder of the scouts Bayern Powell asked. At another time I wore the slouch hat of the Australian Citizen Military Forces. All of them were reused, repurposed bunny skins.
Hats are symbols. I have been close to a few men who wore mitres. I have saluted men wearing the red band officer’s peaked cap on parade. I have followed the advice given to me by the hard hat wearing company fire officer. Most young Australian boys would love to be awarded a floppy Australian cricketer’s cap. To wear a mortar board is a sign of academic success. To better that and wear the Tudor style bonnet of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a sign of academic distinction.
Hats maketh the man. Or so the swanks, who still wear black top hats to the Melbourne Cup, would have you believe. (The day is so important Victorians are given a holiday for it.) it is a feature for women to wear elaborate head gear on that day. (Years ago hat wearing was a feature only noticed on Sunday on the heads of the church going matrons.)
For over a century the most common hat worn by Australians has been the Akubra. In the dusty outback, where the sun bakes everything, even if the hat has missing bits, or it has lost its colour and shape, men would not venture into the sun without it. “Our Bobby”, as Bob Kater the Queensland parliamentary is known, is never seen without a white one. The entertainer Molly Meldrum made it his signature to wear one on TV. As I could demonstrate the list is long. Pat Dodson, former priest – now activist indigenous MP, wears his black model – even In parliament. John Howard, former Prime Minister, preferred to wear the Pastoralist model. Was this a pretence he was from the land? Governors-General now wear the rabbit felt hat to civic functions outdoors as a sign of their common sense.
The world changed (No doubt for the worst.) when Donald Trump started wearing his peaked tractor cap, bearing the words, Make America Great Again. Some would call it a baseball cap. Whatever it is called it has no place in Australian tradition. For a start the game is barely played in this country yet cap wearers are taking over. Our PM Morrison, the man who was re-elected unexpectedly, is modelling himself as Trump.
The most ridiculous part of his schtick is to wear that cap and imagine it lifts his status as a man of the people. Next, will it bear our version of the Trump message? I’m not holding my breath. The treasurer looked even less convincing on last night’s News emulating his boss. Leading Airman 118040 would not recognise our current PM. Even if he was wearing the jaunty Glengarry type WWII RAAF cap it would not help. Why? To get the answer you have to find someone, who after two world wars, is prepared to send young men to die for ideology before the ideals of peace.