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  • Writer's pictureDigital Liz

Is This a Unicorn?

At the rising of the sun and its going down, we remember them...

Is this a unicorn^?

Historically, slouch hats referred to any hat with a wide brim worn on an angle - and we Aussies were not the first to wear 'our' hat.

When a slouch hat was pinned up on three sides, such as the one that Capt Cook is often depicted wearing, then it was called a tri-corn slouch hat. One pinned up on two sides, popular for rifle drills, was a bicorn. So with 'uni' meaning one or singular, a slouch hat pinned on one side was a... you got it!

Slouch hats came into prominence in the Spanish 80 Years War, sometimes called the Dutch War of Independence, that started in 1568, but the first war in which a slouch hat pinned on only one side was seen was the American War of Independence. It was the English, not the Yanks, who adopted it with King Charles I's cavalry wearing them.

Fast forward almost a century to a chap named Thomas Price, born in Tasmania, who served with the British Indian Army in the 1860s. He was sent to Burma where his Indian counterparts wrote a single-pinned slouch hat. Price correctly thought "what a cool design for a hot climate". He then returned as a Lieutenant Colonel to Victoria where he raised a mounted regimen. Today we know Price's men as the first Light Horse regimen.

Although other regimens wore blue at the time, he dressed his men in khaki with a slouch hat pinned on one side.

As other Light Horse Brigades were established, they too adopted his uniform. Then the pre-Federation colonies agreed that all soldiers except artillery would wear the slouch hat. And the state in which you enlisted determined which side was pinned up, dictated by which shoulder rested the gun in that state's rifle drill.

Historians attest that in those early military days our soldiers would show their horsemanship by galloping past a wild emu and plucking a feather from the no doubt confused bird*. Displaying the feathers under your hat pin became proof of your exemplary skills.

So unicorns dress in emu feathers!

^ We wish to honour all men and women who have served our nation, and the animals that went with them to war. Lest We Forget.

* Barcaldine in Outback Queensland lays claim to the origin of this tradition. During the Great Shearers' Strike of 1891 the Queensland Mounted Infantry was called in. When off duty they would amuse themselves in a 'sport' of sorts - riding their horses alongside emus and plucking a breast feather or three. The Gympie Squadron was the first to wear the feathers full-time and the fashion soon caught on. Then in 1915 the Minister for Defence, Sir G.F. Pearce, granted all units of the Australian Light Horse permission to wear the plumes, which were curiously referred to in official documents as ‘Kangaroo feathers’. Ah, Aussie humour!


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