Cork hats have become a symbol that is associated worldwide with Australia and its culture. The popular headgear--often described as the Australian version of the American cowboy hat--can be traced back to the 19th century. The cork hat is still very much in use today, and continues to serve many important roles.
Cork hats were invented by the Australian Aborigines. They were primarily worn by swagmen--unemployed, generally homeless men, who travelled in search of work amid the fly-invested Outback during the Great Depression of the 1890s. The cork hat has remained part of Australian culture, and continues to be worn in and beyond the country today.
An Australian cork hat, which is shaped like the slouch hat, comes in a variety of materials, from cheaper straw and canvas to more expensive leather. Corks hang around the brim of the hat on the end of 1- to 2-inch-long cords.
How They Are Made
Holes are pierced around the brim of the hat, then pieces of cord are threaded through them. A knot is tied at the top end of the cords to keep them in place. The cords are threaded through the hole in the middle of bottle stopper-shaped corks that are pierced down the centre. Another knot is tied at the end of the cord, just beneath the cork.
Australian cork hats were primarily invented to keep flies from the eyes and face of the wearer. The Australian Outback is populated by blowflies, and the corks, which swing when the wearer moves, are used to divert any potential incoming insects.
The hat additionally shields the wearer from the sun, heat, rain, wind and other extreme weather conditions. This consequently aids in preventing such conditions as sunburn, heat rash or dry skin.
The Australian cork hat has become a universally recognised visual symbol of Australia, much like the koala. While they continue to be worn for their traditional uses, the hats are also a popular item with tourists, who often purchase them as novelty items or gifts. Because of their symbolic nature, they are regular wear on special occasions in an attempt to capture the stereotypical Australian look.