A cabbage tree hat (also known as a cabbage palm hat) is a hat made from the leaves of the Livistona australis, also known as the cabbage-tree palm. It is known as the first distinctively Australian headwear in use. Seeking protection from the sun, early European settlers started to make hats using fibre from the native palm, which soon became popular throughout the colonies. The process involved boiling, then drying, and finally bleaching the leaves. The Powerhouse Museum describes a cabbage-tree hat thus: "Finely woven natural straw coloured hat; high tapering domed crown, wide flat brim; applied layered hat band of coarser plaiting with zig-zag border edges."
During the convict era, gangs of insolent youths were known as cabbage tree mobs because they wore the hat. One of their favourite pastimes was to crush the hats of men deemed too "full of themselves". Cabbage tree mobs are recognised as a predecessor of the larrikin.
Mentions of the hat
There are many mentions of the hat in Australian documents.
- In Volume 2 of Collins, David: An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales from its first settlement, in January 1877, to August 1801, London 1802, Chapter XIX Flinders voyage to Moreton Bay in 1799.
- In Volume 6 of the Historical Records of Victoria, published after the address by Police Historian Gary Presland at the Annual General Meeting in March 2005, it states:
"Police Troopers wore a distinctive dress uniform, consisting of a blue jacket with red facings, black trousers with red stripe, Wellington boots, and pill-box cap. While on duty in the bush they usually wore patrol jacket and trousers, and wide brimmed cabbage tree hat."
- In Edward Micklethwaite Curr's Recollections of Squatting in Victoria, it says:
"Of the gentlemen one saw, a good sprinkling were squatters...Many of them, I noticed, indulged also in blue serge shirts in lieu of coats, cabbage tree hats, belt supporting leather tobacco pouches, and in some cases a pistol..."
- In Margaret Maynard's Fashioned from Penury, it states:
"... In the country, cabbage palm hats, as large as an umbrella, tied under the throat and sometimes burnt black by the sun, were especially common. Practical and cool, they were plaited from the plant Livistonia australia that grows in semi-coastal rainforest areas ...Later the making of these hats from cabbage palm became a form of cottage industry..."
- On page 53 of Men of Yesterday, Margaret Kiddle refers to the cabbage tree hat as "ubiquitous" in the 1840s.
- "Miniature Australian Shepherds For Sale". aussiethings.biz. Aussie Hair Care Products. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
- "Cabbage tree hat, 1880s, Cambewarra, NSW". Collection. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Bellanta, Melissa. Larrkins: A History. University of Queensland Press, 2012. ISBN 9780702247750.
- "Cabbage Tree Hats". Vicnet. Port Phillip Pioneers Group/Alexander Romanov-Hughes. 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
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