What was the hat?

photo 2(2)Flinders came to Quandamooka in H.M. Colonial Sloop Norfolk in 1799.  He had been sent by Governor Hunter to check out James Cook’s hunch that there might be a river in the Quandamooka area.  The Norfolk had been built on Norfolk Island under the direction of the Commandant, Robert Townson, even though  Hunter had previously forbidden the construction of such a vessel on Norfolk Island to prevent convicts from escaping.  Flinders was accompanied on his journey to Quandamooka by a Darkinyung man, remembered as Bungaree.  Bungaree is depicted in many different portraits as a man with a hat.

I was not interested in Bungaree’s hats until I noticed that Flinders and Oxley both felt justified after the shooting of Aboriginal people in disputes about their own hats.  I started to notice the mention of hats in people’s journal entries.  There are a lot of mentions.  My curiosity about hats led me to wonder if the procession of hats on the procession of ships, which were arriving in Quandamooka, were sending powerful and urgent signals.  Then I realized that the flag of Queensland itself features a hat.  This all makes me wonder, what was the hat?

Here is a refrain from a gold rush song ‘The Cabbage Tree Hat’

Go where you will – now think of that!    You’re right if you’ve got a cabbage-tree hat.

When viewed through the lens of hats, this exhibition comes in two distinct parts.  The period from the Endeavour (1770) to the Rainbow (1827) locates hats in the processes of survey work and map-making.

The period from James Watt, Sovereign, Emigrant, and onward focuses on one particular hat – the hat of the British sovereign.  Thanks to the work of the surveyors, ‘Crown Land’ could be identified on maps.  ‘Crown land’ became a crucial phrase in the English language.  It made possible the creation of ‘Queensland’.  Of all of the ships to visit Quandamooka, which are featured in this exhibition, only the Otter carried out its work in ‘Queensland’.

The Queensland badge has retained the crown at its centre.  The Queensland flag is a Blue Ensign, defaced by that badge.   The hat is part of Queensland’s distinctive identity.

Bi’nga (n) hat; like a bucket.

(From Dictionary of the Gubbi-Gubbi and Butchulla People)
“The name was inspired by the (bucket-like) high hats of the gentry and militia officers in the early days of settlement by white people.”

Here is a procession of ships and a progression of hat stories.

Hat Hill was named by James Cook in 1770

Matthew Flinders’ 1796 Journal in Tom Thumb begins with references to James Cook and Hat Hill, which was named by Cook in 1770 because it resembled the crown of a hat.

1789 Bounty

William Bligh was with both Cook(Resolution) and Flinders (Providence) in the South Pacific.  I suspect that he learned from Cook and somehow shaped Flinders.  Between his times with Cook and Flinders, Bligh was commander of HMS Bounty.  The following event is drawn from Bligh’s journal on that voyage.

When we had walked about 5 minutes, Tina stopped and informed me that no person could be permitted to see his son who was covered above the shoulders.  He then took off his upper garments and requested I would do the same.  I replied that I had  no objection to go as I would to my own king who was the greatest in all the world, and pulling off my hat he threw a piece of cloth around my shoulders and we went on…


I make the same mistake as Flinders and Cook when I link an observation of one Nation or culture with an observation of a different Nation.  I hope to avoid that mistake.  The following note from the First Fleet among the Tharawal people is presented here as an observation about British people.  My observation is that  British navigators documented the drama of their hats being the centre of attention.

The headgear of the strangers seemed also to please them, and several hats were stolen from their owners’ heads, and whenever an Englishman took off his hat they gave shouts of approval.  (19 January, 1788)

The cabbage tree hat arrived in Quandamooka with Flinders on the Norfolk in 1799.  A folk song, ‘Cabbage Tree Hat‘, which is associated with the gold rush over 50 years later, supports this idea that hats are a focal point of drama and public presence for English-speaking people.


J.G. Steele published a relatively long account of an incident in Quandamooka involving a woolen cap and Flinders’ cabbage tree hat.  (The Explorers of the Moreton Bay District, p.15).  This is an extract:

Mr Flinders joined his companion (i.e. Bungaree), taking his gun with him.  By making friendly signs, laying down the gun and offering them a woolen cap, he was suffered to approach, and one took the cap; but when Mr Flinders made signs that he expected to have his net bag in return, he made him to understand that he must first give him his hat.  This hat was made of the white filaments of the cabbage tree and seemed to excite the attention and wishes of the whole party.

As the hat was not given to him, he came forward, first throwing the cap that he had received upon the bank to secure it, and seemed very anxious for either the hat or the gun, or both.  Everything, however, was carried on very amicably; and Mr Flinders, with his native, retreated slowly toward the boat, but turned again, upon finding that they pressed close after them. One of them then, laughing, and talking at the same time to Mr Flinders, attempted to take the hat off his head with a long hooked stick; which, on his discovering, created a laugh.  Behind him, another one was stretching out a long arm to the same object, but was fearful of coming near enough to reach it.

Tim Flannery’s version reduces the incident to the following comments:

“There was a party of natives on the point, and our communication was at first friendly; but after receiving presents they made an attack, and one of them was wounded by our fire.”

Flinders shot a man after a dispute about hats

Flinders shot a man after a dispute about hats

Bungaree’s icnonic hats were gifts from Governors.  He is remembered for providing a theatrical commentary of life in Sydney.  In Sydney, he is remembered more for his hat theatre than for his commentary.  Flinders drew upon his commentary when writing his notes about the hat-related shooting.

1803 Porpoise

Hats get a mention in Flinders’ account of the wreck of the Porpoise.

On examining the condition of the boat (i.e. the gig of the Porpoise), I found nothing to bale out the water, and only two oars which did not belong to it: and instead of the proper crew of four men, there were only three, but under the thwarts were stowed away three others – the armourer, a cook and a marine, who did not know how to handle an oar.  These were set to baling with their hats and shoes, and we rowed towards the Bridgewater’s light. (from Terra Australis p.239)

1803 Hope

Hopewell a

Flinders’ notes from the 29 August, aboard the cutter ‘Hope’ outline the hospitality of the Quandamooka people when he needed water.  In these notes, he remembers the incident involving his cabbage tree hat from his first visit to Quandamooka.

“Perhaps (they) had heard of my expedition to Glass-house Bay in 1799, in which I had been provoked to make one of them feel the effect of our arms; and had they attempted anything against my two men, we were prepared to have given them a volley from the boat which would probably have been a fearful confirmation of the truth of the report; but happily for both parties, we were not reduced to the necessity.”

1822 Sally

P1030362I had on my head an old Calcutta hat, which I put on his head to his great delight, considering himself clothed from head to foot. (John Bingle, in Steele 1972, The Explorers, p. 45)

Steele’s footnote urges comparison with Flinders’ and Oxley’s field notes.

1823 Mermaid

P1030338On arrival in Quandamooka, John Oxley met two ‘ticket of leave’ convicts – i.e. former prisoners of ‘the Crown’.

1824 Amity

Oxley and Cunningham arrived in Quandamooka together on the Amity.  They ventured up the Brisbane River.  Along the way their party fired upon the Aboriginal people in two separate incidents involving conflict over John Oxley’s straw hat.


Many years later, Cunningham wrote…

Everything they saw about our persons they coveted; particularly our hats, which, by signs they signified, would be very useful to them to carry wild honey in , which they obtain in abundance from hollow trees in this part of the country. (18 June 1929, Cunningham in Steele, p 314)

Cunningham’s reference to bees is intriguing, and strangely nurtured by the road signage around Amity.  While these two names appearing together is most likely a coincidence, this street sign does energise further inquiry into Cunningham’s suspicion about the relationship between hats and honey.

1827 Rainbow

When the Rainbow brought Governor Ralph Darling to the Quandamooka, the ship’s crew was active in survey work.  Governor Darling’s hat was memorialised in relation to other survey work, coming from Sydney.  Darling gave his hat to a Wiradjuri man who is remembered as ‘Piper’.  Piper assisted Major Thomas Mitchell in his overland survey work, which mapped the overland pathways to the north, which the squatters and their herds would follow.


After these maps and surveys, the records become punctuated by references to the hat of the sovereign, in the abundant references to Crown Land.

Go where you will – now think of that!    You’re right if you’ve got a cabbage-tree hat.


3 thoughts on “What was the hat?

  1. The chorus of ‘Cabbage tree hat’ provides a fitting refrain for the above association between colonial surveyors and their hats. ‘Go where you will, now think of that,
    You’re right it you’ve got a cabbage-tree hat.’


  2. #burkini reflection – a new chapter in the hat saga

    It was a wet season. A man came along who was covered in clothes. When he saw the water, he knelt down before it to drink, praying “if you are willing, you can help me live here.” The water was clean and good and hospitable. Immediately, the man removed his clothes. The water gurgled, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but show everyone your legal proceedings, and your testimonies.’ News about the water spread everywhere and crowds of people came with their global economy. The water often withdrew to lonely places.

    It was a hot season. A woman came along who was covered in clothes. When she saw the water, she knelt before it to enjoy its cool energy, praying, ‘If you are willing you can help me live here.’ The water was clean and good and hospitable. Immediately, the laws left her alone to share the water, who splashed ‘Don’t tell anyone, but show everyone your Rasool, and your Shahada.’ News about the water spread everywhere and the crowds gathered to be healed of their law-fullness. The water often withdrew to lonely places.

    (From Luke 5:12-16)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s