Friday night, the first night of the rodeo, was a chance for everybody to dress up and socialise. I felt decidedly under-dressed, even though I’d changed my shorts for jeans. We got to the bar amidst a sea of paisley shirts, sparkly belt buckles, perfume and poetry. And that was just the boys.
And they all still had their hats on.
I’m continually amazed by how well cowboys’ hats stay on. I’m hopeless with hats – at the slightest breeze my hat flies off my head and I’m left running along after it, grabbing at air as a gust of wind whips it away again right out of my hands.
But Akubras are not just hats, they’re cowboy (or cockie, or ringer) head protection. Whether just generally riding their horses, rounding up steers in the camp draft, roping, riding broncs or bulls, the only head protection anybody had (except for the sensible or the young ones, under 17 they had to wear helmets) was an Akubra. And the only time any Akubra came off was when the rider went for a tumble. Even then it was only a few, mostly the hats stayed in place on their heads.
I’ve wanted an Akubra for ages, and finally, for my last birthday, I got one. When Doc took me shopping at HorseWorld I thought I was getting a pony, but it was an Akubra. I was so excited trying them all on and picking my favourite (the most expensive one in the shop – of course). I was told to buy one a size too big, because the leather band would shrink to fit my head, so I did.
Of course, leather needs moisture to shrink, and generally when you’re wearing a hat, that moisture is sweat. So I wore it and wore it at home trying to get it to fit properly before I went away. To no avail. Even when I got to Uluru after 4 weeks away my Akubra kept flying off my head whenever there was a breeze.
Finally, in Julia Creek, it was warm enough for me to sweat enough to make the Akubra fit my head and now it doesn’t fly off whenever there’s a breeze. I’m starting to feel like a real Aussie in the outback in my Akubra. Though I think the Swarovski crystal clasp through the hatband marks me out as not being a real country girl!
It might have taken city folk a long time to twig that you need to wear a hat in the sun, but out in the country they’ve known it for years. At the rodeo even the little kids have got big Akubras. And everybody wears them as if they’re part of their heads, so I guess it’s no surprise that even at night they’ve got their hats on.
I was sitting at the bar this afternoon and remarked that I was going to move into the shade “That’s what your hat’s for” a cowboy drawled as he took his off and wiped his forehead, exposing the deep line where his hat “fits snugly” on his head.
Then I was talking with Alan. He reckons a hat says everything about a man, and he wouldn’t hire anybody who wears a black hat. My thoughts immediately turned to the “bad guys wear black hats” of my cowboys and Indians television childhood, but there’s a more practical reason. Alan has a cattle station. It’s in the outback, where the sun shines strong every day. Black hats attract heat, so anybody wearing a black hat is likely to get heatstroke and not be able to work. Therefore they don’t get hired.
So can somebody tell me – do cowboys ever take their hats off?