History group teach how to make cabbage tree hat

Learn how to make a beautiful cabbage tree hat such as this one, a style favoured by drovers passing through Kurrajong in the 1800s. Picture: Susan Brian
Learn how to make a beautiful cabbage tree hat such as this one, a style favoured by drovers passing through Kurrajong in the 1800s. Picture: Susan Brian

Learn about cabbage tree hat-making at a special Colo Shire Family History Group meeting.

The art of cabbage-tree hat-making was a thriving cottage industry in the Hawkesbury, especially during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Some of the best palms grew in Cabbage Tree Hollow, or Fox Hollow as it was known, in the Kurrajong district and some of the most accomplished hat-makers were Mrs Thomas McMahon, Mrs John Tierney, Mrs R. Turner, Mrs Tom Overton and Mrs Richard Ezzy.

The tradition continued in later years with Ethel Overton, who married Syd Sheldon from Blaxlands Ridge. Families all along the Lower Hawkesbury also earned extra money making cabbage tree hats, which depending on the quality of the workmanship, could sell from £2 to £5 each – quite expensive in today’s money.

To prepare the bark for making the hats, the ‘hands’ of the palm trees were scalded in hot water for about ten minutes to make the leaf open out like a fan before bleaching in the cold night air. The sides were made first and shaped onto a wooden hat block, followed by the brim, the lining, black velvet band, leather chin strap and finally the shaping of the centre over the crown.

A well-made and well-stitched hat would last for up to three years. The hats were especially popular with drovers passing through the Kurrajong area and an old poem by John Barr recalls that ‘We shrink not from the iron gangs of ruthless days of cabbage tree hat…In famous days of cabbage tree hat, they danced in hobnailed boots and spurs, they polka’d high, with stamp and go; they kissed the girls through whiskered furze, with smacks you’d hear at Bangalow’.

Visiting presenter Sue Brian developed a passion for learning traditional skills in hat-making while living on Norfolk Island and extended this into studying cabbage-tree hat-making in Australia, while husband Don started collecting folk songs about the cabbage-tree hat. It’s very fitting that this event is being held in the Hawkesbury, where cabbage-tree hat-making was such a booming industry.

Come along and hear Sue and Don Brian present ‘The Cabbage-Tree Hat Story’ for Colo Shire Family History Group at Hawkesbury Skills, 23 Bosworth Street Richmond at 10am on Saturday, 16 July.

Cost for presentation, including morning tea, is $5 for members and $7 for non-members. Places are limited, booking essential. Forward your payment by Thursday, July 14, to Joy Shepherd at Colo Shire Family History Group, PO Box 83, Windsor, NSW, 2756 or call 4588 5867.