Menachem's Writings

On Akubras, Avatars, Avocations
and Slowly Growing Older

Menachem's Avatar

One represents oneself on the Internet with an avatar. These symbols or representations can be 3-dimensional when used in computer games and animations, or 2-dimensional, used mainly in fora (the real plural of forum -- it's not forums which is what most people say) and text based situations.

Apart from my beard, the object that most stands out on my avatar is my broad-brimmed hat. It's an Akubra, of which I have a number of different styles and colours.

I always wear a hat when I go outside during the daytime. An Akubra is an Australian brand of hat, whose wide-brimmed styles are a distinctive part of Australian culture, especially in rural areas. (Some believe the name to be derived from an Indigenous Australian word for head covering, but no-one really knows, and I don't know that the Australian Aborigines wore hats to protect themselves from the sun -- they hardly saw the value in wearing much in the way of clothes.) Most Akubras are made from rabbit fur -- I believe up to twelve rabbit pelts in each hat.

Australia these days has no shortage of rabbits. They are not supposed to be in Australia -- they are newcomers on the scene, Johnny-come-latelies. All Australian mammals are marsupials (except for the two egg layers, the platypus and the echidna, a.k.a. the spiny anteater), there being no native placental mammals down there. Marsupial success over placentals in Australia may be attributed to marsupials' comparatively low metabolic rate, a trait which could prove helpful in the hot Australian desert climate. But we don't know for sure if that is the case.

The infestation of rabbits appears to have been originated by one Thomas Austin. This Limey dill decided he wanted to keep up his regular weekend activity of rabbit shooting as if he were back in the old country (where rabbits have natural predators other than the English gentleman). But what to do, alas no bunnies in Australia. Austin asked his nephew back in England to send him twenty-four (two hats' worth) grey rabbits, five hares, seventy-two partridges, and some sparrows too. This was to allow him to continue his beloved hobby down under in Australia by creating a local population of the species. At the time he is reported as saying, "The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home [among the Gum Trees?], in addition to a spot of hunting." Some much for a Pommy's avocation -- a spot of hunting?!

He released his nephew's twenty-four wild rabbits on his property, Barwon Park, near Winchelsea, Victoria, in October, 1859 for "hunting purposes". (To show Austin wasn't the only idiot that arrived on Aussie shores, other farms also released rabbits into the wild. It only takes one idiot to start a trend.)

Now rabbits are an extremely sexually prolific creature (there's no such thing as one rabbit!) and the creatures spread rapidly across the southern parts of the continent. Australian climatic conditions are ideal for a rabbit population explosion. As a result of mild winters, rabbits are able to breed over the entire year. Widespread farming turning areas that may have previously been desert, scrub, or woodlands in the past, created the perfect habitat for rabbits to breed and thrive.

In a classic example of unintended consequences, within ten years of their introduction back in 1859, the original twenty-four bunnies had multiplied to such a great extent that two million were shot or trapped annually without having any noticeable effect on the population! Try as they may (including the introduction of the deadly myxomatosis virus had little effect) the Okkers couldn't get the rabbits under control.

But as sad it has been for the Australian habitat, there is now plenty of raw materials for broad-brimmed hats. (I guess they would have used kangaroo, wombat or koala fur if it weren't for the wabbits. I don't know if apart from being ubiquitous that rabbit fur provides any material advantages.)

Benjamin Dunkerley started making Akubras in Crown Street (where Jill was born a bit later on), Surry Hills, an inner suburb of Sydney, in 1880. They weren't called Akubra yet, but it was the start of a tradition that until this very day is still a family owned business.

When I was a kid, everyone wore hats outdoors during the daytime. Then suddenly (except to go to the synagogue) everyone stopped sporting headgear. I've heard that this fashion change commenced in the US following the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy (JFK) in January 1961. In a break from tradition, Kennedy arrived at his swearing-in without a titfer [short for tit for tat, Cockney and Aussie rhyming slang for 'hat'], his "young" hair blowing in the wispy Washington winter breeze. Americans were proud to have such a handsome young man as their POTUS*, their leader, and threw away their lids too.

But the Australian climate isn't that of Washington and New York, and out in the countryside, the farmers and populace continued to don their Akubras. But city dwellers stopped. Must have been a blow to the hat industry. I only remember only one hat shop, in the Strand Arcade, remaining in Sydney.

But then peanut farmer, premier of Queensland, Sir Johannes "Joh" Bjelke-Petersen, started a campaign to prevent skin cancer, especially on the top of the ears, a serious Queensland (and further afield Australian) problem. He pushed the wearing of wide brimmed hats -- and eventually it caught on. Now you see Akubras all over the place again in Australia.

Menachem's aged avatar

Well that's the background of my avatar. My mate Aryeh Zelasko proposed the following change, to which I say, an Avatar is not a photograph and doesn't have to represent (current) reality, it's just an avatar!

* P.O.T.U.S. The President of the United States.

Please feel free to and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.


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