Emu plume as a symbol of commemoration in Australia

 

During World War I, some soldiers of the Australian Light Horse decorated their slouch hats with a plume of emu feathers. Mounted troops in Queensland began the tradition before the war started, and members of the Armoured Corps still wear them today.

History of its symbolism

A bunch of emu feathers

Emu plume of Honorary Captain Stanley Thomas Parkes, 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance, Australian Imperial Force AWM REL28700

The emu plume was first worn by members of the Queensland Mounted Infantry during Australian shearers' strike of 1891. Mounted troops were called to Gympie to keep the peace during the strike. It's said that when they were not on duty, the soldiers created a sport of plucking feathers from running emus to place in their hats. The unofficial uniform fashion spread throughout the Regiment.

By 1903, a hat adorned with a plume of emu feathers became part of the Commonwealth Mounted Forces uniform, recorded in the official dress manual from 1903 to 1912.

In 1915, during World War I, the Minister for Defence, Sir George Pearce, permitted all units of the Australian Light Horse to wear the plume. They called them 'Kangaroo feathers' at the time.

After the war, the Australian Army released:

MILITARY ORDER 390-1923

Wearing of Emu Plumes and Hat Puggarees by members of Light Horse units.

Approval is given for the wearing of emu plumes and hat puggarees by members of Light Horse units, provided supplies can bc arranged regularly without expense to the public.

Emu plumes and pugarees provided as above will not be accounted for in Unit Clothing Ledgers (A.M. Book 14) but arrangements should be made by commanding officers of Light Horse units to maintain proper records of the receipt and disposal of these articles.

What it means to us today

After World War I, the symbolism of the emu plume became more widely recognised in Australia and throughout the Commonwealth of Nations.

In 1996, all Royal Australian Armoured Corps personnel were given the approval to wear the emu plumes in the brim of a slouch hat.

Emu feathers are still worn by members of the Armoured Corps. In 2005, when the first Australian Light Armoured Vehicle of the Al Muthanna Task Group arrived in the Middle East Area of Operations:

The distinctive Emu plumes on the Light Horse's slouch hat became a familiar sight on the streets of As Samawah. The warm response from the locals was a great start to the deployment.

[Department of Defence Annual Report 2004-05]

A female soldier in uniform stand in front of a large vehicle

Trooper Alexis Matthews of the 1st Armoured Regiment standing in front of a Bushmaster at RAAF Base Edinburgh near Adelaide, 2020. Department of Defence.

Engage more with this topic

Short video

Watch a 4-minute video from Gympie Regional Libraries about the history of emu plumes.

Inquiry-based learning activity

Throughout history, feathers have formed a distinctive part of the military uniforms in many different countries. For many soldiers, their headdress has been a symbol of their collective identity.

  1. Find some other countries that include feathers in a military headdress.
  2. Compare the feathered Australian slouch hat with other headdresses worn by other armed forces. Which headdress is the most practical on a battlefield?

Last updated: 10 November 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Emu plume as a symbol of commemoration in Australia, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 5 December 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/commemoration/symbols-commemoration/emu-plume
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