The Railway Paper Hat

Many performers of railway songs poems and music turn to overseas railways Folk Heroes like 'Casey Jones' to create a recognised image that associates them with railways. For those looking for a bona fide Australian impression you might consider the 'Railway Paper Hat'

An old steam and diesel railway fitter described the background to this hat worn by a range of Australian railway workers over the years:

The Railway Paper Hat

When I first commenced work at the Enfield Loco Roundhouse in the days of steam engines, I was directed by the foreman fitter to introduce myself to the sub-foreman fitter of the section in which I was to commence duties. Having located the section and the sub-foreman I was asked a few routine questions, and then I was instructed to work with a senior fitter who would help me to get established. As I walked away with the other chap, the 'subby' called after me 'The work is dirty, do you know how to make a paper hat'. Surprised, I said 'No', 'The boys will show you!' 'was the answer, and the first chore on the railway became the job of making paper hats. Thus I was introduced to a form of headgear that I came to recognise as a standard part of working attire by many employees.

Paper hats were generally made from used daily papers, the Daily Telegraph was standard size for more normal heads, while the Sydney Morning Herald was more suitable for big heads.

Although other types of paper were also used, some people made their hats out of stiff brown paper, glued or stapled, wire clipped or held firmly together with a couple of split pins. Austere types wore their hats 'Square on' and depending on personality so the angle altered, more rakish angles denoted confidence, 'Chip on the shoulder' types etc. Those with a flair for colour often made them out of the colored comics in the Sunday papers.

Whatever the style, manner of wear, or type of paper, the paper hat has survived the years and no doubt will continue into the future as a cheap way of keeping the head warm, free from dirt and grease from the jobs, as well as providing a source of hilarity for the general public when they see a couple of railwaymen on a station in a busy peak period, lugging along tools, proceeding along the platform to carry out repairs or other emergency duties.

The Paper hat was much easier than a felt hat to tear up and throw away in times of complete frustration and disgust brought about by a job that wouldn’t go right, and the supreme insult was to snatch another person’s hat and tear it up or set fire to it!

From a Folklore interview with Don Barry retired railway fitter DELEC Railway Yard NSW 1984

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