The Akubra is considered an "Aussie Icon" and is probably one of the most recognised styles of hat in the world. Every Australian is said to have an old Akubra lying around somewhere and every Australian has gone through the extended process of selecting the perfect hat or shaping it into its desired look.
Benjamin Dunkerly arrived in Australia in the 1870 with the sole desire to set up a hat making industry. He doubled his usefulness in the hat making industry by not only possessing the knowledge to make exceptional hats but exceptional machinery as well. He engineered a way to remove the hair tip from rabbit fur so the under-fur could be used in the felt hat making process. The company was then moved from Tasmania to Sydney and the first manufacturing factory was born.
Stephen Keir I, Dunkerly’s son-in-law, took over the business when Dunkerly died in 1925. It was then that the small hat-making factory was then to start taking leaps and bounds into the direction of what we know the "Aussie Icon" to be today. Keir moved the factory to much larger premises, increased the production numbers of the hats and started labelling it "Akubra."
Soon after, and with the upcoming war, the hat began to warrant a lot of attention. It’s first and probably most successful contracts came from the Australian military. Soon the famous military Slouch hat came running through the production lines and onto the heads of the Aussie boys overseas. The design was of course noticed by those Allies they fought with gaining international interest. In the early 1950s Akubra obtained the prized licensed agreement from Stetson of America. In 1970, the company moved to its current site in Kempsy.
Despite the use of modernized machinery, the hat is still made today the way it was made back in the 1870’s when production began. First, the hair tip is cut from the rest of the rabbit fur. The down-under fur is then cut from the pelt, cleaned and the manufacturing process can begin. The fur is then placed into an 8 section-blowing machine which mixes and removes and clotted hair, dirt, or felt acting much like a cotton gin.
Next the fur is taken to the forming machine where the cone of the hat is to be created. Here, the fur is sucked onto a large revolving cone and, as it rotates, hot water is sprayed onto the fur. This interlocks the fibres in each direction. When the process is done, the cone is extremely fragile and about three times the height of the actual cone.
The fragile felt is then wrapped in cloth and placed between rollers for shrinking. At this point the rate of shrinking is rapid as the fibres are tightly interlocked making the felt stronger as the shrinking occurs. The process is repeated several times, the hats being repositioned regularly to ensure even pressure. The hats must be shrunk to near their final size in the Apron to undergo the other stages of the manufacturing process.
The dying process is carried out in large vats that hold about 200 hats each. The hats are impregnated with a shellac mixture and are to set in each vat for an hour and a half. Next the body of the hat is tip-stretched and blocked giving the body the shape of a definite crown. After dipping the body in hot water to make it more pliable, metal fingers are used to stretch the body over a frame to create the brim. The hats are then placed onto racks in large ovens to be dried off over night. The oven temperature is kept low and air is circulated through at all times.
Next the brim of the hat is stretched flat by metal rings that hold the hats band line close to the bottom of a wooden block, while fingers stretch the brim flat and clear of the body. The hats are then ironed which sets the shellac giving the brim a strong and stiff durability. Next the hats have their fluffy appearance cut down evenly using sandpaper on a fast wheel. The finish on each hat is unique giving each Akubra its individual look.
The hat is then placed into a frame where the brim receives its ultimate shape. Hot sand and pressure are used to change the shape of the brim before it receives one last sandpapering to achieve the best possible finish on each hat. The hats then have bands, bows, and linings added and are then stamped with the Akubra crest.
Several people, not just Australians enjoy the Akubra. Some famous celebrities that own Akubras are: Pam Burridge, Australia's international surfing star; Prince Charles; Slim Dusty and Lee Kernaghan, Australian country music singers; Ron and Nancy Reagan; Bill Clinton; Australian Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer; Greg Norman; Wayne Gardiner; Alan Grice.