AP PHOTOS: Rugged, stylish Akubra hat a symbol of Australia

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Akubra hat symbol of Australia
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AP PHOTOS: Rugged, stylish Akubra hat a symbol of Australia
Customers try on different hat styles in the Strand Hatter store in Sydney, Australian, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. Robert Carroll, milliner and manager of Akubraâs only retail store, Strand Hatters says he has seen the changes and popularity of hats over the past 29 years he has been in the industry. Carroll says men are buying hats again and his store is the busiest it has ever been.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
In this Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 photo, hatter Peter Hill personalizes a hat with steam and a brush in the Strand Hatters store in Sydney, Australian. Robert Carroll, manager of Akubraâs only retail store, has been in the industry for more than 29 years and has seen all the changes in fashion and the popularity of hats grow. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Milliner Robert Carroll places a hat on a customer's head while he stands on a ladder in his store Stand Hatter in Sydney, Australian, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. Carroll, manager of Akubraâs only retail store has been in the industry for more than 29-years and has seen all the changes in fashion and the popularity of hats grow.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
In this Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 photo, a worker inspects hats after the final shaping during hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia. The hats, which are made of rabbit fur, are impervious to water and created in a process involving hot water, pressure and friction. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Cone shaped fur felt is prepared for forming and shaping during the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The hats, which are made of rabbit fur and are impervious to water, are created in a process involving hot water, pressure and friction. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Geoff Edwards pulls a hat out of a press after the final shaping process during hat manufacturing at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The Akubra, an Aboriginal word meaning head covering has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Greg Brady show how strong fur felt is by trying to tear it with his boot during the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The hats, which are made of rabbit fur and are impervious to water, are created in a process involving hot water, pressure and friction. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Robert Cooper smooths and cleans up the hat before final shaping during the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The Akubra, an Aboriginal word meaning head covering has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain. For countless Australians over the past 130 years, the iconic hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Large cone shaped felt shapes are carried from one process to the next during the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. For countless Australians over the past 130 years, the iconic hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Worker put fur felt cones through a molding stage during the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015.The Akubra, an Aboriginal word meaning head covering has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain. For countless Australians over the past 130 years, the iconic hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Greg Brady checks the drying progress of hats before they are sent to the final shaping department during the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The Akubra, an Aboriginal word meaning head covering has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain. For countless Australians over the past 130 years, the iconic hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Janis Neilson sews hat bands onto finished Akubras during the manufacturing processes at theeir factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The Akubra, an Aboriginal word meaning head covering has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain. For countless Australians over the past 130 years, the iconic hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Glenn Lawrence handles a hat and checks its shape after it's removed from a press during the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The hats, which are made of rabbit fur are impervious to water and created in a process involving hot water, pressure and friction. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
A worker in the Akubra hat factory watches as fur is sucked onto stainless steel cones during the second stage of hat manufacturing in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The Akubra, an Aboriginal word meaning head covering has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain. For countless Australians over the past 130 years, the iconic hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Geoff Edwards pulls a hat out of a press after the final shaping process during hat manufacturing at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The Akubra, an Aboriginal word meaning head covering has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain. For countless Australians over the past 130 years, the iconic hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Hundreds of cone shapes are prepared for forming and shaping during the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The Akubra, an Aboriginal word meaning head covering has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain. For countless Australians over the past 130 years, the iconic hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
A worker in the Akubra hat factory watches as hot water is sprayed onto fur as it is sucked onto stainless steel cones during the second stage of hat manufacturing in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The Akubra _ an Aboriginal word meaning head covering _ has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain. For countless Australians over the past 130 years, the iconic hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Checking for fabric floors a worker handles a hat after it is removed from a press during the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The Akubra, an Aboriginal word meaning head covering has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Neil MacCudden waits for steam to settle during one of the many forming stages of the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. For countless Australians over the past 130 years, the iconic hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Neil MacCudden places hats into forming moulds during the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The hats are made of rabbit fur and are impervious to water. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Fur felt is passed through dozens of roller presses in the third-stage of the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. The hats are made of rabbit fur and are impervious to water. They are created in a process involving hot water, pressure and friction. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
In this Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, photo, fur felt is passed through dozens of roller presses in the third-stage of the hat manufacturing processes at the Akubra factory in Kempsey, Australia. The hats, which are made of rabbit fur and are impervious to water, are created in a process involving hot water, pressure and friction. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
In this Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, photo, a worker in the Akubra hat factory removes a giant cone shaped form of fur felt from a stainless steel cones during the second stage of hat manufacturing in Kempsey, Australia. A hat form normally starts off more than three times its finished size. Through processes that involve hot water, pressure and friction each form is shrunk and pressed in to its final hat shape after going through more than 50 sets of hand and procedures.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
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KEMPSEY, Australia (AP) — The image is seared into Australian lore: Under a hot desert sun, a mounted soldier pours the last of his water into his slouch hat to share with his best friend, his horse.

For countless Australians over the past 130 years, Akubra hats have not just been a fashion statement, but an integral part of life. The Akubra, an Aboriginal word meaning "head covering," has provided Australians protection from the country's harsh elements, its fur felt blocking the scorching sun and holding back the rain.

Akubra hats hold the same place in Australian folklore as Stetson cowboy hats do in the American West. They symbolize life in the Outback and a rugged self-reliance that is still a source of pride for Australians, even if many have moved to a more comfortable lifestyle in the city.

Making the Akubra started as a family business, and remains so to this day.

Shortly after arriving in Australia in 1874, Briton Benjamin Dunkerley settled in the island state of Tasmania and set up a modest hat factory. In 1904 he invited a fellow hat-making Brit, Stephen Keir, to join the company. Keir married Dunkerley's daughter Ada the next year.

The business moved to Sydney and in 1912 started using the trade name Akubra to market its hats. The word "Akubra" is now very much a part of Aussie vernacular and is often used colloquially to refer to all broad-brimmed hats worn by farmers.

When World War I broke out, the company became one of two suppliers that produced the famed slouch hat worn by the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers, and it's still the major supplier for Australian troops. Today the business is run by Keir's great-grandson, Stephen Keir IV.

A process involving hot water, pressure and friction makes the rabbit-fur hats impervious to water.

Processed fur is fed into blowers that remove unwanted hair and dirt, leaving behind a soft blanket of downy-like cotton. Then the fur is sucked onto a large revolving cone while hot water is sprayed onto it, binding the fibers together and making the felt one of the world's strongest fabrics. The felt is passed through roller presses dozens of times before workers dye, mold, shape, soften and smooth each hat. Stitching in the sweat bands and trimming the interior complete the process.

Milliner Robert Carroll, manager of Akubra's only retail store, Strand Hatters in Sydney, says they are selling more hats than ever before.

"Men are wearing hats more now," Carroll says. "They like accessories, they like to look good and they're looking after themselves a bit better."

More than 40 styles in varying colors make up their range of hats, including "The Stockman" and "The Cattleman." None may be as famous as "The Great White Shark."

Worn and promoted by former world No. 1 golfer Greg Norman, known as "The Shark," the hat gained popularity and took the small family-owned company to international fame. In recent years, Akubra hats were used by medal presenters at the Olympics and worn by world leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Australia.

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