In August, Scott Morrison gave his first press conference as PM, announcing his plans to tour drought-stricken western Queensland. “I don’t have an Akubra, mate, so I’m just going to bring my Sharks hat,” Morrison joked.
Unlike federal politics’ loosest unit, Tony Abbott — of The Reject Shop, raw onions, speed dealer sunnies and much more — Morrison keeps the optics simple. The PM wears them wherever he goes — metaphorically, by bus, or actually, by taxpayer-funded RAAF VIP jet.
“I wear caps,” Morrison told Studio 10 on Monday. “That’s what I wear. If you find me at home, I’ll be wearing a cap. If you find me down at Shark Park or Cronulla beach or Wanda, I’ll be wearing a cap.” Morrison — steward of the infamous “Where the bloody hell are you?” tourist advertising campaign — has used the same subtlety and sophistication to reinvent himself as an all-Aussie barbecue dad.
Yet baseball caps are inescapably American. Since the early 20th century they’ve connected sports players with fans through a shared sartorial iconography. Wearing one shows whose side you’re on.
Whether worn ironically by hipsters, pugnaciously by rappers or boorishly by fratboys, baseball caps also evoke a perma-boyhood of consequence-free play. Holden Caulfield, the juvenile antihero of The Catcher in the Rye, wears his cap backwards, catcher-style; so does slobby sports writer Oscar Madison in Neil Simon’s 1965 play The Odd Couple (later a TV sitcom). Meanwhile, Lleyton Hewitt spearheaded a perplexing trend of tennis bros who refuse to use sunhats for their intended purpose.
It’s no coincidence that sportsmen so often call their teammates “the boys”. Take Morrison’s jocular suggestion to Sharks coach Shane Flanagan: “Mate, I think I’ll take you down to Canberra and let you give the boys a rev-up”. (By “boys”, he meant his cabinet, which includes Kelly O’Dwyer, Marise Payne, Michaelia Cash, Melissa Price, Bridget McKenzie and Karen Andrews.)
Morrison knows that above every cap’s bill is a billboard. Indeed, the foam-fronted, mesh-backed style is called a “trucker cap” because in the 1960s, American agricultural supply companies gave them away as promotional items to farmers, truck drivers and other rural workers.
Such residual, folksy associations with outdoor work have made baseball caps part of many low-paid service job uniforms, from couriers to fast-food cashiers. They’ve crept into military, police and security uniforms, too, replacing peaked caps as signals of state authority.
Recently, Morrison stopped in at the Beefy’s pie factory on the Sunshine Coast, biting savagely into its flagship product while wearing a Beefy’s logo cap. He’s held up a threatened strawberry while wearing a trucker cap with an “Australia” logo. He donned a Navy cap while commissioning the new guided missile destroyer HMAS Brisbane. (Christopher Pyne got one too; bless.)
These are company hats: symbols that the wearer is “playing” for someone else’s “team”. Morrison’s Invictus Games cap is perhaps his ultimate cap, because it combines sport, militarism and fawning to the British monarchy. He looked fair-dinkum thrilled, mate, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge as Prince Harry’s squire.
Happily for Morrison, one person can wear any number of different caps. He can briefly affiliate himself with an idea, then discard it once it’s no longer useful. He’s worn caps promoting charity causes from headspace to the Big Aussie Barbie, and was photographed at the Clontarf Academy, a high-school sports incubator for Indigenous youth, wearing a cap that read, “From little things, big things grow”.
Really? From the guy who’s rejected the Uluru Statement? Another time the cap didn’t quite fit was when Morrison promoted Restart A Heart Day. An unexpected plea for moral CPR from a man who keeps a literal trophy celebrating his cruelty to asylum seekers.
Such glibness makes the political baseball cap especially vile. Donald Trump’s MAGA hat appeals to Trump’s followers because it evokes familiar, wholesome, all-American things: watching a ball game, or earning an honest living. Morrison’s headgear is comparatively benign, but it’s still a warning. The team owners hold all the power. And “the boys” always think it’s just a game.