According to Sir Harry, it was the Gympie Company of the Queensland Mounted Infantry who ‘first appeared with emu feathers in their felt hats where the side was lopped up’ (Hill, 1978, p.9). The Warwick company under the command of Sir Harry also wore them in 1897 when they attended the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in England. Emu plumes were linked to identity – especially if you were a Queenslander in the early days both before and soon after Federation. The poem below by Dominic Sheridan captures the sentiment for what would in time become a mark of members of the Light Horse, past and present.
by D.P.G. Sheridan
Throughout the histories man has sat on horse when gone to war,
And famed himself with reckless deeds while riding for the corps.
He sat astride his mount so proud exposing life and limb,
Yet sat in glory and in shade beneath his slouch hat brim.
And on his hat there sat a plume of emu feather wild,
Which marked him out from other men as countrified and styled.
His hat was at an angle and his eyes were true and sure;
A larrikin and cocksure lad the world’s not seen before.
The epitome of hardened years; colonial blood was theirs;
No other rode as well as them this side of death and prayers.
In body and in spirit they were true as true could be,
For of their race they were its flower as once we all could see.
But what had set these boys apart had started with a run,
When the Gympie Squad from Queensland chased some emus just for fun.
Called out for ‘special duty’ for the Shearer’s Strike Eight Four,
To break the boredom of patrols they chased down birds galore.
For many years it was their own, this plume of emus wild;
For the Queensland Mounted Infantry would wear it ranked and filed.
Then with pride they dressed for Africa to fight the foreign Boer,
And on their hat the emu’s plume sat free like them who wore.
Then soon all Light Horse wore the plume when mounted in Brigades,
And hearts were won as past they rode and on looked swooning maids.
But everyone they loved the plume that set these boys apart,
As soldiers go in drab khaki they looked so very smart.
And then in Egypt by the sea where dirt and dust did plague,
The Light Horse set in Mena Camp and learnt to drudge and drag.
But Light Horse boys are what they are in any kind of weathers;
When asked about their plume they said they’re kangaroo feathers.
And Pom or Gyp were none the wise to Light Horse pranks and fun,
Who’d never seen a kangaroo beneath the rising sun.
And when they met some lovely nurse on leave in Cairo’s street,
They’d say that kangaroos could fly and ducks had four fur feet.
They spoke of running water from the tree bark way up north,
And sunset by the billabong where spirits can come forth.
They spoke about their bunyip farms and dogs that couldn’t bark,
And how Australia’s animals had missed old Noah’s ark.
They told of flying foxes and of tigers in the south,
And of lizards on the mainland with blue tongues in their mouth.
They’d tell about the sulphur crest and of its golden plume,
And two thumbed bears that slept all day in gum trees filled with bloom.
But in this land of burning sun and drought and flooding rain,
The kangaroo was known to fly with feathers in its main.
And that’s why Light Horse boys could fly across the battleground,
And strike with lightning speed and skill while on looks they’d astound.
In battle they were hard to match for myth swelled in their blood.
They’d lived through droughts and bush fires too and swum through raging flood.
But Light Horse boys were wild free gents when off the colonel’s tether,
For no one’s wilder than the boys who wore the kangaroo feather.
The Light Horse were descended from the spirits of the bush,
Who made their homes by gum trees where the breeze blows gentle shush.
And legends rose about their deeds like booming kangaroo,
Yet strange enough it is to say but all of them were true.
30 October 2011
See more about the wearing of emu plumes and the slouch hat here: