Uniforms have played a significant role in Australian society since it was first established as a penal colony overseen by British naval and army officers.
In its early days, the Australian military followed Britain's example in regards to uniforms, fitting soldiers out in the traditional 'red coats'. These were impractical in the scorching heat of the new environment, and were widely mocked - unsurprisingly, given the gold lace, elaborate plumes and decorations that accompanied them.
'Badge, Boot, Button' explores the army's gradual adaptation to the environment, complete with images of original uniforms. It follows the struggle of a new country attempting to remain true to British roots while creating something new.
While soldiers had their own struggle with uniforms, army nurses, working behind the scenes of battle, endured a great deal more. Their uniforms were described by one unfortunate wearer as being close to literal 'torture', with traditional nurses' caps making it feel as if their heads were 'practically in a vice'.
Uniforms also played a role in the lives of Australian civilians. The nation was scandalised as swimsuits worn by athletes and lifesavers gradually became shorter; one athlete shortened her own full-length track uniform with scissors after realising her non-Australian opponents, in shorts, were far better adapted to track events. There was greater shock when women's hemlines lifted and this was reflected in uniforms, from that worn by air hostesses to the clothes of tram conductors.
The images in the book create a window into the past, providing the reader with images of the impractical yet dashing officer's uniforms of colonial times and of the 'magpie' suits worn by the worst-offending convicts. This is supplemented with colourful, more recent images, showing uniforms created by professional designers, such as the distinctive designs used by QANTAS in the 1970s.
Using newspaper entries and many images, this book provides a perspective on changing times in Australia.
Author: Craig Wilcox
Publisher: NLA Publishing