I’ve recently been reading one of Bill Wannan’s marvellous books of Australian yarns. This one got a laugh:
A young chap was boundary riding on a vast Queensland estate, and one day in 1947 he came upon a very old hatter living high up in the hills.
First thing the old man asked was, “How’s the war going?”
“Gosh!” said the boundary rider, “it’s been over nearly two years!”
“Who won?” came the eager query.
“We did, of course.”
The old fellow gave the semblance of a hearty chuckle and rubbed his gnarled hands with pleasure.
“My word, it’s been a long struggle,” he said. “But I’ll bet Queen Victoria’s pleased. She never did like those b***** Boers!”
Which brings up the matter of the “hatter”.
Colourful Aussie politician Bob Katter, who represents the electorate of Kennedy in deepest, darkest North Queensland, and often wears a large hat, recently announced that he was planning to form a new political party, and has subsequently been referred to as the “Mad Hatter”.
The Macquarie Dictionary advises that the term “hatter” can mean “a lonely and eccentric bush dweller”, as in Bill Wannan’s yarn. But mad hatters have been around for a long time, for example in “Alice in Wonderland” (written in 1865).
Some references suggest that the expression actually originated in the hat-making industry, where mercury was used, and was known to have affected the nervous systems of hatters, causing them to tremble and appear insane. The term “Mad Hatter Disease” is still used to refer to mercury poisoning — see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_hatter%27s_disease.
Do you think I’m just talking through my hat?