Army Trooper Alexis Matthews wears a Kevlar Combat Vehicle Crewman ballistic shell helmet when on the job as an Australian light armoured vehicle driver.
However, when on ceremonial parade with her unit, 1st Armoured Regiment in Adelaide, she proudly wears the iconic khaki fur felt slouch hat, just as her ancestors did.
Fortunately for Trooper Matthews, the Army has modernised and the slouch hat no longer substitutes the soldiers’ helmet as it did for some mounted infantry in early 1900.
Today, it symbolises a tradition forged by the first Australian soldiers.
“The slouch hat is a unique and very obvious symbol of the Australian Army, made famous during the World Wars,” Trooper Matthews said.
“It defines the courage, respect, wisdom, intuition and, above all else, the mateship that the members who wore it before me engraved into our history.”
Of Torres Strait Islander ancestry and raised in Yeppoon, Trooper Matthews’ family has a strong history of service to the nation in each of the World Wars.
“My great-great-grandfather and two great-great-uncles all fought in WWII,” she said.
“I am extremely proud of my family’s past service.”
Just as every Anzac has a different story to tell, every slouch hat has one too – a story shaped by its owner’s experience, position and corps affiliation.
“[The slouch hat] defines the courage, respect, wisdom, intuition and, above all else, the mateship that the members who wore it before me engraved into our history.”
Trooper Matthews said that slouch hats worn by members of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps can be seen from afar by their identifying mark: the emu plume.
Similarly, in 1900 the poet Banjo Paterson famously stated when speaking of the mounted infantry soldier, “And you'll know him by the feathers in his hat”.
Trooper Matthews said there are many different historical accounts of how the Light Horseman acquired their plumes.
“My favourite is where they would chase down an emu on horseback and pluck them from the running bird,” she said.
“The emu’s chest plumes were the most desirable as they showed the rider’s prowess in the saddle as opposed to the bird’s back feathers.”
Since Trooper Matthews joined the Army in January 2017, she has spent her regimental time in Adelaide posted to the 1st Armoured Regiment where horses have been replaced by modern armoured fighting vehicles.
She joined to meet new people, learn new skills, travel to new places and challenge herself both physically and mentally. In her short career so far, she has accomplished just that.
In January this year, Trooper Matthews deployed alongside the 6500 Australian Defence Force personnel in support of bushfire-affected communities during Operation Bushfire Assist.
“It was the most rewarding task I’ve been sent on in my career,” Trooper Matthews said.
“Giving back to the local community and being able to meet the farmers we were helping was an amazing experience.”
This Anzac Day, Trooper Matthews will no doubt be busy reflecting on what life was like in uniform for her relatives compared to what is required of uniformed personnel today.