A Rural Uniform

The legend of the bushshirt

Pure practicality, the bushshirt’s only concession to style is a daggy checked pattern stamped from hem to collar as if an afterthought. Constructed from dense sandpapery wool impervious to campfire sparks, its two patch pockets are big enough for a book, a compass or a tobacco pouch. And as if that were not enough, the whole thing is also water resistant.

It was in 1913 that British immigrant William Broome, boiled up a work shirt in a cauldron of his own secret waterproofing mixture and dubbed the result the Swandri. Like many immigrants before and since, he found that New Zealand is not the South Pacific paradise it’s promised to be. Rain is always a possibility. As if by magic spell, the grey clouds will roll in under a crystal sky, a drizzle will start. Only a shirt that’s a jersey that’s a raincoat will see you through a day outdoors.

Broome’s garment was short sleeved, with a lace up front. In the 30’s it went long sleeved. At the same time a hood was added and a rural uniform was born. Later iterations created the collared, zip up pullover version, but otherwise there has been little change, and that basic garment has remained the first choice for trampers, drifters, farmers and hunters.