This conical grass hat, known as mokorotlo, is considered part of the national dress of Lesotho, a landlocked country surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. The design first appeared at the end of the 1930s, and its growing prominence was closely associated with the development of national identity. In the early 1900s a forerunner of this hat was worn by tribal chiefs, who chanted a combat/praise song known as 'mokorotlo' while making their way to the chiefs' court. It is from this early connection that the hat became known as mokorotlo.
Developments in hat design and mass production for a European market contributed to an increase in popularity of the mokorotlo hat among the Basotho people. Its growing importance as a symbol of Lesotho was strengthened by its association with royalty, key political parties and political figures who wore the hats to rallies and public functions during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, the mokorotlo was chosen as the symbol on the national flag of a newly independent Lesotho. Its image is found on everything from car number plates, to mass produced printed fabric, to the shape of the craft centre building in the capital of Lesotho, Maseru. A plethora of myths connecting Moshoeshoe, Lesotho's founder, with the mokorotlo hat cemented its place as the country's national symbol, despite the fact that the hats only appeared several decades after this death in 1870.
This example of a Lesotho hat forms part of a collection of headwear whose significance reflects both the diversity of their countries of origin and their gift to the AusAID Centre for Pacific Development and Training (ACPAC) in Sydney as a token of appreciation. The hats were given to ACPAC by students who attended courses there between 1980 and 1998. They were displayed at the Centre and acted as a visual representation of the countries that benefited from its training courses. The collection reflects Australia's long engagement with the Asia Pacific region as a training provider.
The AusAID Centre for Pacific Development and Training (ACPAC) was founded in 1947 and until 1973 was known as the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA). It grew out of an army civil affairs unit created during World War II and was based at Georges Heights in Sydney from 1948. It was called the International Training Institute (ITI) between 1973 and 1987 and ACPAC from 1987 to 1998.
For 51 years the institution provided quality teaching and research. It was Australia's only centre established to train administrators and officers for Australia's overseas territories, and it played an important role in training indigenous people, particularly from Papua New Guinea, as administrators in preparation for independence. Structural and name changes to the organisation reflect Federal Government foreign policy shifts in the Asia Pacific region over half a century.
ACPAC was also an important element in the military reserve at Middle Head, Georges Heights and Chowder Bay, which is historically significant as the location of continuous major defence works for Sydney Harbour and Port Jackson during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Rebecca Bower, June 2008
Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Management Plan - Mosman No. 7, Middle Head, 7 June 2007
Bill Goff, 'The end of a unique institution', Focus, AusAID, March 1998, p20-22
Scott Rosenberg, 'The Evolution of a symbol: Mokorotlo and National Identity in Lesotho' Review of Southern African Studies Vol. 3 No. 2, Dec. 1999, p37-60