World leaders look sheepish in Aussie coats

SYDNEY - They were saved the embarrassment of looking like Crocodile Dundee or surf lifesavers but world leaders at the APEC summit looked slightly sheepish dressed as rugged Australian farmers.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sat 8 Sep 2007, 5:02 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 11:35 PM

Wearing big, all-weather oilskin coats, the 21 presidents, prime ministers and regional leaders appeared resigned as they faced the cameras for the traditional ‘funny shirt’ photograph in the host country’s national costume.

The brown, knee-length modified Driza-bone coats, normally favoured by horse-riding stockmen mustering sheep, were at least suited to the rainy Sydney weather on the first day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting.

The choice of outfit for the leaders, who include US President George W. Bush, China’s President Hu Jintao and diminutive Philippines President Gloria Arroyo, had been kept secret in line with the often-mocked sartorial tradition.

Past APEC summit photos have seen the world’s most powerful people dressed in everything from brightly-coloured wedding shirts in Mexico to leather bomber jackets in Canada and Batik-print shirts in Indonesia.

But it was apparently the calf-length silk dresses, which came with an optional turban, offered at last year’s APEC meeting in Vietnam which were the last straw for leaders such as Howard, normally a more conservative dresser.

Media speculation on the possible options had run wild in recent weeks, ranging from ‘budgie smugglers’ -- scant male swimwear -- and thongs (flip flops) to khaki shirts and shorts in memory of late crocodile hunter Steve Irwin.

But Howard, aided by his wife Janette, chose a less elaborate outfit to represent Australia, which does not have a national costume.

The only touch of bright colour on the coats, which also had an APEC emblem, were the lapels which were red, blue, yellow and green to represent Australia’s dusty deserts, rugged coastlines, fine sands and vast bush.

‘The coat aims to depict Australia’s unique culture and environment in a wearable and usable coat,’ APEC organisers said.

A cowboy hat, such as that worn by the archetypal Aussie bushman in the ‘Crocodile Dundee’ movies, was also given to leaders. But only Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper donned his rabbit skin Akubra and even he whipped it off when it came time for the photograph in front of Sydney Opera House.

Harper, like Bush, Japanese President Shinzo Abe and six other leaders, chose the most popular colour for his coat’s lapels, blue.

Six leaders, including those of South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam, picked the yellow option while Howard himself selected red, as did Communist China’s Hu. Only Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hong Kong’s chief executive Donald Tsang chose green.

The group photo is usually taken at the end of the two-day summit but was this year brought forward to accommodate Bush’s early departure for the release of a crucial White House report to the US Congress on the war in Iraq.

The US leader, who walked out for the shoot deep in conversation with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, appeared confused about where to stand for the carefully arranged photo, apparently thinking he would be in the middle.

He eventually found his place on the end, next to Thai leader Surayud Chulanont, who he reached over to shake hands with Putin.

The US commander in chief also appeared out of step when the group was asked by the photographer to wave -- being the only leader to raise his left hand instead of his right.

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