While none of us knows when we will be able to enjoy big picnics again, our much-loved writer of all things historic IVOR JONES has enjoyed looking at how bush picnics used to be. This is the first half of his nostalgic journey.
Remember when Mum and Dad would say “We’re going on a picnic”? Dependent on where they intended to drive to, was how they would pack the car. “Can you fill the thermos Mum would say to Dad” whilst she may have been boiling eggs to put on sandwiches?
Dad would pack the picnic blankets (can you still buy those?). The picnic basket with cups, plates, cutlery etc would be placed in the boot. Perhaps a folding table and folding chairs may also be packed if the planned picnic was to take place on a riverbank or the side of a country road.
Maybe Mum or Dad would suggest taking your swimming costume and a towel in case the picnic was at a beach or riverbank. “Don’t forget the suntan lotion and a hat” Mum would suggest.
This would often be a scenario in a home of past decades.
Picnics have always been a popular pastime in our history since European settlement. Many early free settlers would have enjoyed the pleasure of a picnic along the shores of Port Jackson.
Elizabeth Macarthur had enjoyed the views of Port Jackson from her travels to her daughter’s holiday home at Watsons Bay. Lady Macquarie’s Chair was also a popular spot for Elizabeth Macarthur and not forgetting her then front garden alongside the Parramatta River at Rosehill which would have provided an ideal location for her to entertain her children with perhaps a picnic or two on the riverbank.
As Australia developed into a place of commerce and industry some trades, unions and companies organised picnics for their members or employees and their families.
The journal of the “Australasian Coachbuilders and Wheelwrights” reported on a picnic held at the Hampton Tea Gardens in Melbourne, organised in early 1903, that “about 1000 persons, a large proportion of whom were ladies, were present” Many of the attendees had travelled by special train or had driven out in carriages.
I found the description of some of the events held at that particular picnic to be of interest. One of which was where the participants were to bowl a heavy furniture-van wheel, 1.5m high over a given distance.
There was also a “Hurry Skurry” race for Travellers (Salesmen) and Ladies participated. The Travellers were required to run 50 yards to where his lady stood and the lady being then required to adjust his collar, tie, vest and coat before he had to return to the starting point.
I have also read of a report on a picnic held in Sydney held by the boot and shoe manufacturer of McMurtie & Co. where, in February of 1906, employees and their wives, children and friends boarded the SS Erina at a jetty near Circular Quay for a trip across the harbour to their annual picnic at Clontarf.
The report contained descriptions of some of the activities where some passengers had donned comical looking hats, false noses and the trip was accompanied by music from violin, piano and cornet and, whilst disembarking the vessel at Clontarf, the strain of bagpipes.
It also appeared that some found any excuse to organise a picnic for members or employees. One example being David Jones Ltd who organised a picnic for staff to welcome back Mr Charles Lloyd Jones on his return from London on the 29th April 1911.
In the Hills and Hawkesbury districts, we still have many locations where one could enjoy a relaxing picnic (when allowed). Perhaps along the banks of the Hawkesbury River or the many creeks throughout the district or maybe in one of the parks or reserves in our area.