Picnics date to medieval times when the wealthy feasted outdoors. We know that whilst we are celebrating the Australian summer and relishing the outdoors, on the other side of the world it is the dead of Winter. Picnics were one way of enjoying recreation time under the warm Australian sun. A picnic is the pleasurable activity of eating outdoors with a group of family or friends. The picnic was often informal and in an attractive location, inevitably a popular past time in the Australian landscape and climate.
Jennings family enjoying a picnic by the Hawkesbury River at Windsor – early 1920s.
Courtesy Nichols Family Archives.
Picnics were recorded in the Sydney newspapers in the early 1800s, and were originally referred to as a-gypsying. In 1830, it is mentioned some inhabitants “went a-gipsying, or as it is called in this country, to a pic-nic, on the north and south road running between Argyle and Richmond.” The following is a piece from the the Hawkesbury Chronicle 24 December 1887 defining picnics in the 1880s.
“While our Kinfolk in the old land are gathered around blazing fires, secure from the sleet and snow and bitter cold of the season thereaway, we rejoice in a bright sun and clear blue vault overhead. Naturally, the picnic suggests itself to merrymakers rather than indoor festivities, and without question it is the best way to pass the Christmas holidays. But in picnicing people are apt to overdo the thing. They make a labor of a pleasure. Instead of proceeding easily and even lazily, they fuss and bother so much that they are pretty well tired out before they start. This accounts for the many sour faces one often sees among "merrymakers" returning from a picnic outing.
A picnic should not be a matter involving hard work. You should go about it quietly, making your preparations without any flurry or excitement and proceeding to the site selected coolly and easily. Never get hot or flushed over such a matter, or your pleasure is done before you commence. Don't take a cart-load of provisions with yon. A few cold chickens, a tongue, or a little ham, some cheese, and crackers, plenty of salad, and sandwiches are the best. Cool drinks are a primary necessity, and if you can manage it have some iced creams. But don't take pies and pudding, and such like. Somebody is bound to sit on them, or the ants take possession, or a centipede will be found coiled around the upper crust. It is a mistake to suppose that picnicing means an extraordinary opportunity forever-eating. A picnic means enjoyment of fresh air, the contemplation of nature, flirtation, popping the question, dancing, and a heap of matters of an aesthetic or romantic order. Elderly folk ought not to go picnicing, and it is just because they do that the tradition exists that the picnic means a big feast.
Keep cool above all things; don't camp on a bull-ant's nest; look out for snakes and such like; be sure that you don't sit down on damp grass; don't cat over much, and be as sentimental as you please. Byron and Tennyson ought to be around at every intelligent picnic. Have some music, but bar the terrible concertina. That dreadful instrument has long been given over to the spirits and the Salvation Army. Have a few good microscopes with you. They afford an excellent excuse for wandering far afield in search of natural curiosities. These expeditions, it is needless to say, should be conducted by pairs - one gentleman and one lady. Any more damp the scientific enthusiasm which should animate the explorers. Spend your picnic [so] that you are able to return home as bright, as cheerful, as unfired, and happier still than when you set forth. A picnic conducted on the lines set forth should naturally affect the marriage statistics and contribute to the happiness of many, and the general prosperity of the community at large.”