Picnic Day is a public holiday in the Northern Territory of Australia which takes place every year on the first Monday of August, making this a three-day weekend which can be used for a variety of events – not just picnics. Nominal Picnic Day events in the Northern Territory date back to the late 19th century. They were held in a variety of locations such as Adelaide River, Brunette Downs Station and Glencoe Paddock at different times of the year. A regular annual Union Picnic Day or Trade Picnic Day was observed at Adelaide River by railway employees working on the North Australia Railway. The date of the first event is not known. The event included Public Works employees on some occasions.
Between 1926 and 1935 a railway Picnic Day event was not held. An attempt was made to revive the holiday in 1933, but it was not officially observed again until three years later. On Monday 5 October 1936, a train transported people from Darwin to Adelaide River, leaving at 7am returning at 11pm. The hotel at Adelaide River recorded record sales and the train was “forced to stop often as a number of male Darwin passengers fell off at various points along the line.” Hmmm.
The Harts Range Races in Central Australia are held each Picnic Day long weekend. The races began in 1946, when three brothers Bennett, Qinton and Kil Webb from Mount Riddock Station raced stockman Jack Schaber and the regional policeman Senior Constable Bob Darken over a distance of about a mile to the Ulgarna Yards to determine who had the fastest horse. The event inspired the first formal racing meet at Harts Range in November 1947 and it became an annual event thereafter.
Nowadays the Harts Range Races cover the whole three-day weekend and include rodeo, gymkhana, and sports events along with the races, as well as picnics and formal dances. Takes me back. I used to go to picnics in an open area in Sandy Creek, South Australia, in the 1950s and 60s that looked a lot like photos of Picnic Day in the Northern Territory, although at a different time of year. August is cold and damp in South Australia, but in the Northern Territory today should be a decent day to be outdoors. It’s supposed to be sunny with temperatures in the 70s Fahrenheit – very comfortable compared with the 90s and 100s of January.
Picnic lunches in Australia always involved a barbie (barbecue), and still do from what I gather. In my boyhood a barbie was nothing more than a wood fire with a wire grating placed over it balanced on rocks. For my money, that arrangement still can’t be beaten. Of course, where I lived there was plenty of open space with abundant dry wood available from fallen branches and trees. Someone brought the wire grate and an axe, and in very little time a fire was going and a barbie built. There would always be snags – Australian sausages made from beef or lamb. The snags came from the local butcher, made from meat trimmings and fat with some filler added. The snags were not especially fancy, but they were cheap. That was the point. Sometimes we would have lamb chops along with the snags. At best you’d get ONE if you were lucky. The chops were not very big, so there was not much meat on them. But they were delicious and I can still remember gnawing on the bones to get every last morsel of meat and fat off, then wiping my greasy fingers on a hunk of bread that I used as a plate for the snags and chops before eating it. It all sounds very basic, I know. It was. So what? I have very fond memories of those days, especially when I first started getting interested in girls. At school we were fiercely segregated at play time, but at barbies we could all hang out together. Good times.