Looking back at heyday of picnicking in Blue Mountains

The easing of COVID-19 restrictions heralds the eventual re-opening of the Blue Mountains where tourists will again enjoy picnics, much loved since the late 1800s.

In the 1880s, as Dr J E Taylor noted in the Daily Telegraph (June 12, 1886) prices of Sydney-Blue Mountains train tickets were low, encouraging tourism.

Day trippers travelled to a specific station, like Wentworth Falls, where they hiked to scenic spots including the Valley of the Waters. There they boiled a billy and ate the food they had brought with them. Carrying picnic supplies, from blackened billy to food, drink and utensils, was no hardship as enjoyment was the day's purpose. Indeed, a large party of young men and women, full of fun, reserved a train carriage, travelling together for a day's picnic at a romantic Mountains spot, reported the Evening News (January 3, 1896).

Families travelled to the Mountains for a weekend, a week or a fortnight, their guesthouse happy to prepare a picnic hamper for daily picnic excursions to Govetts Leap, Federal Falls and horse and buggy rides to the Megalong or even a Jenolan Caves car trip.

Many Upper Mountains walking tracks were built from the 1870s onwards. Today we marvel at the clothes worn by those who clambered down ladders and steep stone stairs. Even in the 1880s, Mrs Jones, writing in half a dozen papers, complained about picnics: "Picnics don't turn out well... It generally rains and spoils the clothes... You sit in the wind and share your dinner with ants".

But most did not share her opinion and families, like John White and his daughters, descended precipitous ladders, picnicking at the base of a waterfall.

School and Sunday School picnics occurred annually. On March 2, 1895, Balmain Central Methodist Mission Sunday school students travelled to Wentworth Falls by tram-car and steam train, a reward for their efficiency and attendance. They hiked, played rounders, swam and ate their picnic lunch. Their day ended back at Balmain around 11pm. Lawson Methodist and other local Sunday schools also enjoyed picnics at scenic Mountains locations.

Major events, like opening Bridal Veil Falls Pass at Govetts Leap on February 25, 1899, were marked by sumptuous open-air banquets, almost too extravagant to be deemed a picnic.

Clubs, societies and working groups held annual picnics. The Butchers Employees Picnic in November 1910 provoked a mini-controversy in the Blue Mountains Echo when Alderman Kitsch wrote: "a Union was not for rising wages and keeping the boss in order... it caused a more friendly and social feeling to spring up among the people."

Robyne Ridge is publicity officer for Blue Mountains Historical Society.