Monday, 30 March 2015

Annual Sunday School Picnics

The first Sunday School picnic in Townsville was held in 1878, and was organised by Esther Camp, who, along with her husband George Camp, was a tireless worker for the early Methodist Church in Townsville.
Methodist Sunday School Picnic, Townsville, c.1910.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

By the early 1900s, the annual outing had become so popular, that hundreds of children from Sunday Schools throughout Townsville looked forward to their picnic with great excitement.

In May 1912, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported on the success of the annual picnic, which had come to be held in conjunction with Empire Day, which was celebrated each year on 24 May.

“The children attending the various Methodist Sunday Schools throughout Townsville celebrated their annual outing on Empire Day by uniting in a combined picnic at the Botanical Gardens.”

After assembling at their various schools, the children were escorted to the gardens by their teachers in buses and trucks, and once there, “set about the task of enjoying themselves”. 

“Soon swings were to be seen going in all directions, cricket, football and rounders engaging the attention of others, whilst many more found enjoyment in ring games etc.”

The winners of the sporting competitions received prizes, and toys were handed out to the smaller children.  Before the evening meal, each of the schools joined together to give a hearty rendition of the National Anthem, which, according to the Bulletin, culminated in “cheers for His Majesty King George V”.

At the end of a long day, the children made their way home, “tired and yet happy with the remembrance of an exceedingly enjoyable day”.

Empire Day had begun in Australia in 1905, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday – May 24 – even though the monarch had died four years previous.  It was also known throughout Australia as Cracker Night or Bonfire Night, and in later years, the original significance of the day was virtually lost.

But in Queensland in the early days of the holiday, the desire to see Empire Day retained as a day of celebration was impressed upon the Home Secretary, the Hon. J.G. Appel, in Brisbane in December 1910, by an influential deputation organised by the Queensland Sunday School Union.

Present at this meeting were a number of Churchmen in authority in Queensland at the time, including representatives from the Congregational Union, the Presbyterian Sunday School Union, the Baptist Sunday School Committee, and the Methodist Sunday School Committee.  

The delegation emphasised the popularity of Empire Day as a holiday, particularly because of the tradition of Sunday School picnics on that anniversary.

Mr Appel, for his part, said that he personally favoured the retention of Empire Day because of its long association with the Sunday School holiday, and because of its important association with the late Queen Victoria.  He was inclined to favour celebrating the King’s birthday on May 24 but wasn’t keen to make a decision on his own.
Methodist Sunday School Picnic, Townsville, c. 1930.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Although Empire Day gradually faded away, the popularity of the Sunday School picnics remained, and by the 1940s, Townsville’s annual Sunday School picnics had moved to the King’s Birthday holiday in June.  In 1947 approximately 2,500 children were transported out of Townsville by rail in a single day, to attend their annual Sunday School picnic at various locations such as Kulburn (Black River), Bluewater and Nome.

1 comment:

  1. I remember still having these in the mid to late 70s, heading out to Stuart in the back of a dump truck. A different era...