SOCIALISING in Warragul and its neighbouring towns in the late 19th century was, unsurprisingly, very different to today. But some of the activities townspeople engaged in stand out as being simply bizarre. Fun, but bizarre.
Many of the strangest activities took place at that forgotten favourite – the town picnic. Many of the towns around Warragul held annual picnics, where games and entertainment was based on physical activities.
At the Seaview Picnic, for instance, an apparently popular event was the “married ladies’ race,” which involved pretty much what the name suggested. A photo from one of the races depicts women running in billowing long dresses and hats down a dirt road as other townspeople looked on.
But more popular than gender- and marriage-based races was pillow fighting. Yes, pillow fighting.
The Lardner Picnic, which continued into the 1900s, featured pillow fights between young men as a popular spectator sport.
The entertainment at the Lardner Picnic also included races for children with bags of lollies as prizes, but in 1895 a rather different, unplanned race took place.
Lardner farmer Frank Boyes, who would go on to become a Lieutenant in World War 1, recounted what happened:
Amid a hum of conversation and laughter, the midday repast was in full swing with picnic baskets and food on starched linen tablecloths spread on the grass under some tall blackwood trees near the stream, and everybody sitting on kneeling in real picnic style enjoying the food when a hum of a different nature, a menacing one, intruded into the picture.It was an immense swarm of bees, flying low and travelling slowly. A wild scatter and scramble occurred as mothers grabbed their babies and younger children and accompanied by all hands, fled in all directions to get out of range.
Although the Lardner Picnic was among the most famous in the area, picnics were also held on the Prince of Wales’ birthday at Bloomfield and Warragul in the 1890s and in a large number of other towns in the area.
Carnivals also kept people entertained, with the Warragul Guardian newspaper reporting on 9 November 1900 that the Commonwealth Carnival was “proceeding successfully” and was “sure to be a record success, even for Warragul.”
Boyes, Frank in Wilde, Sally 1988, Forests old pastures new, Shire of Warragul, Civic Place, Warragul. The quoted text was from a typescript by the Warragul Historical Society called A History of the Lardner Picnic for the Prriod from 1894 or thereabouts to 1913.
Gravesecrets website, WWI Pictorial Honour Roll of Victorians section B, accessed 22 June 2013, ww1vic.gravesecrets.net/b.html.
Uncredited, Warragul Guardian, Friday 9 November 1900, page 2. Read more of the Commonwealth Carnival report here: trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/68605476.
Wilde, Sally 1988, Forests old pastures new, Shire of Warragul, Civic Place, Warragul.
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