Australia’s Northern Territory observes Picnic Day on the first Monday of August each year. The day is celebrated with horse racing at Hart’s Range, 200 kilometres from Alice Springs, and a railway picnic at the town of Adelaide River. Others in the Northern Territory enjoy the day off with a BBQ or social events.
No one knows the origin of Picnic Day but there are three theories. A popular, but unsubstantiated, belief is that Picnic Day commemorates a large team of Chinese Coolie indentured labourers who built the North Australia Railway from Darwin to Larrimah. According to the story, in 1889 at the end of the job the 3,000 Chinese workers were given the steamer fare to Hong Kong or granted the right to remain permanently in Australia. Most chose to stay at the settlement on the Adelaide River and went there to celebrate with a picnic.
Another option for the origin of Picnic Day is the Hart’s Range Amateur Racing Club. One day in 1946, some stockmen, after finishing their work, decided to race back to the yard. The race was a draw but it led to a proper race meeting the next year. The meeting, which included riding, a barbecue and a dance, was such a big success that it became an annual event that grew into what is now known as the Harts Range annual races. As records of Picnic Day predate 1947 it is an unlikely cause of the holiday. However, the race ‘day’ still continues and now runs over the full weekend and includes a rodeo, bull rides, an ute competition, children’s novelty events, whip cracking, lizard races, and a rural ball.
According to other sources, Picnic Day was originally known as Union Picnic Day or Trade Picnic Day, and was first observed at Adelaide River by railway employees working on the North Australia Railway. The date of the first Picnic Day is unknown but there is a reference to it in 1919. People still visit the town of Adelaide River to participate in a traditional railway picnic on this day. The town of Adelaide River is about 114 km (about 69.6 miles) south of Darwin. The event’s activities and games include tug-o-war, sack and three-legged races, as well as egg and spoon races. Traditional railway food and refreshments are served on the day.