picnics?" the Senior Cat asked me over lunch yesterday. He had come home from church waving pieces of paper about plans to get young people to go to church.
Oh yes, I remember Sunday School picnics. There was Sunday School first of course. You were given a little book and every Sunday you were given a little picture. The little pictures had "sticky" on the back of them like stamps. We would lick them and stick them into the book. If you had enough stamps at the end of the year you could go to the Sunday School picnic. It was a major event in our lives.
The church would hire two buses and a tennis court at the National Park. We would arrive at the church on a Saturday morning neatly dressed in our second-best clothes. (Our best clothes were, naturally, for Sundays.) We would climb aboard the buses and set off. One of the buses would almost always break down but, somehow, we got there. There must have been at least sixty children attending, plus a good many adults. We sang all the way.
Once there we would have sports day type races - egg and spoon, the three-legged race, the sack race and the like. (I would be given tasks like handing out the eggs and the spoons and the sacks.) When that was over we would sit in rows and - after we had sung "the grace" loudly and cheerfully - the mothers and other women would walk up and down with, to us, enormous trays of sandwiches.
There was only one sort of sandwich - cooked mutton which had been minced and moistened with tomato sauce. I cannot eat that sort of tomato sauce. It has vinegar in it and I come out in a rash. One of the boys around me was always happy to take my sandwich. (It made me quite popular.)
The sandwiches were followed by "sultana cake" (plain cake with sultanas added to it) and "raspberry cordial". As my brother and I never saw sultana cake or raspberry cordial at home we thought this was a real treat - and most of the other children must have too.
After lunch was over we endured, as we knew we must, the Sunday School Superintendent - and on one occasion the Moderator - and the minister giving little speeches and handing out the books we had managed to "earn". There were little bookplates in the front stating that they were for Sunday School attendance. The books themselves were not literary masterpieces. Some of them still appear from time to time at sales of "second hand" books.
I don't know what happened to ours. They disappeared, along with many other things, when we moved back to the bush. I suspect my mother decided we were not to keep them. It was easier to give such things away that pack them and have them transported.
After the speeches and presentations were over we children were free to roam "as long as you can always see us" and the adults would sit and drink tea or play tennis. No, nobody supervised. We did not need supervision and nobody broke the rule about going too far. It was not that we were "good" - far from it. We just knew it was expected of us.
And then, later in the afternoon, ice-cream! Someone would arrive with the magical container filled with "dry ice" that "smoked" and we would line up and get a little cardboard tub filled with vanilla ice-cream. We would sit around and eat it with a little wooden spoon and scrape out the last possible drop before returning the tub to the cardboard box provided for "rubbish".
Eventually it would be back into the buses and we would head home more quietly than we had set out. The parents who had not been would be there to greet us just as dusk started to fall.
Had we had a good time? Absolutely.
The Senior Cat and I considered all of this. His own memories of Sunday School picnics 85 years ago are not so very different.
We both decided that, as a bribe to get children to attend Sunday School, it would no longer work - but we had fun.