Picnic races in New South Wales
As European settlement spread out across country New South Wales in the nineteenth century, the settlers brought the traditional pastimes of the UK with them. Horse sports such as hunting and racing were extremely popular and clubs and tracks were quickly established in country towns. Weekend racing was an important date on the social calendar where the cream of society could gather and enjoy the outdoors. These meets were known as picnic races.
In the late 1800s, racing began to change. Jockeys and trainers, as well as bookmakers, were turning professional. The racing industry became concentrated in the wealthier, metropolitan centres such as Sydney and Newcastle. Amateurs and pony racers were largely excluded from these city meets. The popularity of country picnic races boomed, as keen amateur racers took to the country circuits.
The State Library of New South Wales holds photographs of picnic races across New South Wales, documenting the races, the horses, the jockeys and the racegoers. The first half of the twentieth century is particularly well-represented in the collection.
Picnic races are still popular in many country towns today thanks to their relaxed and informal atmosphere, although they face tough competition from changing tastes and other forms of entertainment.