There are no longer gatherings where the entire population of a town turns out, but in the 1930s and 1940s Bundaberg had one such event – the Bundaberg Railway Picnic.
The picnic started early in the 20th Century as a private event for local railway workers and their families, but by the early 1920s it had been opened to the general public and tens of thousands of people began to attend. The picnic was held at Nielson Park, Bargara, and as the name implies, the main form of transport was by train along the old Bargara line. Usually several trains, led by a specially-decorated steam locomotive, would pull out of Bundaberg in the morning heading for the coast. They would have been very full – there are records of crowds of over 10,000 people attending during the 1930s, including visitors from as far afield as Rockhampton and Gympie.
It’s worth noting that the line they used was an unusual one – originally created by Woongarra Shire Council in the late 19th century to service a number of cane mills along the coast, the line went north east from Millaquin Mill in East Bundaberg towards the old Qunaba Mill, then almost to the beach at Mon Repos before turning south along the coast. Its reservation still exists today as the walking track from Mon Repos to Nielson Park. It then continued past Nielson Park through modern-day Bargara to terminate at a station called Pemberton at the site of the Innes Park Country Club. The line past Qunaba closed in 1948 and the whole line ceased operation in 1959.
The scene at the Railway Picnic must have been very colourful – one attendee described events such as egg and spoon races, three-legged races, club swinging, wheelbarrow races and tug-of-war as well as treasure hunts and sandcastle competitions for the kids and even a “catch the greasy pig” event. Of course, plenty of people swam at the beach and the free lollies and ice cream often get a mention. In 1946 the organisers even dammed the small creek just south of Nielson Park to create a temporary swimming pool for revellers.
The Railway Picnic was an enduring and enjoyable event in the Bundaberg calendar running for 50 years from 1922 with only a five-year break during World War II until 1972. The event was eventually abandoned due to a decline in interest and difficulty in attracting members to the organising committee, but it remains a colourful memory of a different time in Bundy.
Special thanks to Chris Spence, co-ordinator of the Bundaberg and District Historical Museum.
Ross is a member of the Bundaberg & District Historical Museum, as well as an author, Rotarian and passionate community volunteer.