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Feeding the family: Picnics

An enduring, evolving family tradition

Detailed view from a black and white photograph of a picnic scene. A young girl lies on the ground, resting her folded arm and head on the lap of a partially visible woman, who sits behind. The girl wears a long skirt and long-sleeved top, and a ribbon in her hair. Small plants appear front left. Thumbnail image.

Picnic in the Blue Mountains, c1910. Source: Blue Mountains Library.

A black and white picnic scene showing three boys sitting in the lower branches of a tree. The boys wear long-sleeved shirts and knee-length shorts, and two of them wear hats. In the background of the image several horses are partially visible. Beyond the horses lies open land. Thumbnail image.

Family picnic in the Queensland bush, 1900–10. Source: State Library of Queensland (Negative No. 39516).

A black and white image of people picnicking. The people sit in several small groups. The men wear shirts, jackets, long trousers and shoes. One wears a tie. A smiling boy at right sits with his side to the camera and his head turned towards it. He wears a long-sleeved shirt and braces. A woman at centre wears a dark coloured long sleeve dress with a white collar. Some of the people at the back of the shot have their backs to the camera. Thumbnail image.

Large group picnic at Karragullen, Western Australia, 1926. Source: Donna Barber.

Detailed view from a coloured wood engraving of a scene titled ‘Christmas in Australia’. This portion of the scene depicts two women, three men and two children sitting in in a forest. The men wear shoes, trousers, shirts, vests and jackets. One wears what appears to be a pith helmet. One woman wears a long dress and reads from an open book. The other woman wears a long skirts, shirt and long-sleeved jacket and a blue bonnet tied under the chin. A girl at right wears a blue dress tied at the waist with a white ribbon, and pale coloured stockings and black boots. The small boy wears knee-length shorts, and a long-sleeved shirt. Thumbnail image.

Wood engraving 'Christmas in Australia'. Source: State Library of Victoria (IAN 23/12/65/COL).

A black and white photograph of a family sitting in a semi-circle on the ground. Two small children sit between a woman and a man, and they are all looking at the camera. The woman on the left sits on a cushion with her knees bent up. She is wearing slacks and a striped tee shirt. She rests a plastic bowl on her knees and has a cup and saucer on the ground between her feet. Next to her is the boy, the younger of the two children, and then the girl. The girl is holding a plastic bowl in both hands. The man on the right has his legs outstretched and appears to be sitting on some paper. He has on a long-sleeved shirt and trousers and is wearing spectacles. A small station wagon is parked behind the group. It is facing forward with the driver’s side and front of the vehicle visible. There is a wooden gate behind the car and to the left of the gate the trunk and some foliage of a large tree can be seen. Other trees are visible in the background. Thumbnail image.

Picnic by the car, England, 1969. Source: whatsthatpicture.

Colour photograph of a man and woman sitting on the left side of a picnic table, both leaning forward with their elbows on the table. The woman is wearing a sleeveless tee shirt and the man a short-sleeved shirt. On the right a young child is standing on a small suitcase on the bench seat of the picnic table. A young woman is standing behind the child, loosely holding it against her chest with her right arm. The young woman is wearing a short-sleeved blouse and shorts. The baby is unclothed except for a nappy and bib. All four are looking at the camera. A tablecloth and items of picnic ware are on the table. Thumbnail image.

3-generation family picnic, c1970s. Source: cacaye.

A colour photograph of a man, two women and a dog sitting on a rocky surface with an expanse of water in front of them. Their backs are to the camera. The man on the left is looking sideways at the woman to his right. He is wearing a tee shirt and jeans. A small dog is partially visible on the man’s right. The woman in the centre is sitting on a folded-up blanket and is looking down in front of her. She is wearing a short-sleeved dress. There is an open cardboard box beside her on her right. The woman on the right is sitting on a folded blanket and is turning towards her left and looking downward. She is wearing shorts and a halter-neck top. Various items are visible in the foreground including two cardigans, a soft drink can, an open yellow fishing tackle box, a white plastic bottle and two small fish.Thumbnail image

Combination fishing/picnic, Shark Bay, Western Australia, 1974. Source: Phil Schubert.

A colour photograph of a young girl, a man, a baby and a woman sitting on a rug on a grass-covered slope. The young girl on the left is wearing a sleeveless dress, pink sunglasses and sandals. The man next to her is facing towards his left and seems to have his eyes closed. He is holding a small plastic container in front of him. He is wearing a tee shirt and white shorts, is barefoot and has his sunglasses pushed up onto his head. The baby is lying asleep on the rug between the man and the woman. The woman on the right is facing forward and using her right hand to spoon food into her mouth from a plastic container she holds in her other hand. She is wearing a sleeveless tee shirt, slacks and spectacles and is barefoot. A bag, a plastic container and a sheet of aluminium foil are on the rug, and two pairs of sandals are on the grass beside the rug. Thumbnail image.

Family picnic on the grass, West Side, New York, 2008. Source: Ed Yourdon.

A colour photograph of a group of five women, four men and a child sitting in a circle on the grass in the shade of some trees. All are dressed in tee shirts and all but one woman, who wears jeans, are wearing shorts. One man and one woman are sitting in fold-up picnic chairs and one woman is sitting on an icebox; the remainder are sitting on picnic rugs. The woman in the chair has her arms around a small child who is standing in her lap. The back of a dog is just visible on the right of the group behind some tree trunks. A number of bags and iceboxes are on the grass around the group. Food containers are laid out in the centre of the picnic rugs. In the background is an expanse of water. Thumbnail image

Australia Day picnic, Sydney, 2011. Source: Halans.

Learning activities

Our Australian climate has given rise to a rich tradition of picnicking. The activities below are designed to provide students with the skills to see how picnics have changed over time, what has changed and why these changes have occurred, using their own picnic experiences and those of parents and grandparents as a frame of reference.

The learning activities in this resource teach students to:

  • observe and sequence
  • research and contextualise
  • empathise and speculate

1. Observe and sequence


  • images from picnics set (click on the images above to enlarge for printing or display)
  • chalkboard or smart board for recording responses


Introduce the idea of picnicking by engaging the students in a discussion.

  • What is a picnic?
  • Why do we go on picnics?
  • Who has been on a picnic?
  • What do we take?

Lead the students into considering whether picnicking has always been the same, and whether there have been any changes in where/how/why/what/who over time. Encourage them to suggest why changes may have occurred.

Present the selection of images to the students, one at a time, in no particular order. Have the students examine each image in detail, first of all compiling what they can see and then focusing on evidence that suggests what time period each image is from, using themselves/parents/grandparents/great grandparents as markers for how old or new the image may be. The evidence may take the form of clothing, vehicles, picnic equipment/containers, settings, formal/informal poses, group sizes and food. Encourage the students to compare what they see in the images with what they know of picnics in their own lives. 

Once the students have thoroughly investigated the separate images, ask them to arrange them into a broad timeline, from oldest to newest. Assist them in this aspect by suggesting that they look for similarities and differences that may help in establishing the timeline.

This part of the activity could be carried out by asking some students to each hold up an image (if using printed versions), in random order and having the other students arrange the students with their image in the timeline. Ask the students to justify the final timeline arrangement by explaining their choices and expanding on what they found out about the images through investigating them. Encourage them to make a final assessment of their choices and perhaps make the timeline more permanent by putting the images (if printed) onto art paper, in order, and with text that might say 'Picnics – then and now' or 'Picnicking – old and new'.

2. Research and contextualise


  • images from the picnics set (click on the images above to enlarge for print or display)
  • large cardboard sheets for constructing a 'picnic investigation chart'
  • marker pens or perhaps coloured shapes for use on the chart


As a class, discuss: 'Are your picnics the same as picnics your mum and dad or grandma and grandpa would have had when they were young?' Encourage the students to consider this by examining the various components of a picnic – food, transport, picnic sets, locations, clothing, group sizes, games, links to celebrations, and so on.

Reinforce their examination by discussing elements visible in the picnic images. Ask students to look for aspects that appear to have changed over time and aspects that appear to be unique to each image. Encourage them to consider why there are changes, for example in the food, storage, transport, family structure and so on.

Ask the students to research by interviewing their parents/grandparents on the topic of picnics in their youth. Encourage the students to ask questions that cover some or all of the topics used in the class discussion. The students could use a common list of questions developed as a class; one question could be to request to borrow any images of picnics that the family member has.

Interviews could be documented in various ways:

  • If the interview is documented in writing, students could take notes as their interviewees talk, or their interviewees could write their own responses.
  • Some students might record their interview as audio or video and then choose one or two segments to share with the class.
  • Other students might document their interview as a collage, combining a selection of questions and answers, images of their parents or grandparents and representations of picnicking (drawings, magazine cut-outs etc). The students could use a range of fonts and visual design elements (colour, pattern, shape) to embellish their collages.

Once the students have conducted their research, arrange for time in class to hold a reporting/sharing session, and to aggregate the information they have generated through their individual research.

Prepare a large-format picnic investigation chart for the class. It could be a simple arrangement of vertical columns and horizontal rows. The rows could be marked with 'Grandparents', 'Parents' and 'Us'. Invite students to share the results of their individual research and as they do, assist them to identify various components of picnicking. For example, they might identify 'hot food', 'cold food', 'barbeque', 'own car', 'public transport', 'big group', 'small group', 'formal clothing', 'casual clothing', 'metal cutlery', 'plastic cutlery', 'crockery', 'paper plates', 'games'. As an element is identified, have the student add it to the appropriate place on the chart.

Then, help students use the chart to interpret their findings. You might use coloured markers to add lines, arrows and circles to identify patterns – to indicate continuity and change, to group various elements together and to distinguish others. Ultimately the chart should indicate components that are common to picnics across generations and those that are unique to a particular time period.

3. Empathise and speculate


  • a random selection of images covering at least two generations (click on the images above to enlarge for printing or display)
  • a bag
  • a set of small cards on which the names of picnic items will be written
  • art materials for a visual arts component
  • chalkboard or smart board for recording student responses

Special preparation

Prior to engaging the students in this activity, look at each of the images selected and make a list of any foods, utensils, picnic furniture, vehicles, period-specific clothing, games, group sizes, specific locations etc that can be seen in each image. Write each of these observations down individually on small cards, and put the cards into the bag. The cards and bag will be introduced in Step 3 of the activity.


1. Introduce the concept of a history of picnics by asking students what sort of things they do when they have a picnic. This may include games, travel, invitations, food preparation, eating, relaxing, talking, singing etc. Encourage them to share picnic experiences and to describe them in regard to ‘who/what/when/where/why/how’.

2. Ask them if the experience of picnics has always been the same – are the picnics people have now the same as picnics in the past? Extend this line of questioning by encouraging them to come up with ways in which picnicking may have been different for their parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents. Some of these differences may include ease of getting to picnic areas, range of foods available, games or other pastimes that may have been played/enjoyed while picnicking, types of picnic areas and so on. Record their answers as they consider this.

3. Present the students with the random selection of picnic images. Tell them that you will be pulling cards out of the bag which relate to the images, and that you will be asking the students to work out which image corresponds to each card. Continue until the bag is empty and all items/aspects have been assigned to appropriate images. Themes that could emerge from this activity include:

  • big/small families
  • past/present setting
  • formal/informal clothing
  • new/old vehicles
  • built picnic areas/natural bush settings
  • old/new picnic sets
  • old/new picnic utensils
  • formal/relaxed poses
  • familiar/unfamiliar foods

4. Encourage the students to review their choices and discuss what it was about each item/aspect that suggested it belonged to a specific image. Assist them in assessing the evidence of each item/aspect (old/new, familiar/unfamiliar, materials, etc) and encourage them to consider what the items/aspects tell them about picnicking in the past and today.

5. Ask the students to consider what picnics may be like in the future – in 50, 100 or 200 years. Encourage them to consider the items/aspects that they have been discussing, and how changes in technologies and ways of living might influence change. Assist the students to expand their considerations to include topics such as the environment, diet, transport, food storage, etc.

6. Ask the students to create visual art-based interpretations of their imagined picnics in the future. Encourage them to think about how they represent future technologies, clothes, transport, locations/environments, games, group poses, etc.

7. Display the artworks when they are finished and encourage the students to compare the range of interpretations produced by the class, and perhaps look for similarities or common aspects in the artworks. The discussion could also include the idea that the artworks produced by the students today might be used in 50 or 100 years, when Year 1 and 2 students of that time might be investigating what people in the past thought picnics might look like in the future.


Go to Feeding the family and the teacher support video.

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