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  • Lusi Austin

IN PRAISE OF THE HUMBLE PICNIC

Chipped tin and enamel plates. Cutlery wrapped in a clean red and white linen tea towel. A cane picnic basket with a broken clasp. These are the memories that instantly flood my mind when I think back to the many childhood picnics my parents took our family on. The food was often simple fare, the picnic rugs patched and the Sunday afternoon drives were mostly impromptu but I recall these times with so much love in my heart. Kicking the ball at Warragamba Dam, climbing the old military tanks at Mulgoa or playing in the sand at Bundeena Beach are parts of my memories that occupy special places in my mind when I think about those picnicking days. These memories live on in me with warmth, with gratitude to my parents and a desire to pass on the legacy of picnic-making to my own children.

Even before we had our five children, my husband Brett and I would love fall in love on a picnic rug. I was at college in Sydney while Brett lived in Leura in the Blue Mountains at the time. He’d travel down to the inner-city suburb of Drummoyne where I was living and we’d enjoy a picnic by the bay at Balmain. We’d go for a late afternoon walk or enjoy dinner under the moon with a picnic hamper and a backdrop of Sydney’s nightlights. There was something so familiar and comforting about being together on our little picnics. It was a chance to slow down, to talk and contemplate our future. Even though the city was mere minutes away, we always managed to find a shady spot under trees that made us feel as if we were enveloped by nature and had somehow escaped the ‘rat race’.

After we were married and as we began adding children into the fabric of our family, picnics became a part of the fibre of our familial culture. We lived in Leura for a while and so would picnic on the grassy centre strip of The Mall which ran down the middle of the village, until the baby turned into a toddler and we were forced to look for open spaces where she (and later four other siblings) could run more freely. We enjoyed many picnics throughout the Blue Mountains in the decade in which we resided there. I remember with fondness picnics by the Cascades, in the Everglades and at many of the incredible lookouts. Making the move to the beautiful Central West of NSW in 2012 was inspired by our very first picnic we had when visiting friends there the year before. The lush green parklands were welcoming to our family and we knew we had found our new home.

As the children aged, the picnics went on. One of our favourite places was in the Conimbla National Park. We have had countless fires, meals and bushwalks there. The kids have collected sticks and rocks and built little makeshift bush tents. We have observed patterns, textures and rhythms around us and have watched the changing colours of the sunsets settle behind the dusty bush tracks. We have seen kangaroos hopping away to find a place to settle for the night before we sat down on our trusty rug to eat our campfire dinner cooked under the open starry sky.

Slowing down to enjoy the simple pleasures in life has been a gift we feel we have been able to give to our children. Once a week, we take a sabbath day. A day for faith, for family and for rest and it is on this day that we often enjoy our picnic. Immersing ourselves in nature is a grounding and centering practice long forgotten by developing nations. Returning to it has been something that we have found foreign and even unpopular at times as it definitely goes against the grain of business, sports and extra-curricular commitments BUT it has been a surprisingly beautiful practice too. It has restored us, resetting our equilibrium and given us strength to continue on into a productive work week.

By far, my favourite place to picnic in the Central West has been a beautiful little spot known to locals as ‘Oaky Creek’. A watering hole with enormous ancient rocks and flowing waterfalls feeding into a small wading pool, has been the perfect place to picnic on a warm weekend. The kids still love exploring there, climbing the rocks and trying to catch tadpoles. Our picnic basket gets packed with containers of salad, deli meat, cheese and rolls. The back of the car is always full of blankets, sunscreen, drink bottles and cushions.

A few months ago we were sitting there on the ‘giant rock’ under the shade of a Casuarina tree when I caught a glimpse of my family picnicking on what could have been our thousandth one, yet was like any other. It dawned on me that we have provided a family anchor for our children, just like my parents had provided for me and my siblings. It is an anchor rooted in ritual in which there is predictability, familiarity and security. I may not leave much behind when I leave this earth but I feel that one of my greatest gifts will be the legacy I’ve passed on to my children of the importance of the humble picnic. May it live on in their memories and be a part of their regular lives as they seek to find balance, peace and steadiness in an increasingly unpredictable and often chaotic world.


More another time, Lusi x

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