“The Hanging Rock Racecourse possesses a magnetism all its own,” said a journalist from Melbourne after attending the New Year’s Day Races in January 1916. The Woodend Star included his quote in its lengthy and glowing report of the event.
Even during World War I, thousands travelled to the racecourse and picnic ground – “a verdant valley in the midst of mountain scenery”.
Revellers arrived on horses or in buggies, jinkers, delivery carts, caravans, bicycles and hay wagons pulled by draught horses and even some cars. His Excellency the State Governor, Sir Arthur Stanley, and Lady Stanley arrived from Mt Macedon and were welcomed by John Harley, President of the Club, who said that, despite the war, attendance was not much less than the previous year. The Cup was won by Lucky Bean, which Lady Stanley had the luck to back.
In 1915, the Star commented on the variety of people enjoying the event, not all interested in races, but many just having a picnic and a “frolic” in the country. The entry fee was sixpence, and the Shire provided free hot water to spare picnickers the task of boiling the billy.
The Woodend Band, conducted by Mr W. F. Heap, played “a pleasing programme in a capable manner”. Despite cool weather, visitors lingered until sunset, and the slowest vehicles were not back in Woodend until nearly dark.
Bridie Rahall, nee Dullard, of Ashbourne, born in 1892, vividly remembered the family picnics on New Year’s Day at the races. The younger children loved the roundabouts and sideshows, and the older girls met their boyfriends. Families took baskets of food, such as cooked chooks, cakes, jellies and milk, carefully packed in billies. New Year’s Day at Hanging Rock was a favourite Dullard outing.
This article appeared in the March 2022 edition of The New Woodend Star.