Few stories have captured the Australian imagination in the same way that Picnic at Hanging Rock does. Although originally published as a book in 1975, our fascination with it has led to several resurrections—first as a now-classic film, and most recently, as a 2018 miniseries.
But what is it about Picnic at Hanging Rock that leaves us wanting more? What actually happened at Hanging Rock? And is this strange story fact...or fiction?
The Book That Started It All
Most people are familiar with the Peter Weir movie, but what some people don’t know is that Picnic at Hanging Rock was a book first. Penned by then-71-year-old Joan Lindsay, the narrative wove together mystery and history for a truly enchanting tale.
The story begins on Valentine’s Day in 1900. A group of girls from the elite Appleyard College, along with their headmistress Mrs Appleyard and teacher Miss McCraw, goes to Hanging Rock, Victoria for a picnic. Four of the girls—Miranda, Marion, Irma, and Edith—and Miss McCraw walk up to Hanging Rock’s summit. But only a hysterical and confused Edith (who has no memory of what happened) makes it back down.
This is only the start of a series of bizarre events. Eventually, students and staff alike leave Appleyard College. Two characters close to the missing girls commit suicide. The school and the police station where all the investigation records were kept burn down, and all that’s left of the mystery of Hanging Rock is a single scrap of fabric.
What really happened at Hanging Rock that day? The book ends here officially, but Lindsay did write a final 18th chapter to wrap up the story. After her death, it was published as a standalone book. This ending chapter/sequel uses the spiritual (or some say even supernatural) to explain the girls’ disappearance.
Is Picnic At Hanging Rock A True Story?
Did Lindsay come up with it all on her own, or was Picnic at Hanging Rock based on true events? Well, Lindsay herself has always explained it as a mix of truth and fiction. But while Hanging Rock in NSW is a real place, and the book tries to frame the story as “real”, there isn’t any record of girls disappearing near the area.
So what’s the true story behind Picnic at Hanging Rock?
With several dreamlike sequences in the book, it’s no surprise that Lindsay got the idea from her own dreams. In fact, Lindsay said that the narrative came to her in a series of unusually vivid dreams. She finished the book in less than two weeks and titled it after William Ford’s painting, “At the Hanging Rock”.
Creating An Australian Film Classic
The novel was first published in 1967, but it didn’t quite receive the commercial or critical acclaim it’s known for today. The big turning point came in 1971 when host and TV presenter Patricia Lovell read and fell in love with the book.
Intrigued by the story and interested in bringing it to the big screen, Lovell called on up-and-coming director Peter Weir. After securing the rights from Lindsay, the director-producer team started on the work to turn the Picnic at Hanging Rock book into a full feature film.
While they originally had planned to film at Hanging Rock and the Blue Mountains, the pair accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up passing by Mount Macedon. They decided that the eeriness of the place perfectly fit the story they were trying to tell.
Thanks to the dreamy atmosphere, great storytelling, and sublime performances from the Picnic at Hanging Rock cast, the movie was a critical and commercial success. The movie premiered in 1975, the same year the original novel was reprinted by Penguin.
The Legacy Of Picnic At Hanging Rock
Picnic at Hanging Rock has undeniably left its mark. After the success of Weir’s film, the story made its rounds both nationally and around the world.
In 1980, Yvonne Rousseau published The Murders at Hanging Rock, a book which examined the various explanations of the girls’ disappearances. There were also stage adaptations in 1987 and 2016. Most recently, a miniseries re-imagining the book’s events premiered in 2018; interested viewers can watch it online via Amazon Prime Video, Foxtel, and other sites.
Experience The Real Mystery And Beauty Of Hanging Rock
If buying the original film’s DVD or bingeing the new series isn’t enough, fans can get up close and personal with a walk up to the real Hanging Rock. But where is Hanging Rock?
Located in the plains of Victoria, Hanging Rock has become a major tourist spot in the state. But even if you aren’t a fan of the book or movie, there are tons of things to do.
For a small entry fee, you can visit the Hanging Rock Reserve. There, they have a museum that explores the geology of the rock formation, as well as the storied history of the displaced tribes who once lived in the area. In good weather, you can also go camping, or hike up the nearby mountain trails.
Hanging Rock also plays host to regular races during Australia Day and New Year’s. There’s also a famous winery and a few accommodations just a few kilometres away from the rock itself.
More Questions Than Answers
Even almost a century later, the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock still leaves us with more questions than answers. With beguiling characters, creative twists, and still-unexplained mysteries, it’s no surprise that it’s considered one of the greatest Australian novels (and films) of all time.