Monday, August 25, 2008

Where Evil Lurks Beneath the Sun or Picnic at Hanging Rock

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com



As I’m in Australia at the moment, visiting relatives and friends, I thought it was about time I discussed some home-grown Aussie mystery. If you’re thinking I’m sunning myself on the beach somewhere you’d be wrong – Melbourne is in the depths of winter so think rain and lots of it! Since I’m in the cultural capital of Australia (sucks to Sydney – you can see where my allegiances lie!) I have to talk about one of my all time favorite mysteries – Picnic at Hanging Rock.

I read the book by Joan Lindsay when I was about twelve and I was convinced it was based on a true story – the eerie mystery surrounding the fate of a party of schoolgirls who visit Hanging Rock was deliciously fraught. Then along came Peter Weir’s film and the whole ambience and sexually charged atmosphere came to the fore. There are even hints that the events in the book may have been based on events in Joan Lindsay’s own life but there has never been any record found of anything similar happening. Yet the mystery endures today, probably because it remains unsolved (although there is a missing final chapter which Lindsay wrote that apparently solves the mystery. It was excluded in the original book and, to be honest, I don't want to even know what it says).

I’ve visited hanging rock (Mt. Diogenes) and each time I was struck by the strange energy of the place. It is located just outside Melbourne, where I grew up, and is now forever associated with those haunting few words :
“On St. Valentine’s Day in 1900 a party of schoolgirls went on a picnic to Hanging Rock. Some were never to return…”

Hanging rock is a place where anything is possible and there is a distinct evil vibe that is hard to ignore. When you climb the rock, your sense of perspective and time becomes confused. I think that’s what makes Peter Weir’s film so incredible. He captures the essence of a summer day at the turn of the last century, its drowsy, erotic overtones as well as the heady sense of foreboding - that evil of an unknown nature might have taken the girls forever.

The place itself was the most important character in the book as well as the movie. What places have inspired the same fear within you?

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing that story, Clare. I have been to Hanging Rock as well, probably 20 years ago, and had to laugh at the directional sign on the roadside pointing to the turnoff, with a rock hanging from it on a string. Was that still there?

    One thing I remember about the film was the haunting music.

    And yes, we are finally getting rain! And this has been the coldest week all winter. Are you here for the writer's festival? Margie Lawson is here, too.

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  2. I saw that movie years ago and just loved it. Thanks for posting! I just added it to the top of my NetFlix queue

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  3. The kids in my small town all seemed to believe that there had once been a kid-killing monster that lived in the "bamboo forest" by the creek at the bottom of our hill. I wonder how many small towns have a local monster or ghost mythology? The only creatures I ever saw running around in the bamboo were wild chickens!

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  4. Thanks everyone and it is indeed cold in Melbourne - the writer's festival is on but that was sheer coincidence! I've just been staying in a small town beyond Hanging Rock and no eerie feeling there - but certainly ghosts of gold fields past.

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  5. Need to head further north to Queensland. It's nice and warm up here at the moment. Perfect weather for the Brisbane Writer's festival in a few weeks.

    I'm in the western Queensland gas fields at the moment for work and research. This place is brilliant for inspiration and creativity (and warmer than Melbourne).

    JJ

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