Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, not only stands the test of time, but also, 50 years on, still has the ability to evoke a sense of utter eeriness.  After all, where did the girls go?

Set in 1900, in the Mount Macedon Ranges (near Melbourne for anyone not from Victoria), Picnic at Hanging Rock follows a group of school girls from the prestigious Appleyard College, who have embarked on an outing to the nearby geological oddity, Hanging Rock.  Considering it’s Valentines Day, the sun is shining, and all young private school-educated girls are perfect little misses, surely nothing is to go amiss.

Except that three girls and a school teacher go missing.  Amongst the infamous Hanging Rock.  Surrounded by the notorious Australian bush.  Wearing CORSETS for goodness’ sakes!  And the only girl connected to their mysterious disappearance, Edith (the school dunce – as is listed on the opening page), has no recollection of why she drew apart from the three girls, hysterical and screaming.

And while one girl is eventually found, although with no memories of her time at the Hanging Rock, the other two, as well as the school teacher, are never to be seen again.

Isn’t it such a simple idea that, for Joan Lindsay, just worked so very well?  A group of rich, beautiful and affluent girls go out on a picnic, and some never return.  Where did they go?  Why did they leave?  What will become of the lofty Appleyard College?

Joan Lindsay does a magnificent job of presenting how one event can have an effect on some many people – no matter how far removed from the events, or people involved, they may have originally been, whether that’s Albert Crundall, Miss and Mr Lumley or Mrs Appleyard.  While we may never learn of what happened to the girls up there on the Hanging Rock, that doesn’t stop Lindsay from weaving a tale that is absorbing, intricate and, most importantly, believable. Each strand of each story becomes interwoven until the entire situation is simply made up of all these people’s lives and the consequences of what happens when something very out of the ordinary occurs.  And Joan Lindsay does it masterfully.  After all, very few mysteries can remain unsolved and still keep the readers’ attention even after they’ve completed the novel.

Personally, I also enjoyed reading about the scenery, the cliches of the Australian Bush, and all the towns and roads that are still familiar to me.  Growing up in Castlemaine –  a small town that isn’t known for too much at all – I visited places like Macedon and the Hanging Rock, so it’s a bit of a thrill to read it captured in literature so many years ago.  And while any non-Australian may be a bit skeptical about how scary the outback can really be, I can foremost tell you that getting stuck in the Bush in the middle of summer, with no water?  Well, that would really suck.

Also, you would probably die.

Of course, the number one reason Picnic at Hanging Rock is still such a classic today is there has always been the theory that perhaps, just perhaps…it isn’t a fictional story.  And crafty, clever Joan Lindsay, did absolutely nothing to dispel that myth when interviewed.  After all, anything could have happened to those girls out there – plus it was over a 100 years ago, so we couldn’t prove it either way whether it did or did not happen, now could we?

Lastly, yes.  Picnic at Hanging Rock has inspired me to organise a picnic amongst friends at Hanging Rock.  I shall keep you posted if any of us get stuck wearing corsets or go missing forever more.  Could be a sequel at the very least, no?

Have you read Picnic at Hanging Rock or seen the movie?  Do you think that it could be true?  What would you do if you go stuck in the Australian Bush?  Let me know!

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