Book Review – Hanging Rock

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by Mary McConville


Spoiler Alert: I know what happened when the three pretty schoolgirls and their teacher disappeared at Hanging Rock.


Joan Lindsay’s wonderfully atmospheric tale “Picnic At Hanging Rock” tells of the disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher while on a picnic at Hanging Rock on St Valentine’s Day in 1900.


It was made into a beautiful film and practically everybody loved the breathy panpipes on the soundtrack.


The story in the final published version finished with the sometimes-tragic aftermath of the disappearances, with love lost and lives lost.


The handsome young hero, Michael Fitzhubert, rescues the wrong girl, who loved him – unrequited.


Due to a tangle of lost notes and late arrivals, the lonely orphan jumped to her death.


So did the headmistress as her business crumbled.


A few characters moved on to a happier life.


The sympathetic French mistress met and married a clockmaker.


Working-class Albert is rewarded for his efforts in looking for and finding Irma with a cheque for a thousand pounds.


Most of these transient human lives continued to play out in the brooding presence of Hanging Rock.


There was some confusion after publication as to whether “Picnic at Hanging Rock” was based on a real incident.


Joan Lindsay contributed to this confusion by writing a small paragraph in the beginning of the book that told the reader that they must decide for themselves.


The answer is that this is just a work of fiction.


There was also a lot of theorising at the time on what actually happened.


Yvonne Rousseau wrote “The Murders at Hanging Rock” and put forward several alternative theories.


One theory is that the lost girls and their teacher slipped into an alternate universe where the Hanging Rock was replaced by a courtyard with a fountain, fruit trees and garden beds.


It is very Edenic but there was no Adam and there were plenty of snakes.


Another theory is that this was an alien abduction. Yvonne Rousseau does admit that this is a very silly theory.


Yet another theory is that they slipped into the Aboriginal Dreamtime and were, in essence, reclaimed by the land.


The most scandalous solution is that Michael Fitzhubert is not “love’s young dream” as he appears but an English remittance man of bad character.


However, there is no serious evidence to support the theories of rape and murder.


The real solution to the disappearances is contained in a final chapter that Joan Lindsay’s publishers sensibly advised her to take out of the finished work.


She did ask that this last chapter be published after her death of Angus and Robertson did this in booklet form in 1987.


Warning: Do not read any further if you do not want to know.


Miranda, Marion and Miss McGraw walked through a gap in the rocks and into a time warp. Irma was scared and stayed behind.


I keep expecting them to turn up in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” among Frank-en-furter’s Transylvanian guests and do the time warp – again.


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