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"times present, times past and times future co-exist ... time isn't the simplistic continuum that most of us believe." (Phillip Adams)











"Daryl and I were married in London on St Valentine's Day, 1922 - the only date I have ever remembered." (Joan Lindsay)
      Barry Watts checks the view ...


The Mystique of Hanging Rock

Joan Lindsay was quite familiar with the physical sensations visitors detect at Hanging Rock and the adjoining area; describing it in 1977 to Age journalist Stephen Downes as 'not necessarily an evil force ... it's a primitive force.'

She wrote Picnic at Hanging Rock at her home 'Mulberry Hill' at Baxter on the Mornington Peninsula and submitted the manuscript to Melbourne's then leading publishing house, F. W. Cheshire which had published her previous work Time Without Clocks four years earlier.

The firm's publishing director, Dr Andrew Fabinyi, handed the 'Picnic' manuscript to the senior editor John Hooker and junior editor Sandra Forbes, both well-known in Australian publishing circles today.

The editorial team, working closely with the writer, decided the manuscript functioned better with the final chapter, Chapter 18, expunged from the text.

'Joan was always doubtful about that final chapter,' Sandra Forbes recalled twenty years later, 'Its eventual exclusion was a literary decision, reached mutually by author and publisher.'

After the Australian release of the hardcover in 1967 and the UK edition in the following year, Penguin acquired the paperback rights in 1970. It proved outstandingly popular for them, selling 350,00 copies in the first fifteen years - second only to A Fortunate Life on their best-selling list.

A major contributor to Penguin's success was Patricia Lovell who bought a film option on the story in 1973. She intended David Williamson to write the screenplay and Peter Weir to direct it, but Williamson was unavailable and suggested former Melbourne teacher Cliff Green in his stead. Weir introduced the McElroy twins, Hal and Jim, to collaborate as producers and the project was underway.

Funding the movie's $440,000 budget took almost two years to finalise. Filming commenced at Hanging Rock on 2 February, 1975 with the six weeks shoot in Victoria and South Australia coincidently spanning St Valentine's Day.

Six months later the premiere screening was held in Adelaide - the S.A. Film Corporation was a major funding source - to critical acclaim. When shown in London and New York it received overwhelming positive responses.

'Any fears that audiences might be turned off by the lack of resolution at the end of the film were quickly dispelled,' movie buff David Stratton wrote, 'the film was an instant box office success of major proportions. It established itself as the most profitable of all new Australian films of the seventies.'

For his contribution, cinematographer Russell Boyd won the prestigious British Film Academy Award for Best Photography in 1977, and few can forget the haunting pan flute music from self-taught composer Bruce Smeaton and played by Gheorghe Zamphir.

By 1980 the movie had sold to 37 territories and returned over A$1.5m.

As Picnic began reaching a considerably wider audience abroad, the demands for an explanation of the mystery increased at home. Joan Lindsay became 'thoroughly tired' of people writing to her about it. She knew she hadn't absent-mindedly forgotten to provide one.

One person searching for answers was Yvonne Rousseau. She examined the 'Picnic' text closely and came up with a 200 page book, The Murders at Hanging Rock , which offered five 'quite distinct, mutually contradictory "explanations" of the mystery disappearances.' A National Times book reviewer described her research as an 'amusing, ingenious and erudite work 'with excursions over various Hermetic, Freudian, Aboriginal and forensic borders.'

As more explanations surfaced, the greater became the public perception that Picnic was 'faction' - fiction based on fact.

The great grand-daughter of Richard Lawless, a police constable at Woodend in 1900, told a radio audience that her grandmother had told her his theory that the girls had fallen into a crevice which may have closed up. Rumour also had it that the records for the period had been destroyed when the Woodend police station burnt down early in the twentieth century.

A search of The Age , The Argus and the Woodend Star for February 1900 fails to disclose any reference to people disappearing at Hanging Rock, or anywhere else. Subsequent examination of newspapers covering the period 1897 - 1905 report no lost or missing people at or near Hanging Rock.

Yvonne Rousseau found 'a young man from Melbourne did die of a fall there, on New Year's Day in 1901; but the unsolved mystery in this case was the manner in which all money disappeared from his pockets, before officialdom received his corpse.'

The first clue that Picnic at Hanging Rock is pure fiction springs from Joan Lindsay's dating of St Valentine's Day 1900. She wrote of it being on a hot, calm Saturday whereas it fell on a Wednesday that year. The closest Saturday St Valentine's Day were twelve years apart; in 1891 when a violent dust storm covered the district on St Valentine's Day, and in 1903 when 'raging' bushfires savaged the area.

`Why did Joan Lindsay set her tale on St Valentine's Day? 'She believed,' columnist/broadcaster Phillip Adams wrote, 'times present, times past and times future coexist; that time isn't the simplistic continuum that most of us believe.'

He reminded his readers her autobiography was called Time Without Clocks , and that there were no timepieces in the Lindsay's home, 'Mulberry Hill'. So, he assured his readers, 'Lindsay wasn't too fussed about time.'

Her autobiography also reveals there is only one date - other than 1066 [Battle of Hastings] and 1815 [Battle of Waterloo] - she always remembered ... 14 February, St Valentine's Day.

Why? 'Daryl and I were married in London on St Valentine's Day, 1922 - the only date I have ever remembered.'

During 1972 Joan Lindsay decided what she would like to do with the final chapter. She presented a typed draft of it to John Taylor, to his 'considerable surprise.' Taylor had been Promotions Manager at Cheshires and involved in negotiating the movie rights on behalf of the author.

'Joan gave me the copyright,' he said, 'to be used at my discretion after her death' - she was 84 at the time.

Joan Lindsay's husband, Daryl, received a knighthood in 1956 for his contribution to art; he died on Christmas Day, 1976. Almost precisely eight years later, 23 December 1984, Lady Joan Lindsay died.

The 'secret' final chapter of her enduring book was released, appropriately enough, on St Valentine's Day, 1987. It was launched at a private school within view of Hanging Rock and built on the slopes of Mount Macedon - the model, some say, for Appleyard College in her Picnic story.





Joan Lindsay, author
Joan Lindsay, author of
'Picnic at Hanging Rock'
- fictionalised fact or
imaginative fiction?




Frank Cheshire, publisher

Frank Cheshire, leading
Melbourne publisher in the
1950s and 1960s (he published
all Alan Marshall's books.)




Dr Andrew Fabyini, publisher
Dr Andrew Fabyini OBE,
distinguished Australian
publisher over forty years




View from Hanging Rock summit
Early photo of view from
the summit of Hanging Rock,
near Woodend, Victoria




Phillip Adams
Phillip Adams,
broadcaster & columnist




Sir Daryl & Lady Lindsay
Sir Daryl & Lady Joan Lindsay
at 'Mulberry Hill', 1962


  Genuine picnic (race meeting) at Hanging Rock, 1880s The actual chapter ran to just twelve pages set in large type. By adding an introduction by John Taylor and a commentary by Yvonne Rousseau, the finished booklet stretched to 64 pages. Named The Secret of Hanging Rock , it sold for A$7.95 in a sealed envelope.

Those readers who wanted a conventional crime story ending were disappointed. Others who pointed the guilty finger pointed towards Albert, the stable-hand, were wrong, as were those supporting a mystical/religious solution.

The girls, we were told, crawled willingly into a hole in the rock, a tunnel in time, for a journey to another dimension.

Actual 1880s picnic race meeting at Hanging Rock'