The Secret of Hanging Rock
The Secret of Hanging Rock has been presented as a previously unpublished chapter of Joan Lindsay's 1967 book Picnic at Hanging Rock and is supposed to contain the "solution" to the mystery in that book. According to Lindsay's editor, it was originally written as the final chapter, though it was removed before publication and not released until 1987, three years after Lindsay's death.
The missing material amounts to about twelve pages; the remainder of the publication The Secret at Hanging Rock contains discussion by other authors, including John Taylor and Yvonne Rousseau.
It has been argued by critics[who?] that much of the power of the original book stems from the suggestion that it was a true story, and the fact that the mystery in the book was never resolved. Therefore, if the author actually removed this material from her book, this was a good decision.
The chapter opens with Edith fleeing back to the picnic area while Miranda, Irma, and Marion push on. Irma looks down and compares the people on the plain below to ants. When the girls walk past the monolith, they feel as if they are being pulled from the inside out and get dizzy. After they leave it behind, they lie down and fall asleep.
A woman suddenly appears climbing the rock in her underwear shouting, "Through!" and then faints. This woman is not referenced by name and is apparently a stranger to the girls, yet the narration suggests she is Miss McCraw. Miranda loosens the woman's corset to help revive her. Afterwards, the girls remove their own corsets and throw them off the cliff. The recovered woman points out that the corsets appear to hover in mid-air as if stuck in time, and that they cast no shadows. She and the girls continue together.
After the women experience dizziness, the group encounter a strange phenomenon described as a hole in space that influences their state of mind. They see a snake crawling down a crack in the rock. The woman suggests they follow the snake and takes the lead. She transforms into a small lizard-like creature and disappears into the crack. Marion follows her, then Miranda, but when Irma's turn comes, a balanced boulder [the hanging rock] slowly tilts and blocks the way. The chapter ends with Irma "tearing and beating at the gritty face on the boulder with her bare hands".
Symbolism and meaning
Many readers[who?] interpret this to mean that the girls have fallen into a time warp. This is compatible with Lindsay's fascination with clocks and time throughout Picnic at Hanging Rock. It also ties in with the tension between Aboriginal and British Australia that is clear throughout the book. The girls somehow succumbed to a magical, yet natural Australia, and were forever lost to their schoolmates possibly within a remnant of lost aboriginal dreamtime.
- Joan Lindsay (1987). The Secret of Hanging Rock. HarperCollins Publishers (Australia). ISBN 0-207-15550-X.