Picnic at Hanging Rock (novel)

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For the 1975 film adaptation of the novel, see Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Picnic at Hanging Rock
First-edition cover
Author Joan Lindsay
Country Australia
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher F. W. Cheshire
Penguin (re-print)
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 212 (first printing)
ISBN 0-670-81828-3 (1987 print)

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a 1967 Australian historical novel by Joan Lindsay. Its plot focuses on a group of female students at an Australian women's college in 1900 who inexplicably vanish at Hanging Rock while on a Valentine's Day picnic. In the aftermath of the disappearance, the narrative also explores the outlying effects it has on the community.

Lindsay wrote the novel over a four-week period[1] at her home Mulberry Hill in Baxter, on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula. It was first published in 1967 in Australia by Cheshire Publishing and was released in paperback by Penguin in 1970. The novel sparked critical and public debate due to its ambivalent presentation as a true story, as well as its vague conclusion, and is widely considered to be one of the most important Australian novels of all time.[2][3] It was adapted into a critically acclaimed film of the same name in 1975 by director Peter Weir.


The novel begins with a brief foreword, which reads:

"Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction, my readers must decide for themselves. As the fateful picnic took place in the year nineteen hundred, and all the characters who appear in this book are long since dead, it hardly seems important."

At Appleyard College, an upper-class women's private boarding school, a picnic is being planned for the students under the supervision of Mrs. Appleyard, the school's headmistress. The picnic entails a day trip to Hanging Rock in the Mount Macedon area, Victoria, on St. Valentine's Day in 1900. One of the students, Sara, who is in trouble with Mrs. Appleyard, is not allowed to go. Sara's close friend Miranda, who is described as an ethereal girl, goes without her. When they arrive, the students lounge about and eat a lunch. Afterward, Miranda goes to climb the monolith with classmates Edith, Irma, and Marion. The girls' mathematics teacher, Greta McCraw, follows behind them. As they ascend the rock, in a dreamlike episode, Miranda, Marion, and Irma vanish into the rock while Edith watches; she returns to the picnic in hysterics, disoriented and with no memory of what occurred. Miss McCraw is also nowhere to be accounted for. The school scours the rock in search of the girls and their teacher, but they are not found.

The disappearances provoke much local concern and international sensation with sexual molestation, abduction and murder being high on the list of possible outcomes. Several organized searches of the picnic grounds and the area surrounding the rock itself turn up nothing. Meanwhile, the students, teachers and staff of the college, as well as members of the community, grapple with the riddle-like events. A young man on a private search discovers Irma, unconscious and on the verge of death. When he fails to return from his search, he is found at the rock with Irma in an unexplained daze.

Concerned parents begin withdrawing their daughters from the formerly prestigious college, prompting various staff to leave; the college's handyman and maid quit their jobs, and the French instructor, Mlle. Dianne de Poitiers, announces that she will be getting married and leaving the college as well. A junior governess at the college also leaves with her brother, only to be killed in a hotel fire. Amidst the unrest both in and around the college, Sara vanishes, only to be found days later, having committed suicide. Mrs. Appleyard, distraught over the events that have occurred, also kills herself by jumping from a peak on Hanging Rock.

In a pseudo-historical afterword purportedly extracted from a 1913 Melbourne newspaper article, we are told that both the college, and the Woodend Police Station where records of the investigation were kept, were destroyed by a brush fire in the summer of 1901. In 1903, rabbit hunters came across a lone piece of frilled calico at the rock, but the women were still never found.


The Hanging Rock formation has fascinated visitors for generations. This painting by William Ford was made in 1875.

The unsolved mystery of the disappearances was arguably the key to the success of both the book and the subsequent film. This aroused enough lasting public interest that in 1980 a book of hypothetical solutions (by Yvonne Rousseau) was published, called The Murders at Hanging Rock.[4]

The novel is written in the form of a true story, and even begins and ends with a pseudo-historical prologue and epilogue, adding to the overall feeling of mystery.[5] However, while the geological feature, Hanging Rock, and the several towns mentioned are actual places near Mount Macedon, the story is fiction. Lindsay had done little to dispel the myth that the story is based on truth, in many interviews either refusing to confirm it was entirely fiction,[6] or hinting that parts of the book were fictitious, and others were not. Valentine's Day, 14 February 1900 was a Wednesday, not a Saturday as depicted in the story. All attempts by enthusiastic readers to find historical evidence of the event, characters, or even Appleyard College, have proved fruitless.

Appleyard College was to some extent based on Clyde Girls' Grammar School at East St Kilda, Melbourne, which Joan Lindsay attended as a day-girl while in her teens. Incidentally, in 1919 this school was transferred to the town of Woodend, Victoria, about 8 km southwest of Hanging Rock.[7] The book suggests that the fictional site of Appleyard College, given its eastward view of Mount Macedon on the Bendigo-Melbourne Road, might have been on the western side of Calder Highway/Black Forest Drive (C792), about 2–4 km south of Woodend.

Excised final chapter[edit]

According to her editor, Lindsay's original draft of the novel included a final chapter in which the mystery was resolved. At her editor's suggestion, Lindsay removed it prior to publication.[8] Chapter Eighteen, as it is known, was published posthumously in 1987 as The Secret of Hanging Rock by Angus & Robertson Publishing.

In this chapter, each girl begins to experience dizziness and feel as if she is "being pulled from the inside out"; they then throw their corsets from the top of the cliff but, instead of falling, the corsets stand still in mid-air. The girls then encounter what is described as "a hole in space", by which they physically enter a crack in the rock. The suspension of the corsets and description of the hole in space suggest that the girls have encountered some sort of time warp, which is compatible with Lindsay's fascination with and emphasis on clocks and time in the novel.[9]



The first film adaptation of the book was a short by Tony Ingram, a fourteen-year-old filmmaker, who got permission from Joan Lindsay to adapt her book as The Day of Saint Valentine. However, only about ten minutes of footage was filmed before the rights were optioned to Peter Weir for his more famous feature-length version, and the production was permanently shelved. The completed footage is included on some DVD releases of Weir's film.[10]

The feature film version of Picnic at Hanging Rock premiered at the Hindley Cinema Complex in Adelaide on 8 August 1975. It became an early film of the Australian New Wave and is arguably Australia's first international hit film.[11]


Picnic at Hanging Rock was adapted by playwright Laura Annawyn Shamas in 1987 and published by Dramatic Publishing Company. Subsequently, it has had many productions in the US, Canada, and Australia. There have also been musical adaptations of the novel.

A stage-musical adaptation, with book, music, and lyrics by Daniel Zaitchik, was scheduled to open in New York City in the fall of 2012.[12] The musical received a 2007 staged reading at New York's Lincoln Center,[13] and further workshop development at the 2009 O'Neill Theater Center National Music Theater Conference.[14] The musical had its world premiere on 28 February 2014 at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah under the direction of Jim Christian. The cast included Amelia Moore, Jenessa Bowen, Casey Greenwood, Kacee Neff, Shae Wilson, Erin Crouch, Bailee DeYoung, Katie Jones, MeiLee Ballard, Emily Wells, Mandie Harris, Alice Gittins, Amanda Shaffer, Jason Baldwin, Nate Waite, Aaron Ross, Brittany Wood and Clayton Porter.[15]

A new adaptation is due to open at The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh working alongside Australian theatre makers Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne and Black Swan State Theatre Company in January 2017.[16]


In 2010, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a radio adaptation.[17] The cast included Simon Burke, Penny Downie, Anna Skellern and Andi Snelling.[18]


On September 6, 2016, it was announced that Fremantle Media and pay-TV broadcaster, Foxtel will be producing a six-part miniseries, to be broadcast in 2017. [19] [20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Hanging out for a mystery', Sydney Morning Herald (21 January 2007)
  2. ^ "The Top 20 must-read Australian novels". Mamamia. 12 January 2011. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  3. ^ Staff. "10 Aussie books to read before you die". ABC. Retrieved October 30, 2015. 
  4. ^ Rousseau, Y. (1980) The Murders at Hanging Rock. Scribe Publications, Fitzroy, Australia. ISBN 0-908011-02-4
  5. ^ Lindsay, Joan (1976). Picnic at Hanging Rock. Penguin. 
  6. ^ Phipps, Keith. "Picnic At Hanging Rock". The Dissolve. Retrieved 2015-10-21. 
  7. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography, entry for "Henderson, Isabella Thomson"
  8. ^ Symon, Evan V. (14 January 2013). "10 Deleted Chapters that Transformed Famous Books". listverse.com. 
  9. ^ See introduction to Lindsay, J. (1987). The Secret of Hanging Rock. Australia: Angus & Robertson. ISBN 0-207-15550-X. 
  10. ^ Hanging Rock Reserve tourist information page (viewed 12 April 2010)
  11. ^ IMDB (viewed 12 April 2010)
  12. ^ Horwitz, Jane (30 Aug 2011). "Backstage: Chatting with Brian MacDevitt, Tony-winning lighting designer". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 29 Sep 2011. 
  13. ^ "News". Retrieved 29 Sep 2011. 
  14. ^ Gans, Andrew (15 Apr 2009). "Musicals Tales of the City and Picnic at Hanging Rock to Be Developed at O'Neill Theater Center.". playbill.com. Retrieved 29 Sep 2011. 
  15. ^ Hetrick, Adam (2014-02-28). "World Premiere of Daniel Zaitchik Musical Picnic at Hanging Rock Debuts in Utah Feb. 28". Playbill. 
  16. ^ "Picnic at Hanging Rock 2017 at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh". Retrieved 1 Sep 2016. 
  17. ^ Picnic at Hanging Rock
  18. ^ "Picnic at Hanging Rock". Radio Listings. 2015-10-22. 
  19. ^ http://variety.com/2016/film/asia/picnic-at-hanging-rock-to-be-remade-as-series-1201852656/
  20. ^ http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/game-thrones-star-natalie-dormer-joins-australian-period-drama-picnic-at-hanging-rock-977039

External links[edit]