I came across a story at Castle of Spirits, a popular ghost story website with Australian origins, about Hanging Rock. More specifically, about the mystery and controversy over the truth over author Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novella Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Picnic at Hanging Rock tells the story of a group of college girls who go on a picnic to Hanging Rock on St. Valentine’s Day 1900. Three of the girls and one of the professors go missing, and it is nearly a week before one of the girls is found. Though, what happened to the rest of the women who disappeared, no one knows. At least, that was the mystery the author was trying to portray. The author, at the publisher’s behest, left out the final chapter of the book.
Curiosity is a crazy thing, and as people read Joan Lindsay’s mysterious tale, the legend developed. More and more stories were told and more and more people wanted to venture to Hanging Rock or research the girls’ disappearance to figure out what really happened. The author wouldn’t even give a straight answer as to whether or not her story really happened. Joan Lindsay left the book’s ending open-ended so her readers could decide the truth of this event for themselves.
It wasn’t until after Joan Lindsay’s death that the final twelve pages of the book (chapter eight) were finally published in The Secret of Hanging Rock (along with about fifty pages of commentary from the publisher). In the final chapter, the somewhat mythical end of the other women is described. Obviously, had this been included in the novella, the story wouldn’t be as likely to have been quite so mysterious.
After reading about this book, I decided to pick up a copy and see for myself if the story was really as mysterious as it was reputed to have been. I was not impressed. Perhaps that was because I already knew that the story was fake– that the women never disappeared at Hanging Rock. There were explicit themes in the book that make the story seem less real– clocks, for example, appear EVERYWHERE and parts representing time– the passing of time, changing of time, loss of time, etc.– are illustrated throughout the book. If this were just a retelling of events that actually happened, I doubt the author would have been quite so thorough in mentioning clocks and time. The characters also fall into the dichotomy of traditional characters– where characters’ personality and appearance are linked. (That is that the mean characters are ugly. The nice ones are pretty. And so on and so forth.)
There are several additional flaws to this book– the first and most obvious is that St. Valentine’s Day in 1900 was on a Wednesday and NOT on a Saturday as depicted in the book. There are also no records of the characters having actually existed– by that, I mean there are no records of birth, death or any records of their existence anywhere. The only notable event to have been reported by police as having occurred in the area was a young gentleman who fell to his death at Hanging Rock in the early 1900’s. His death was solved by police and it was completely unrelated to the disappearances which reputedly occurred in the novella. More information can be found at the Castle of Spirits website on the Picnic at Hanging Rock page.
This story might not be true, but the legend created by the possibility of the girls’ disappearances on St. Valentine’s Day in 1900 has grown over the years. To this day, people will still try to solve the mystery of Hanging Rock! As far as I’m concerned, Hanging Rock is and will always be an Urban Legend– a story that sounds true, but isn’t.
… Yet, if anyone finds evidence to the contrary– that this really IS a true story– I’d be happy to see it, though I do sincerely doubt that any such evidence exists.