Picnic At Hanging Rock is arguably the most well-known Australian mystery novel in existence. The Joan Lindsay-penned book has been turned into a film, a tv mini-series and turned a lesser-known Australian wonder into one of the most talked-about in the country. But was any of the story true?
The short answer is… no. Sorry! The book is widely classified as a work of fiction, even though Lindsay herself would speak vaguely when asked if it was true or not. There are no confirmed reports of three young women going missing in the late 1800s at Hanging Rock, although the school and, obviously, the location of the picnic are based on real-life locations.
BUT. The imposing formation does have a deeply spiritual history, and continues to baffle visitors to this day.
Prior to the invasion, Hanging Rock was, according to Jason Tamiru of the Dja Dja Wurrung, Yung Balug mob, a place where “big business” was held among local Ingideous groups.
This is a place where big business was held: Corrobborees, Initiation Ceremonies, Songline Ceremonies, trade and relationship building and a place where laws were made and passed.
The area around Hanging Rock was home to the Dja Dja Wurrung, as well as the Woi Wurrung and Taungurung peoples for over 26,000 years – before introduced diseases like smallpox tragically wiped out much of the Indigenous population. According to Vice, those that were left were forced out of the area by white settlers, then relocated to Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve in Healesville.
The traditional name for the rock is unknown, although Tamiru says his family believe it to be called Ngannelong, which aligns with an engraving from 1855/56 by German explorer William Blandowski during an expedition. The inscription read “Anneyelong”, which many believe to be Blandowski mishearing the name or writing it phoenetically.
While the Indigenous peoples of the area suffered the ravages of introduced diseases and subsequent displacement common to the Indigenous across the nation, the sacred nature of the rock to their ancestors remains. Could it be that the reason Australians are fascinated by the rock is because it really does have a spiritual power?
People certainly have tales to tell. During filming of the first film created about Joan Lindsay’s novel, co-producer Patricia Lovell allegedly noted that watches would constantly stop working on set. Long-time ranger Guido Bigolin told The Age stories of people sending back parts of the rock they had taken because the fragments “brought misery”.