Joan Lindsay's Obsession with TimeMay 06, 2014

"Whether 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' is fact or fiction, my readers must decide for themselves."

- Joan Lindsay

Joan Lindsay hinted that "Picnic at Hanging Rock" was based from an actual event. Many weren't interested because the novel's ambiguous ending was what made it a classic. Lady Lindsay, as she was called later in life, was obsessed with time. It wasn't hard to guess after reading the entire book.

Joan à Beckett Weigall was born in St Kilda East, Victoria. She came from a prominent family, many of whom were prolific artists. This gave her the opportunity to pursue what she loved to do, immune to what was going on. There was the conflict between the European settlers and the Aboriginal Australians. Then the economic depression. Two world wars. All of these would play a part in "Picnic at Hanging Rock", published in 1967. It was her best work.

On February 14, 1900, a party of girls from Appleyard College, an upper class private boarding school, would go to Hanging Rock. What was planned to be a memorable excursion turned into a tragedy, with the disappearance of three girls and one of their teachers. It became a mystery, as all but one was found later.

Hanging Rock is a mamelon, created by stiff magma millions of years ago. This rock formation was a tourist destination, but Lady Lindsay saw it differently. It could be a representation of the Outback, an arid area that occupied much of Australia. The aborigines would come to mind, having lived there when the first settlers set foot in the continent. These mamelons were an ideal setting for Lindsay's premise. (Photos of Hanging Rock taken during the afternoon would reveal its enigmatic feature, as if time was suspended.)

Lady Lindsay wrote about the heat, the corset, and the day itself, with great detail. She and Daryl Lindsay were married on Valentine's Day in 1922, but that wasn't the reason why that fateful day was set on February 14. Anyone familiar with the legends surrounding Saint Valentine would realise that that day was an ominous sign, which the girls were unaware of. Blame it on the heat, which they would feel when the sun was way up. Then they would have problems with their corset, wanting to let it go. Hanging Rock looked cool. It beckoned.

One of the girls was found, but when asked to recall what happened after climbing the rock, she was unable to come up with a single word. A clean slate, which would indicate that there was something unfathomable within that place. The young fellow who find her was at a daze. Could it be something paranormal? The answers were revealed in the book's final chapter, but it wasn't included. Lady Lindsay's editor thought it was better not, which was good judgment on his part.

Lady Lindsay claimed that the novel was based from an actual event. She died without telling what it was, which may be a downer. But don't you think it's better that way? This what makes readers visit Hanging Rock again. And again.

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