Tuesday, April 20, 2010

another picnic at hanging rock

We drove out to Hanging Rock last weekend which gives me another chance to post this from the early days of the blog:
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A lot of people might know Hanging Rock from Peter Weir's movie "Picnic at Hanging Rock." The film was based on a novel by Joan Lindsay who hailed from my new stomping ground St. Kilda. She wrote the book when she was 70 and claimed that it was based on a true incident about the mysterious disappearance of a group of students from a girl's school in 1900. The disappearance is never explained in the book or the film, although it is strongly hinted that some supernatural force causes the girls to vanish from this world. The incident is a bit like what happens in the Marabar caves in A Passage to India, which is also not really explained.
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It's certainly an eerie place, surrounded by dense forest which is filled with red parrots and small, wild kangaroos. There's a visitor's centre at Hanging Rock which outlines how the girls went missing, how one turned up a week later with no memory of what had taken place and how the scandal caused the school's collapse and the headmistress to commit suicide from the Hanging Rock itself.
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The problem, of course, is that none of this true. The novel is pure fiction and the film is too. It didn't happen. No girls school, no disappearance, no suicide. Joan Lindsay made up the story and her non denial denials only increased the speculation and interest in her book. It's brilliant PR claiming truth for a novel, Dan Brown did the same for the Da Vinci Code and James Frey did it for his completely phoney memoir A Million Little Pieces. But I wonder if something is a bit lost in the process. A lot of people have trouble telling truth from fiction in the first place and when the state government actually sets up a museum to sell the lie surely that's crossing some kind of line. In 1987 the suppressed final chapter of Lindsay's book was finally published after her death, in which she explained that the girls, er, turned into inter dimensional crab-like beings and slipped through a crack in the space-time continuum, but they don't tell you that bit in the visitors centre either.