Picnic at Hanging Rock

(dir. Peter Weir) (1975)


“Bye, now.”





St. Valentine’s Day, 1900.  The young ladies of Appleyard College are treated to a picnic at Hanging Rock, a volcanic pile in the heart of the Victorian countryside, near Mount Macedon.  There is twittering around the teacups, too much cake and Australian sunshine, and whilst the party are having an al fresco siesta, people go missing.  But while the film has aspects of a whodunit or a thriller, it cannot be categorised because it simply transcends classification.  As F.R Leavis said of Wuthering Heights, you can call this a sport. Totally magical, mystical, ethereal, and beyond criticism.

The Varnished Culture has been obsessed with the book and the film for many years, watching the latter every Valentine’s day – it is a triumph on every level.

[Incidentally, your correspondents married on the staircase of what was the Fitzhubert Mansion in the film.  We have stayed in Mrs Appleyard’s room at what is Martindale Hall in the Clare Valley, South Australia.  We have climbed the rock and savoured its uncanny, eerie, atmosphere.  We have deconstructed the literary influences on Joan Lindsay in writing a novel based on a myth so potent that it seems not only true as myth, and as an emblem of colonial propriety amid the romanticism of an aged, savage and mysterious wilderness, but seems to move from fiction to perceived reality.]

LESLEY ADDS : The closest I have come to finding a description of the feeling which this film aroused in my upon my first viewing at the world premiere at the Hindley Cinemas in Adelaide is C S Lewis’s explanation of what he calls “joy” .  This is from his memoir – “Surprised by Joy”.  He is talking about “imaginative experiences” – “The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s “enormous bliss” of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to “enormous”) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit-tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past. Ἰοῡλἱανποθω[1] — and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.”  Lewis  relates it to the German word “sehensucht”, or longing for longing, not for the satisfaction of the longing.

[1] – Oh, I desire too much.

UPDATE: We welcome the work based on the Picnic myth by Janelle McCulloch.  McCulloch has been the literary equivalent of the trackers in Picnic, covering every inch of the Rock’s haunting mysteries, and she brings all of her ethereal style and exquisite taste to bear – see our review here.


Frederick McCubbin’s “Lost”

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