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A Visit To Hanging Rock, location of the Australian cinema classic

Updated on February 29, 2012
Hanging Rock, by Sardaka
Hanging Rock, by Sardaka | Source

In search of a cinema classic

OK, I hadn't seen the film at that point. It had been on TV a few times, but Picnic At Hanging Rock had never seemed sufficiently exciting a prospect to lure my attention away from Racing from Haydock on a Saturday afternoon. A bunch of Edwardian Oz schoolgirls head off to a park for a picnic, and disaster strikes. What, somebody forgot to pack the Vegemite? Big thrills huh?

Still, it was only an hour or so out of Melbourne, and my collection of famous film locations was looking singularly unimpressive (the Dublin pub from The Van and Highbury, from Fever Pitch ).

So I hung around the Spencer Street railway station until sternly reprimanded by the guy overseeing queuing etiquette, and bought a ticket on the Victorian Railways suburban crawler to Woodend, nearest station to Hanging Rock.

Eighty-odd miles of unremarkable countryside, a few rolling hills, pleasantly familiar meadows and a few sheep later, we rolled into Woodend. Now maybe I should have done some research here, but I'd figured that once I got to my destination, a large, looming hanging rock type affair would be on the near horizon, perhaps best approached on a street lined with vendors selling amusing rock-related souvenirs, paperweights, inflatable replicas and Edwardian straw hats, etc.

Big mistake. Woodend looked like one of those frontier towns, the main street lined with shops selling walking boots, beef jerky, kangaroo-skin bush-hats and ciabatta with olive-oil drizzled grilled aubergine and basil filling (even the hardiest outdoor types have gourmet leanings). Side streets led off into dusty paddocks. Rocks, hanging or otherwise, were conspicuous by their absence.

1975 movie poster
1975 movie poster

You call that a Hanging Rock?

In the tourist information office, a kindly, underworked lady pointed me in the direction of the road. "You might find a taxi," she suggested, with the intonation implying that I had about an equal chance of finding a high-speed monorail.

"Actually, I'd thought about walking." "Oh, walking? Yes. I believe people did use to walk out there," she said, conjuring up a long-lost era of ox-pulled carts, homemade lemonade and £10 immigrants. Then she gave me a map.

Well it only looked a couple of miles, and it was a nice day, and there didn't seem to be any taxis around and . . . I found myself walking down a dusty track in a roughly northerly direction, overtaken every five minutes or so by hulking Holden family saloons full of corn-fed Aussie kids grinning out of the back windows at the sweaty Pom, or by rusty Ute vans piled high with agricultural equipment, the driver chewing pensively on a piece of straw as he swerved around the lone pedestrian.

There was an episode of The Sullivans once, where one of the chaps (it might have been the same bloke who tried to get out of the army by pretending he was a coconut) was droning on about the long marches the Japanese enforced on their prisoners. The words were haunting me as I wandered ever on, with still no sign of a rock.

An hour and forty-five minutes later I stumbled into the park, two stone lighter, blisters already forming on my feet, dying of dehydration. Ahead of me was a glorious sight, well worth the walk and the anticipation. And behind the cafe and cold drinks counter lay an unprepossessing hillock.

Five pints of cranberry and guava Snapple (even the drinks here are pretentious) later, I unenthusiastically scrabbled up the hill to clap eyes on . . . a pathetic boulder propped up on a grubby bit of stone. The much-vaunted Hanging Rock turned out to be the sort of natural phenomenon that could have been knocked off by a couple of Irish navvies in between pints. Frankly, Hanging Rock was more of a Perching Pebble.

Resisting the temptation to give it a good shove with a stick and force the park authorities to have a rethink about that name, I searched around for mythical taxis. Ha! My train back to Melbourne departed from Woodend at 4.19pm. It was presently 2.30pm. If I increased my walking speed slightly I might just make it.

I staggered into Woodend station at 4.20. "You've just missed yer train mate," chirped the guard with that grin Australians reserve for imparting bad news. "Next one's in two and a half hours. You can have a look at the town while yer waiting." I wandered off speechless. "Should take yer 10 minutes, tops," he cackled after me.

So there I was in a Woodend deli, eating mushroom salad with wild truffle dressing, sipping a cinnamon latte, wondering how to fill the hours, when who should enter but the lady from the tourist office. "You've caught the sun," she said, slightly anxiously. "How was the Rock?"

No picnic.

The painting that started it all

Picnic At Hanging Rock painted by William Ford in 1875
Picnic At Hanging Rock painted by William Ford in 1875 | Source

A clip from the film

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    • Chaval profile image
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      Chaval 5 years ago from UK

      Sorry, if it came over that way. I would thoroughly support your impressions of the beauty of the area, and would go back to see more. I was just amused by the bathos of the Rock when I visited. It's a tongue-in-cheek piece all the way through (although every incident and conversation is true). Thanks for your comments.

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      alexbriggs 5 years ago

      The bit about needing a car was more advice for people wanting to get there easily because there doesn't appear to be public transport to the rock except for on racing days (twice a year) and, as you discovered, it is a long walk from Woodend. The drive through Mt Macedon was an unexpected bonus on the way - next time we go we plan to book in a stay there or at least allow some time to go for a walk in that beautiful area. I realised that your piece was intended to have a humourous tone, but it was one of the few things I could find on Google about how to get to Hanging Rock and you made it sound like it isn't really worth the effort.

    • Chaval profile image
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      Chaval 5 years ago from UK

      I made it there. You seem to be criticising the article on the grounds that it isn't about something else entirely: the glorious scenery of the area (about which I agree entirely). I am also a bit sceptical about the suggestion that natural beauty is best seen from a car . . . Otherwise, you seemed to have missed the comic intent of the article.

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      alexbriggs 5 years ago

      Are you sure you actually made it there? I visited a couple of weeks ago at the end of my most recent trip to Australia and found it awe-inspiring. The actual 'Hanging Rock' after which the whole place is named wouldn't be a particularly impressive feature on its own, but you can't seriously have gone there just to see that and ignored the extraordinary beauty of all that surrounds it. Just the first sight of the whole mount looming up over the surrounding trees is inspiring enough, and the not-too-demanding walk up to the summit rewards the visitor with a constantly jaw-dropping array of magnificent volcanic rock structures. Prospective visitors should not be put off by this silly article. Probably best if you have a car, or know someone who has (as we did). The drive through Mt Macedon was just spine-tinglingly beautiful.

    • porcupineridge profile image

      porcupineridge 5 years ago from Daylesford, Macedon Ranges, Victoria, Australia

      Who can forget the haunting panpipes?

    • Chaval profile image
      Author

      Chaval 5 years ago from UK

      Thanks for the support rorshak

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      rorshak sobchak 5 years ago

      Great write up! Keep up the great work.