The other week I stumbled into this new edition of Picnic at Hanging Rock. I had never read the novel but I had seen the film of course, which used to be a cult when I was a kid. I was actually quite young when I saw it, about 12, and at the time I knew absolutely nothing about Australia whatsoever. I probably wasn’t even aware it existed. My first notion of aboriginal dreamtime came a few years later when I saw Herzog’s Where the Green Ants Dream.
My take on the film was that teenagers are an incomprehensible and disquieting mystery, especially girls, especially to adults. I was pretty satisfied with that.
Well I wasn’t completely wrong. But it turns out that it’s more about the British sticking to Victorian society and not being able to really understand the bush.
The novel is blessed with both a subtle sense of humour and a very effective sense of tragedy (I still have to recover from poor Sarah’s story). There’s also place for some justice, which is appreciated.
What I wasn’t prepared to discover was that in the meanwhile Joan Lindsay has died leaving an unpublished 18th chapter which actually explains what happens to the girls (not included in the above mentioned Vintage edition but published separately by A&R). Well this happened twenty-six years ago but I have only noticed last week, you probably knew already, please forgive my distraction.
I happen to like the 18th chapter very much, it suits me and it would have suited the twelve-year-old me as well.
Illustration by PixelPickle