Is there a conclusion to Picnic at Hanging Rock? Yes, there is one. Not the apocryphal endings written by several authors over the decades, but the one originally written by Joan Lindsay and published only after hed death. Few know the story and I found a small booklet in Australia with the lost 18th chapter. Here it is. But first, a bit of story.
Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of the masterpiece of Australian and world cinema. It has opened up the magic and mystery of the Australian continent as never before. Faithful to the 1969 novel by the Australian writer Joan Lindsay (who, in addition to her only novel, published her memoirs entitled Time without clocks), it tells the inexplicable disappearance of two young girls and their teacher, on Valentine Day of 1900, on the Hanging Rock, fifty kms north from Melbourne, and what the consequences of that disappearance provoke to the people involved.The magic of the movie is also in its eerie music that underscores the mystery of the Australian territory.
Here you’ll find some shots taken during a pilgrimage in August 2008, few days before I left Australia after four years in Canberra. Several rocks on the way to the top. Unfortunately many things in Australia are “civilised”, so that an asphalt strip runs from the bottom to around halfway to the summit. Some of the magic of the place is lost.
In Peter Weir’s movie the Rock looks a quite tall mountain. Well, the hill is probably no higher than one hundred meters over the plain below and this in itself is somewhat disappoiting. And yet, in a hot sultry Valentine Day, for Victorian girls dressed in heavy clothes, distances appeared much longer than in reality.
Few fans of the book and the movie know that Joan Lindsay, wrote the novel in eighteen chapters (and not seventeen as in the current edition) with a conclusion that somehow explains the mystery of the disappeared women over the Rock and why Irma was found few days later. For commercial reasons the publisher requested Joan Lindsay to remove the eighteenth and final chapter. It was probably the single best choice even done in commercial publishing. She agreed, instructing her agent to publish it after her death.
The final chapter was duly published in 1986 in the Anglosaxon countries: a booklet of no more than fifty page. The booklet tells what happened and why. I’m not sure why it was not widely discussed when it was published. I found the booklet by chance in a public library in Canberra during my last months in Australia. I could not believe there was one final chapter written by the author. There are so many spurious finals but this is the original. Imagine how strong emotion I got. Not even the Aussies knew about the lost chapter.
I think that the conclusion is as elegant, beautiful and mysterious as the open end we know. You can judge by yourself. It solves a mystery but it opens more questions, without a final resolution, and actually impossible, over the main them of Lindsay’s book: the primordial riddle of Australian nature, uncomprehensible to the white man.
A final question: Did it really happen? I’m sorry to disappoint many, but it did not. It never happened. Joan Lindsay herself repeatedly denied (never to be believed) to have been inspired by a real story. According to crytics, that’s exactly true, as a report of the disappearance of three girls is nowhere to be found in the newspapers of that period. This will not spoil the fascination of the book nor stymie the weird hypoteses. From my side, I am still confident that one day I will come across Miranda, returning from the Rock or escaped from the book, with her Victorian laces, moving as a swan.
If you want to read the lost 18th chapter, you can download it here: Secret Hanging Rock.
You should be careful to the fact that the original third chapter was manipulated with pieces taken by the lost eighteenth chapter. In fact the third chapter in the known version is actually quite confused. With a careful cleaning of the text, the third chapter becomes more logical.