A Picnic on the Way

“Miranda,’ she called again. ‘Miranda!’ In the breathless silence her voice seemed to belong to somebody else, a long way off, a harsh little croak fading out amongst the rocky walls. ‘Come back, all of you! Don’t go up there – come back!’ She felt herself choking and tore at her frilled lace collar. ‘Miranda!’ The strangled cry came out as a whisper. To her horror all three girls were fast moving out of sight behind the monolith. ‘Miranda! Come back!’ She took a few unsteady steps towards the rise and saw the last of a white sleeve parting the bushes ahead.”
Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock

This morning we are heading back to Melbourne, but seeing as we are out this way, we are travelling back via an alternate route so that we can visit Hanging Rock on the edge of the town Woodened in the Macedon Ranges.  I think every Australian knows a little something about Hanging Rock thanks to the novel (first published in 1967) and movie (following in 1975) titled Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Based on a true story, it tells the strange tragedy of a party of schoolgirls from Appleyard College picknicking at Hanging Rock on Valentine’s Day in 1900 and how during the afternoon several members of the party disappeared without a trace.  There’s no reason for their disappearance, and one of the missing girls is later found with no memory of what has happened to her companions.  A fourth girl who also climbed the rock with the group is of little help in solving the mystery, returning n hysterics for reasons she cannot explain.

The disappearances spark concern amongst the locals but despite several organized searches of the picnic grounds and the area surrounding the rock itself, they are still none the wiser.  Concerned parents begin withdrawing their daughters from the formerly prestigious college and several of the staff, including the headmistress, either resign or meet with tragic ends.  Both the college, and Woodend Police Station where records of the investigation were kept, are destroyed by fire shortly afterwards.

The whole ordeal is still shrouded in mystery.  A final chapter was published in 1987 following Joan Lindsay’s death.   Titled “The Secret of Hanging Rock” the last chapter finally solved the mystery for all.  It implies that the girls met a rather supernatural and mystical ending, but I’m going to have to find a copy myself when I get back to Melbourne to see for myself, for I am one of those yet to read the story.  However in Lindsay’s own words, “Whether (the book) is Fact or Fiction, my readers must decide for themselves. As the fateful picnic took place in the year nineteen hundred, and all the characters who appear in this book are long since dead, it hardly seems to matter”.    There are accounts of staff in the State Library regularly having to deal with people breaking down in tears, throwing hysterics after being informed that its not a true story.  Here’s a few reasons as to why the naysayers believe the book is pure fiction:

  • The novel was set on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 1900 on a Saturday. The actual day, in real life, was a Wednesday.
  • The characters in the story never existed. There are no records of their births, deaths or existence anywhere within Australia or overseas.
  • There are no police records of the events on Hanging Rock.  There was a story that the Police Station at Woodend had burnt down, destroying all records.
  • There is one record of a young man falling and dying from Hanging Rock in the early 1900’s.  But this was recorded and solved by Police and had no connection to the Hanging Rock Story.
  • Appleyard College itself does not exist but was based on the school from Lindsay’s childhood in Melbourne.
  • During the filming at Hanging Rock itself, Peter Weird tells how the effect where the light streamed down through the trees at Hanging Rock was only visible for one hour of the day when the sun was in the exact spot.  They would have to film in one hour lots every day.
  • Hanging Rock still suffers from its Haunted story to this day. But the visitors are many and most suffer small accidents such as scrapes and scratches.  There are no mysterious disappearances up on the rock.

The discovery of human skeletal remains in 2008 in a previously concealed rock shelter at the infamous site of Hanging Rock raised speculation about the mysterious disappearance of the schoolgirls.   A team of archaeologists excavating on the peak unearthed a narrow slit in the back wall of the rock shelter which opened to a cavern, revealing more than ancient Aboriginal art, setting their team on a quest with unexpected results:

“It’s a big cavern with bones scattered about. Lots of bones,” Jo’s voice carried a reverend note of awe as she announced to her amazed colleagues what she had seen.
“Animal or human? Any art?” Wade queried, relieved to see her friend again.
“Don’t know, possibly. Yes.”
“What? Human bones! How many?” Wade questioned, astonished by the news.
“Three, maybe four bodies, but I didn’t count.”

Regardless of whether the story is true or not, since the event, Hanging Rock has held a curious intrigue for visitors – even the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart are due to play here in the coming months – but there’s more to Hanging Rock than missing schoolgirls.

Hanging Rock is thought to be the best known example of a mamelon – a rock formation created by eruption of relatively thick lava through a narrow vent in the bedrock; because the lava is not fluid, it does not flow away, instead congealing around the vent, forming a small hill or mound on the surface.  The outflow from successive eruptions forms additional layers on top, and the resulting pile of layers may stand over 100 metres above the surrounding surface.  As Hanging Rock’s magma cooled and contracted it split into rough columns.  These weathered over time into the many pinnacles that you can see today.

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You can climb up to the top of Hanging Rock if you don’t mind a strenuous 50 minute hike.

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After saying goodbye to ‘my’ hire car (such a great car, I really didn’t want to give it back), it was time to check out my new local, the Duke of Wellington – the Duke.  Winning the title of the oldest licensed pub in Melbourne, the Duke was born in 1853, but she (he?) doesn’t look a day over – well, whatever.  Having recently undergone extensive renovations, the Duke is now fully ready to serve for the next 160 years.  Named after the Duke of Wellington (no surprises there) who famously led the British forces to defeat Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Duke has had many colourful licensees including Brian ‘the Whale’ Roberts, after whom was coined the saying ‘have an ale with the whale’.

The hotel is separated into a number of areas, able to cater for all sorts of functions, including a nice little deck area overlooking Russell Street across to Federation Square.  You can dine here for breakfast, lunch and dinner (or even all three in the one day if you wish).  The staff are very friendly, and though we didn’t eat here on this occasion, the cocktails were amazing!

The Duke 3 The Duke 1 The Duke 2

For dinner I’m dragging Mum to the Peruvian restaurant downstairs under my building – Pastuso.  Pastuso, the Spanish name of the  marmalade-loving bear called Paddington who lands in London from “darkest Peru”, is the newest kid of my block.  We hadn’t made a booking, and when I called to make one, the host told me all phone bookings were now complete but that I could walk on in and see if I could get seated when I arrived.  When we arrived only about 40 minutes later, Pastuso was already busy, but we were in luck, scoring a table in front of the open plan kitchen.  In fact the only bad thing about our spot was the fact that due to my sky high heels, my legs were wedged under the bench – and I guess if you aren’t a fan of watching how the chefs handle your food before they serve it, then you may not like the open theatre.

I was a little worried about the menu, it was full of things that my Mum would not usually try – namely ceviche and llama.  But our minds were easily put to rest upon arrival of our first street food dish – the Rollo de Cerdo, little pastries filled with marinated pulled pork and aji mirosol sun dried chilli pepper) puree.  Spicy littled pastries of joy, yet light on the palate.  Also divine was the Neustra Causa De Pollo, a layered tower of Peruvian yellow potato with marinated chicken, avocado, cherry tomatoes and aji mirasol.  We couldn’t wait for our main, and in between watching the kitchen theatre and trying to guess which dish was which, I order a Pisco Sour, which Pastuso are apparently quite good at.  I have no comparison to make, having never tried this South American cocktail before, but it goes down well.

Before long, comes our mains – Las Papas Y Vegetables Pachamanqueros, potatoes, pumpkin and carrrots roasted in paperbark and served with pachaman sauce and Pierna De Cordero, slow cooked lamb with seco sauce and Peruvian rice.  I’m not a huge lamb fan, but this lamb was just gorgeous.  Soft and melty and fall apart in your mouth gorgeous.  The vegetables themselves came on a bed of chocolate salt, to represent the earth where the vegetables have come from, as the chef imparts.  I can only imagine what pleasure dessert is going to bring to our tastebuds and it’s not long before we are presented with our jar of Suspiro A La Limena – creamy Peruvian caramel and port meringues.  OMG.  We were really full by this stage and opted to share dessert.  It was a good decision to share because it was so incredibly rich and velvety and we were full, it was a bad decision to share because it was so incredibly rich and velvety and I wanted it all to myself!  Jut as well Pastuso is literally downstairs under my building.

In my awe, or probably more accurately because we were seated in front of the kitchen staff, I didn’t take any photos, so you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you how great this meal was.  There are always people ready to give negative views on everything, and sometimes places do have ‘off’ nights, but go and try for yourself.  I thought it was amazing

To finish off the evening and walk off our full stomachs, we take a stroll from Pastuso, across Federation Square and down to Southbank.  Being a Saturday night everyone is out and about, and because today was the running of the Caulfield Cup (the big pre-cursor to the Melbourne Cup), the heels and fascinator (and tipsy-ness) are also out in full force.  There are so many more restaurants down here too, it’s going to take me ages to dine my way around Melbourne.  And it’ll be lovely to have such a neon-lit, stroll inducing promenade only minutes from my new home!

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