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The real story behind Picnic at Hanging Rock, Australia's new TV obsession.

It’s one of our country’s most enduring books, a haunting tale set against the backdrop of the Australian outback that stays with you long after you turn the last page.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a story that has entertained and enthralled generations of Australians, through both the original novel and the acclaimed film adaption.

The story, which is set in 1900, follows the mystery surrounding three girls and their teacher who go missing during an idyllic school picnic at Hanging Rock, never to be seen again.

While the story has been told and re-told in many ways over the years, one lingering question has always clung to the work like the remnants of an old dream.

Just how much of this iconic story, if any at all, is actually anchored in reality?

Or is it all just a work of complete fiction masquerading as historical fact?

This question is once again on everyone’s lips thanks to the fact that a new imagining of Picnic at Hanging Rock is coming soon to Australian screens via Showcase and Foxtel.

The six-part series is set to broaden the story already told through Joan Lindsay’s iconic 1967 novel of the same name and Peter Weir’s 1975 film adaption of her work.

While there is no historical proof or documentation that proves the events depicted in Picnic at Hanging Rock actually happened, there are some real life elements woven into the tale.

The trailer for the new TV series Picnic at Hanging Rock is beyond haunting.

Video by Showcase

First of all, the inspiration and setting for the novel, Hanging Rock, is actually a real place.

The location is also formally known in English as Mount Diogenes and Dryden’s Rock, and to some of its traditional owners as Ngannelong. It is a distinctive geological formation located in central Victoria within the Macedon Ranges.

The rock formation plays host to a vast number of tourists each year, many who are inspired to travel there after reading the book and seeing the film, with the Macedon Ranges tourism website stating, “the unexplained disappearance of a group of schoolgirls at Hanging Rock in 1901 is just one of the legends of this mysterious area, and many visitors say they can feel the spirit of the girls as they climb the Rock.”

Which brings us to the question of whether or not a group of Australian school girls actually went missing in that area.

The idea that some of the events depicted in the novel are rooted in real life has been explored in great detail in the book Beyond The Rock: The Life Of Joan Lindsay And The Mystery Of Picnic At Hanging Rock by Janelle McCulloch.

In her book, McCulloch writes that author Joan Lindsay credited recurring dreams as the basis for the plot of Picnic at Hanging Rock, and that her friends all knew her as a “mystic”, stating that she had certain abilities and sensitivities and could “see” things that others couldn’t, especially in the bush landscape.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is coming soon to Australian screens. Source: Showcase.
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However, author Joan Lindsay has never explicitly stated that the events in the book are based on reality, and no documentation of a group of schoolgirls going missing in that area has ever been found, despite numerous attempts by historians to hunt it down.

In the book,  McCulloch quotes Sandra Forbes, who worked as junior editor on the book before going to become the executive officer of the Australia Council's literature unit as saying, "Did I think the story was true? We did talk about this. But the truth for Joan was different to the rest of us. She was never straightforward about it. I think I decided in the end that it was a great work of the imagination."

In her research McCulloch also uncovered a number of stories that point to the idea that the story told in the book may be a little bit more than fiction, but no concrete facts ever found their way to publication.

For example, she found the final two lines of the original foreword written by Lindsay that said, “For the author, who knew Mount Macedon and the Hanging Rock very well, as a child, the story is entirely true,” had actually been deleted before the novel’s publication, according to a piece published in The Daily Telegraph

Thanks to her extensive research, McCulloch was also able to track down an ex-student of the real school the fictional Appleyard College depicted in Picnic at Hanging Rock who told her, “we all knew about the girls who disappeared, but none of us really knew the details.”

Which again adds to the mystery, without ever confirming the existence of these fictional characters.

While the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock cannot be explained with historical fact, it remains one of Australia's best told tales and one that is sure to find a new and engaged audience via the upcoming TV series.

Picnic At Hanging Rock is a six part series that will air Sundays from May 6 at 8.30pm on Showcase. The series will also be available to Foxtel customers On Demand and an be streamed on Foxtel Now.

For more film and TV reviews, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.

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