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Year 12 English Literature: Picnic at Hanging Rock

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Joan Lindsay was born in Melbourne, where she went to school as a day-girl for a few years at Clyde Girls Grammar, then situated in East St Kilda. Appleyard College, the setting of her most famous novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, was to some extent based on Clyde Girls' Grammar School. From 1916 to 1919, Joan studied painting at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, Melbourne and exhibited numerous of her watercolor and oil paintings. On Valentine’s Day 1922 she married Daryl Lindsay in London. When her husband was knighted in 1956 and Joan became Lady Lindsay. The Lindsays travelled together in Europe and the USA, Daryl with his paints and Joan with her typewriter. She contributed articles, reviews and stories to various magazines and newspapers on art. She died in December 1984.

Joan Lindsay

Joan Lindsay

Lindsay’s fame as an author culminated with Picnic at Hanging Rock. Written in only four weeks at her home, Mulberry Hill, Baxter, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. It was first published in 1967. Set on Valentine’s Day in 1900, it tells of a group of students at an Australian girl's boarding school who vanish whilst visiting Hanging Rock, and the effects the disappearances have on the school and the local community. The novel became part of the Australian literary canon and was made into an iconic Australian film in 1975.


JOAN LINDSAY: A TIME FOR EVERYTHING. This article examines Lindsay's life influence in context with the book, including visiting the Macedon Ranges for picnics as a little girl. (State Library of Victoria).

Additional information

Janelle McCulloch is the author of Beyond The Rock: The Life of Joan Lindsay and the mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock.
This interview speaks about Lindsay's affinity and connection with the landscape. It also mentions chapter 18, written by Lindsay but not published.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

This guide provides an explanation for terms, literary theory, literary perspectives and provides some useful links. 


At the Hanging Rock

William Ford At the Hanging Rock 1875. National Gallery of Victoria

Set in the Macedon Ranges the locations will be familiar to many. The isolation described throughout the text is a reflection of the time, not only in rural Victoria, due to the limited forms of transport and communication. Cultivated landscapes, reflecting grand homes like those in Britain, and the harshness of the natural environment are referred to in detail. Appleyard College, set in a previously empty home, is a boarding school for girls and seems to have been directly transplanted from Britain. Within the college grounds itself, there is a concerted effort to contain and cultivate behaviours, the landscape and appearances, not always successfully. Beyond the college grounds the landscape, real and imagined is fraught with the possibility of danger and injury. Hanging Rock is described as a desirable and exciting destination but then quickly there is an allusion of menace and mystery. As the story unfolds so does the description of the minutiae of the landscape. 

Picnic at Hanging Rock is an Australian historical fiction novel by Joan Lindsay. Set in 1900, it is about a group of female students at an Australian girls' boarding school who vanish at Hanging Rock while on a Valentine's Day picnic, and the effects the disappearances have on the school and local community. The novel was first published in 1967 in Australia by Cheshire Publishing and was reprinted by Penguin in 1975. It is widely considered by critics to be one of the best Australian novels.

  • Separation
  • Mystery
  • Love and infatuation
  • Environment and landscape, wild and cultivated
  • Gossip and scandal
  • Time
  • Societal norms and status
  • Power and control
  • Boarding schools
  • Victorian period
  • Otherness
  • Practicality/beauty
  • Foreboding
  • Guilt
  • Truth
  • Symbolism - swans, flowers, angels, purity
    Click here for detailed information on the themes

Discussion on the text - Formalist anaysis

Joan Lindsay’s classic novel Picnic at Hanging Rock is a byword for Australian mystery – and a critically acclaimed film. What happened to the schoolgirls and their teacher who were seemingly swallowed up by their surroundings on a fated picnic at Hanging Rock? Writer, editor and publisher Sophie Cunningham and series host James Ley discuss this iconic story. Topics include Lindsay's connection to the landscape, the setting, symbolism, imagery, and the concept of time.
(Wheeler Centre - 57 minutes)


Litcharts Picnic at hanging rock

Cultural perspectives in literature. Picnic at Hanging Rock
National Library of Australia
Provides students with context and background information about the physical location and cultural environment in which Picnic at Hanging Rock is set.

Why the lost daughters of Picnic at Hanging Rock still haunt us
Dr Diana Sanders from Melbourne University discusses the appropriation of the landscape, art forms and literature styles

The extraordinary story behind Picnic at Hanging Rock
The Sydney Morning Herald article, 50 year anniversary

Valentines Day 1900
Royal Australian Historical Association - Further reading suggestions.