Beyond the story

Janelle McCulloch wrote the book, Beyond the rock: the life of Joan Lindsay and the mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock. While it is a biography about the life of Joan Lindsay, it is also an inquiry into the writing of Joan’s mysterious novel Picnic at hanging rock.



I invited Janelle to be a guest speaker at our library and she gave an energetic and riveting talk about this topic to an audience of spellbound people. From the moment she entered the room, Janelle was talking, and she didn’t pause for an hour and probably could have continued. People were slow to leave, wanting more.

As a perennial mystery embedded in Australian culture, the mystery behind the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock, tantalizes us with the need to be solved. In Joan’s original unpublished forward to the novel:

            “…the story is entirely true.”

Janelle teased us who were in the room with the possibility of another book that does indeed reveal the truth. Her journalistic nose having uncovered parts of the story that, according to people who lived and live around Hanging Rock, “everyone knew”. We all responded with enthusiastic urging that she must indeed write it. How often does that happen to authors who are not J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or George R. R. Martin?

The process of journalistic research is of great interest to me, as I love doing that myself. I know the addiction of a good detective hunt. Genealogists know this well. Janelle prompted us to get to work as:

            “Everyone has a story that needs to be told.

So feeling enthused and having procrastinated long enough about getting my own family story curated, I started. I had already created a storyboard of sorts using PowerPoint. So I purchased a large sketchbook and a scrapbooking kit. I set up a space where I have all the photos nearby in boxes and photo albums and on file.

It is apparent from the moment I begin where the gaps are, so many photos missing. Do they even exist? Does someone have the ones I need? I phoned my husbands aunt not remembering how old she must be. We had a nice conversation and she agreed to look to see what she had. Yesterday I received an envelope with some gorgeous old photos of my mother-in-law and her sister, and their mother, and my husband’s parents. And there was an image of my husband’s late eldest brother as a 3 year old. His family didn’t have photos of themselves or their children; unlike my own father who was a bit of a photography geek.


As thrilled, as I am to receive these photos, there are still gaps. I have not found a photo of my husband’s maternal grandfather – Arthur William Duncalfe. Using the library member’s subscription to Ancestry, I have found the certificates online that give the details of his birth and death, but no photos. I have even located a passport photo of his father Arthur Gregory Duncalfe as he emigrated from the USA to Australia.

So as I restock the glue sticks and refill the printer ink, the hunt continues.

Leave your Leonard Cohen hat on

Under a moonlit sky, with Hanging Rock illuminated in the background, Leonard Cohen held the thousands spellbound as he recited A thousand kisses deep.

It was a magical performance. He and his support band are a class act, with undoubtedly world-class talent. The obvious gap between their musical ability and those of the support acts of Paul Kelly and crew, Clare Bowditch, and Dan Sultan perhaps accounted for their apparent stilted performances. I expected much more from these great Australian talents, but their contributions were brief and lacking in enthusiasm. Leonard Cohen more than made up the shortfall, but I wonder at Paul Kelly. He is a seasoned performer and haled in this country as one of our greats. Was the mastery of Leonard Cohen and ensemble just so superior that it even made the likes of Paul Kelly feel inferior?

The day was perfect with no rain and the first warm day of the summer season. So it was hot standing in the queues waiting to get in and then as the day grew long the sun took its toll. You definitely needed a hat and the Leonard Cohen style was dominant. The break between Paul Kelly and Leonard Cohen hailed the opening of the gourmet picnic hampers and we were surrounded with tempting Master Chef creations. We had not been organised and so joined the queues again to buy hot samosa’s and ice creams.

Crowd behaviour is amusing to watch, don’t you think? There is a self-organising aspect but it only goes so far before chaos takes over. Maybe it can be defined using the Chaos Theory? So the guidelines stated that you were allowed to bring in a camp/deck chair, food, only sealed bottles of water, no glass, no umbrellas, no alcohol but it would be for sale in the venue, and no SLR cameras. And these rules were made to be broken it seemed, or perhaps many just didn’t read the guidelines on the website.

So of course there were SLR cameras about, and glass brought in, and I saw an umbrella. So people choose and stake their spot on the grassy hill and then place their chairs, rugs, eskies, etc. Then as the crowd grows and more people come in, what was a somewhat organised pattern of rows now gets crowded in as other people squeeze in between the generous territories already staked. Then there is the problem with the chairs. Seasoned Port Fairy Folk Festival people will try to exert their traditional PFFF rules relating to low chairs (folkie chairs) and the higher camp chairs. They will shoo anyone away who dares try to set up their higher chair in front of them. And will also try to wave people to sit from 3 or 4 rows back so that they get an uninterrupted view of the tiny ant-size humans on the stage far down at the bottom of the paddock. Thank goodness for big screen technology.

At full capacity the crowd had no sensible traffic flow in and out of any “spot”, or any way to identify this spot when returning from buying food or alcohol or a lengthy trip to the toilet queues. The coffee queues were just plain silly. It became amusing entertainment seeing people navigating the crowded mishmash of the audience, and not being able to find their way back. They would stand with the sun in their eyes lost and forlorn, often holding bottles of wine and beer, talking on their phone to their mates in some attempt to find their spot. You couldn’t even identify groups by their hats because most were like Leonard Cohen’s hat.

Leonard Cohen made it all worthwhile. He was generous with his time and attitude and gave us everything. His backing singers, the Webb sisters, have voices like angels and contrast perfectly with his ruff croon. His guitarist, Javier Mas, is a master in his own right and one guitar solo in particular provided another spellbinding performance. It is a fine lesson in how to tame a fidgety uncomfortable bunch of people and quieten and hold them still and focussed for a few precious minutes.

By the end of the night I was shivering and waiting for Leonard to finish so I could go home. We made a dash for it and crowded into Phil’s blue Landrover that stood out in the car-park amid the more popular styles of car. It was a special and unique experience that I am glad I had despite my dislike of crowds of people.