Remember our troubling past
Hanging Rock is haunted by a convenient fiction rather than an uncomfortable truth.
In comparison to the considerable information made available to tourists about the fictional schoolgirls’ disappearance at Hanging Rock, there is scant material about the real Aboriginal losses and traumas that have occurred in the area.
Historians have concluded that Aboriginal people of the region were exposed to introduced diseases, such as deadly smallpox outbreaks, or were killed and displaced by early settlers. In 1863, Aboriginal people who survived were relocated to the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve in Healesville. This history of violence, abuse, dispossession, invasion and theft of Aboriginal land is cursorily mentioned or ignored in tourist presentations at the site.
The Miranda Must Go campaign calls for the acknowledgement of the negative impact of white settlement at Hanging Rock. Hanging Rock visitors should be haunted by this history of dispossession and violence, rather than the mythic vanishing of white schoolgirls.
Remove the white vanishing myth
Picnic at Hanging Rock is obsessively retold and reaffirmed at Hanging Rock.
The local tourist industry capitalises on Hanging Rock’s association with Joan Lindsay’s novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock. Tourist pamphlets and road signs are branded with the slogan “Experience the Mystery”. The interpretive Discovery Centre at the foot of Hanging Rock dedicates considerable display space to the myth. Every year around February 14 (the date when the girls go missing in the novel) Peter Weir’s film adaptation is screened outdoors at the Hanging Rock Reserve. Recently it was announced that Fremantle Media and Foxtel will film at the site a new six-part miniseries adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock, to be broadcast in 2017.
Cultural theorist, Elspeth Tilley, has written about the prevalence of the white vanishing myth in Australian culture, stating that the persistence and repetition of this trope “is engaged in a strategy of forgetting and displacing the non-white, and installing itself as a constituent of the dominant national mythology”.
The Miranda Must Go campaign demands the end to the habitual retelling of Lindsay’s story at Hanging Rock. We seek to lay the ground for a decolonialised future for Hanging Rock which is free of associations with white vanishing.
Rethink the stories we tell at Hanging Rock
The wrong losses and absences are commemorated at Hanging Rock.
The available knowledge about the original Aboriginal custodians of Hanging Rock is fragmented and incomplete. Three different groups, the Wurundjeri, Taungurong and Djadja Wurrung, have their traditional boundaries close to Hanging Rock and it is believed the site was an important inter-tribal ceremonial meeting place. The damaging effects of colonial occupation, however, have severely disrupted the transmission of oral history and connection to country so crucial to Aboriginal culture.
For this reason, recent local community efforts to recoup Hanging Rock’s Aboriginal name have proven difficult. At least six European names – ‘Mount Diogenes’, ‘Diogenes’ Head’, ‘Diogenes Monument’, ‘Dryden’s Rock’, ‘Dryden’s Monument’, and ‘Hanging Rock’ – have been documented for the site but there are limited records of an Aboriginal name. An engraving of Hanging Rock by German naturalist, William Blandowski, made during an expedition in 1855/56 records the word “Anneyelong”. It is commonly presumed that this is the Aboriginal name for Hanging Rock. Historian and toponymist Ian D. Clark believes Blandowski misheard the name, and the word was possibly “Ngannelong” or something similar.
This campaign recognises that efforts to restore Aboriginal language and stories are crucial, and are currently being undertaken by the traditional owners with support from local council and community groups. The Miranda Must Go campaign, however, demands that Australians also confront the signs of missing or partial knowledge and openly recognise them as distressing consequences of settler invasion of Aboriginal land. The stories that should trouble us at Hanging Rock should be these real Aboriginal losses and traumas, not white lost-in-the-bush myths.