I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published June 20th 2013
Hanging Rock - More Than a Picnic Spot
It's been around for more than 6 million years, was of major significance to the Kulin aboriginal nation, hosts a number of iconic sporting events and is surrounded by an aura of mystery.
Welcome to Hanging Rock in central Victoria's Macedon Ranges.
The 'rock' is a fabulous spot for a family picnic and abounds with birds and native wildlife
Often incorrectly referred to as a volcanic plug, Hanging Rock is in fact a mamelon, molten rock which has been forced from beneath the earth's surface, through a volcanic vent and congealed on contact with the cooler air.
Officially named Mt Diogenes by Major Thomas Mitchell in 1836 the Rock had long been a sacred site for local aboriginals, a place where the tribal initiation of young males took place. The aboriginals were displaced by European settlers in the mid-1800's as they set about cultivating the land and producing crops for Melbourne and the goldfields to the north.
Bushrangers used the volcanic outcrop as a hideout and vantage point to prey on diggers making their way to the gold fields
The name Hanging Rock is derived from a prominent formation on the path to the summit where a large rock is wedged firmly between two vertical columns.
One of the first settlers in the district was Edward Dryden who took up a "run" in 1837 and for some years the rock was known as Dryden's Rock.
This Zion Baptist Chapel built in 1869 can be found on the north side of the Hanging Rock Reserve
The site's appeal as a recreational facility was identified by a local land-owner, William Adams, who purchased the land surrounding the rock in 1857 and set about creating a resort. Adam's planted European trees and dammed Five Mile Creek to create a large lake which he stocked with swans and various other water birds.
Throughout the gold-rush year's diggers en-route to the goldfields were frequently set upon by bushrangers, two of whom used Hanging Rock as a hide-out. One, known only as McDonald, maintained a lookout on the north-east corner of the rock whilst the other, the infamous Dan "Mad Dog" Morgan, holed-up on the western side.
Disputes over fencing and the charging of entry fees led to the Government gradually purchasing parcels of land around the rock and eventually gaining control of the whole area by November 1884 when it was officially gazetted as a recreational area.
The 'rock' has hosted numerous outdoor concerts by artists including Rod Stewart, Leonard Cohen and 'the boss' Bruce Springsteen
As the community developed the Hanging Rock Reserve became a popular venue for Highland Gatherings and sports meetings with a crowd of 7000 people reported at one of the early New Year's day gatherings. It appears the first racecourse was laid out on the southern side of the rock in 1883 and relocated to its present site in 1909.
It's somewhat ironic that the rock is best known for a fictitious event detailed in the eerie and mysterious movie, Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Directed by Peter Weir, Picnic at Hanging Rock premiered in Adelaide in August 1975. An adaptation of the book by Joan Lindsay, it was one of the first Australian movies to achieve both international and commercial success and told the story of three schoolgirls and a teacher who vanished while on a picnic at the rock on Valentines Day 1900.
The plot maintains a great air of mystery throughout. Many of the sub-plots are never fully explained and the "how and why" of the girls mysterious disappearance is never revealed.
The rock remains a popular picnic spot today and is well known for the picnic races held each New Year's Day and Australia Day as well as the annual February Harvest Picnic.
The Visitor Centre provides an informative insight into the natural and geological history of the rock and the fully licensed café is a great place to sample local produce used in the preparation of a range of tasty treats.
But the mysterious aura surrounding the rock remains. Believe it or not, there are those who don't accept that the book and the movie were a work of fiction with visitors frequently asking what really happened to the girls.
Despite many claims to the contrary the story Picnic At Hanging Rock was pure fiction
There are also reports that the rock has an unsettling effect on indigenous visitors. Many in the know believe it has a 'presence' and most prefer not to visit.
And don't even think about taking a chunk of the rock as a souvenir. Hanging Rock rangers have had numerous pieces returned to him over the years, including one from as far away as Ireland, all accompanied by tales of bad luck and misery.