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Picnic at Hanging Rock

Listen to Picnic at Hanging Rock

‘She felt herself choking and tore at her frilled lace collar. “Miranda!”’

Fainting spells, frilly collars, mystery, hysteria and a truly awesome backdrop – Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock might be 50 years old this year, but it remains a point of Australian cultural obsession. The book – written by Lindsay in just four weeks back in 1967 – has inspired a film, a radio play, stage adaptations, fashion spreads, music videos and a new miniseries coming out this year.

Why do we keep coming back to Lindsay’s eerie tale of a Valentine’s Day school picnic gone wrong? Perhaps it’s the ambiguity around fact and fiction; perhaps it’s the striking combinations of imagery or maybe it’s the maddening obscurity of the ending.

At this celebration of Joan Lindsay’s iconic novel (and its enduring myth), Helen Withycombe hosts a conversation between Lindsay's biographer Janelle McCulloch, theatremaker Tom Wright (who adapted the play for Malthouse Theatre in 2016) and Helen Morse, who played the French teacher in Peter Weir's film version of the story.

They discuss the true story (and the mysticism) that inspired Lindsay, the book's refractions of nature and time, the troubling history of Hanging Rock itself and why Lindsay’s tale continues to haunt and provoke Australian storytellers today.

Photo of Helen Withycombe, Janelle McCulloch, Tom Wright and Helen Morse

Left to right: Helen Withycombe, Janelle McCulloch, Tom Wright and Helen Morse — Photo: Jon Tjhia

Who?

Portrait of Helen Withycombe

Helen Withycombe

Helen Withycombe is the Wheeler Centre's Head of Programming. Before this, she was Programming Manager. Prior to joining the Wheeler Centre team, Helen had worked in the publishing industry for more than 10 years, most recently as a senior editor at Hardie Grant Books.

Portrait of Janelle McCulloch

Janelle McCulloch

Janelle McCulloch is the author of 20 books, including a memoir and four books about Paris. Most of her books fall in the design/architecture/garden genres; however she has also written a novel and two biographies.

She has worked as a journalist in London, a magazine editor on several design and lifestyle titles in Australia and a book editor for an international architecture publisher. She lives in Australia, but spends a lot of time in the US and Europe, where most of her work is based.

Portrait of Tom Wright

Tom Wright

Tom Wright started as a member of Barrie Kosky’s Gilgul Theatre in the early 1990s, then with Michael Kantor’s Mene Mene in the late 1990s.

He has worked as an actor and director at the Melbourne Theatre Company, STCSA, Sydney Theatre Company, Playbox, La Mama, Company B, Anthill, Gilgul, Mene Mene, Bell Shakespeare Company, Chunky Move, Black Swan Theatre, Chamber Made Opera and the Adelaide, Sydney, Edinburgh, Vienna, Perth and Melbourne Festivals.

He was Artistic Associate at Sydney Theatre Company 2004–2008 and Associate Director of STC 2008–2012. He joined Belvoir as an Artistic Associate in 2016.

Portrait of Helen Morse

Helen Morse

Helen Morse is well known to theatre-goers for decades of work in the classics, contemporary plays and music theatre. Helen played the French teacher in Peter Weir’s film of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

She received a Green Room award for Alma de Gröen’s play about Anna Akhmatova, The Woman In The Window, and played Theodora Goodman in Adam Cook’s adaptation of Patrick White’s The Aunt’s Story (MIF and Belvoir). Helen’s many recitals include most recently Jean Anouilh’s L’Invitation au Chateau with PLEXUS Trio (Port Fairy).

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