A few months ago I watched a beautiful and mystifying movie from Peter Weir, called Picnic at Hanging Rock. The film had the charm of Boyd’s handiwork with the camera, but it was also impressive because of its depiction of Australian bush and the uneasiness it instils. After spending sometime in Australia over the past year, I can hardly claim to be unmoved by the eerieness of Australian countryside, even though I remain largely unimpressed with most of its cities. There is tremenduous amount of space in this country, which throws off almost everyone who comes from nations of huddled people. Sometime back, I had quoted a dialogue from Chatwin’s Songlines, and those words always remain with me when traversing the bushland here:
“Pity we didn’t get here first”
“We, the Russians?”
“Not only Russians”, he shook his head, “Slavs, Hungarians, Germans even. Any people who could cope with wide horizons. Too much of this country went to islanders. They never understood it. They’re afraid of space.”
Last weekend, I went to Hanging Rock,the place that inspired an Australian to write a book and another one to make the mysterious movie I mentioned above. It is a place that carries a history far older than the one Europeans created on this continent. Formed by a special kind of volcanic eruptions called mamelon six million years ago, the rock provides a good ground for geological studies. Part of the Macedon ranges in Victoria, the place is about one and half hour’s drive from Melbourne.
You dont have to drive too far from an Australian city to feel its vastness. The tall buildings quickly give way to open lands which are left almost uninhabited.How the cities themselves come about to be so crowded and ordinary is something I find hard to understand.
Hanging Rock lies inside the Hanging Rock reserve, which contains a race course, walking tracks and a huge picnic ground with barbeques and picnic tables. It is easily a loveable picnic spot, for the wide space it offers combined with the additional opportunity of rock exploration. There is also a lovely cafe (with the most sumptuous home-made muffins!)
There are a few walking tracks around. We followed the Summit track, which goes up to the summit of Hanging Rock and gives a good view of the scenery. As is typical of Australian tourism, the track is marked with N points. I think they kill the charm of a place in their overzealousness to name everything and convert it to a dot on the map. The track loops up to the summit, and on the way up there are lovely and mysterious rock formations. Despite the fact that there were many picnicers, the place had an overpowering sense of silence. It seemed people spoke in soft tones or whispers, perhaps in awe of the rocks. At a lot of places, I could imagine the scenes from the movie playing. This day was quite unlike that other in the movie, the only thing in common were the clouds, the very blue sky and the odd-colored rocks.
Along the way, the rocks merge and form crevices and narrow paths in many places. Paths which seem inviting, which the young school girls would have found irresistible. The rock formation hangs awkwardly in the middle of vast open fields and bushes, which are then lined by hills from the Macedon ranges. The view from the summit is beautiful, especially as the high monliths suddenly give way to the surrounding scenery. The bush looks curious, esp as the shadow of the clouds casts an unsettling pattern of light and shade.
After spending some time at the summit, we climbed down, this time taking the steps. The actual rock from which the place gets its name is a huge rock hanging between two rocks.
It is said that the place provided a shelter to many bushrangers during the gold rush of 1800’s. Many people believe that rock to have some intense aboriginal significance and attribute some mysterious powers to it. It is not hard to imagine the natives being awed by the high rocks in middle of bushes and thinking of it as magical.Perhaps there is magic, but the ones who believed in it have been chased into nolands by the conquerers. Australians often like to claim that the aborigines are irresponsible, greedy and lazy. They would have done nothing and Australia would be a bushland if it was not for the European settler. Perhaps it is true. But perhaps it would not have been a worse alternative. Who has the right to cast fates, who is to say that civilization as we know it is better than the land of walkabout.
On the way back we stopped at Woodend for a late late lunch. It is a charming small town, almost like a small European city. Beautiful, and almost quaint with its gardens and churches.