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Book of the Week: ‘Beyond the Rock’ by Janelle McCulloch

May 8, 2017

xbeyond-the-rock.jpg.pagespeed.ic.ew-bWD3MhBWhy we love it: If Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock didn’t already have you fascinated, you sure will be left wondering after Janelle McCulloch’s analysis of author Joan Lindsay.

After the now-iconic novel was released in 1967, and subsequently turned into a film of the same name eight years later, there was one prominent question – was it a true story disguised as fiction?

Did a Valentine’s Day picnic at the eerie Hanging Rock in 1900 really end with three girls and a teacher’s disappearance, turning a community upside down?

Beyond the Rock puts the microscope on enigmatic Lindsay, retelling her early years as a private schoolgirl (similar to the girls lost in Picnic), to life as a socialite, wife and writer, detailing her 88 years with the backdrop of the Australian landscape. McCulloch’s narrative paints Lindsay as a mysterious and intuitive woman who navigates life and marriage to prominent artist Sir Daryl Lindsay.

The Victorian author was 69 years of age when inspired by a dream to write Picnic – a piece that captured the imagination of her readers and pushed her into an almost unwanted prominence.

If Lindsay’s original foreword wasn’t mysterious enough: “Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction, or both, readers must decide for themselves . . . we live in an age when Fact is nearly always harder to swallow than Fiction’, McCulloch’s unearthing of an earlier document with a dash through the words:

‘For the author, who knew Mount Macedon and the Hanging Rock very well as a child, the story is entirely true’ will give you a chill.Janelle McCulloch 1

Excerpts from Lindsay’s two autobiographies and quotes from friends add to the richness of this biography, as does McCulloch’s clear admiration of Lindsay’s character.

While the blur between fact and fiction is the undercurrent of this book, the best part is the fascinating story of a notable Australian woman who transformed with the times and had a keen eye for a compelling tale.

Similarly to Picnic, Beyond the Rock is part ode to nature. The coffee table book is beautifully designed and reflective of the intriguing and eerie feel Lindsay created.

Scattered with photos of Lindsay’s stunning Mulberry Hill estate and snaps from trips to Europe with her husband, much like McCulloch’s earlier book La Vie Parisienne, the scrapbook design adds that something extra. And it makes perfect sense – McCulloch, like Lindsay, pairs novel writing with journalism and would understand how imagery and ‘look and feel’ enhances words.

The book is well timed, too, given FremantleMedia Australia and Foxtel’s 2016 announcement that the story is being made into a six-part miniseries.

Whether you were captivated by Picnic many years ago or are yet to discover the local classic, Beyond the Rock is a read that will suck you in and make you wonder – where are the lines between fact and fiction, and do they matter?

Purchase a copy or start reading here!



  1. Tracey Allen

    I can’t wait for the Picnic At Hanging Rock TV series and the novel will always have a special place in my heart. This sounds like a great companion book so thanks for sharing it with us.

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