“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream? “
Edgar Allan Poe, A Dream Within a Dream
Sometimes words are not enough and I wish I could paint a masterpiece or compose a symphony to share an experience instead. I’ve been silent on the blogging front as life has been incredibly busy leading up to Christmas. I’ve also been struggling to find words to describe the whirlwind of the past couple of months. A new city, two islands, a visit to the setting of a famous movie, an engagement, a graduation, a creepy flasher and a penguin parade…where do I begin?
My writing frustrations remind me of childhood experiences on an old, strong-willed brown barrel of a pony named Locket. Riding her never involved a steady walk, trot or canter. Despite my enthusiastic coaxing, she would just stand stubbornly, legs cemented to the ground, or move at a tortuously slow pace from one grassy snack to the next. On rare occasions, usually when my father rode past on a young stock horse, Locket would relive her mad romantic youth by exploding into a wild gallop. I’d struggle to maintain control of the wayward beast and inevitably end up flat on my back after she’d halt suddenly, throwing me over her head. When I haven’t written for a long time and someone tells me I just need to “get back on the horse again” all I can think of is Locket and her wily ways. I envy those who dash off a coherent and entertaining literary piece whenever they want. With me it’s either a prolonged drought or a raging, swirling torrent of ideas that leaves me exhausted.
I’d been grumbling and groaning and ready to abandon my blog yet again when I received notification of a blog comment yesterday. Easily distracted, I checked out the commenter’s blog and found these words. Anne from Moving With Time wrote:
Language is the river we swim in daily, the route to communication, miscommunication, love and hatred. It is paradoxically the most powerful medium and the least effective.
Language is powerful but often an image or musical piece may convey an idea, story or emotion more effectively than the written or spoken word. Picnic at Hanging Rock, directed by Peter Weir, combines a haunting soundtrack, dreamlike cinematography, a mysterious plot and an evocative setting to produce a film that still fascinates people forty years on.
I was only a young girl when I saw it but it had such a profound effect on me that even now when I encounter large rock formations on walks, I’m haunted by its panflutes and scenes.
For those who’ve never seen the movie or need a memory prompt, here’s a trailer. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, it tells the story of the disappearance of several school girls on a Valentine’s Day picnic in 1900 at Hanging Rock in Victoria.
In November last year, I was thrilled to visit the setting of the movie at Hanging Rock Reserve, 70km north-west of Melbourne. Hanging Rock is not just well known for its association with the novel and movie, it is a unique geological formation. While it may seem to be the remains of a volcanic plug jutting out of the landscape, it’s actually a mamelon created by stiff magma pouring from a vent and congealing in place. Nearby Camel’s Hump and Crozier’s Rocks are other examples. All of these are made of solvsbergite, a kind of trachyte only found on two or three other locations in the world. As they weathered over thousands of years, tall pinnacles were left behind.
The Traditional Custodians, the Wurundjeri people, used this mamelon for male initiation ceremonies and it is regarded as an area of powerful spiritual significance. The rocks may have eroded and the grassy fields have been replaced with a car park, discovery centre and cafe but on my visit it was apparent that the magic still exists.
My tour guide for the day was Greg, author of hikingfiasco.com. His kindness, patience, and good humour towards a nutty Queensland blogger with childlike enthusiasm was much appreciated.
“What’s he like?” I was asked by his adoring fans. Well, given I’ve had a few uncomfortable experiences as a small woman hiking alone it was reassuring to have the presence of an intelligent gentle goliath for company and to ward off serial killers and flashers. If only he’d been there on my Bribie Island adventure a couple of weeks later, but that’s another story.
Before I launch into a rambling account of the day’s activities, let me rewind to the first event of my special week in Melbourne which left me speechless…flying. Twenty years ago I had a brief joyride in a tiny old two-seater canvas-covered plane and found the experience exhilarating. I had to wait until November last year to experience my first passenger jet flight though.
Now while I was excited about flying, I was also in the words of my daughter, “freaking out.” Security measures have tightened in recent years and after watching too many border patrol reality shows I began having nightmares about burly security officers and strip searches. There was also the possibility of becoming lost in Brisbane Airport and never actually making it on my plane. I was being dropped off and having to learn how to do this thing called checking in and finding gates all by my old dithering and directionally-challenged self.
Perhaps it was my wide-eyed nervousness, the sweat-soaked armpits, or maybe the 100 bottles of liquids and powders in my suitcase (I have skin allergies) that attracted excess attention from security staff. Eventually I boarded the plane without having to remove every single item of clothing and settled into my window seat. Despite being too excited to sleep the previous night, regular adrenaline bursts ensured I displayed the demeanour of a hyperactive meerkat on speed. I’m not sure if it was my imagination, but the flight attendants seemed to be eyeing me nervously.
As we rose above the first bank of clouds my allergies must have played up. That’s my excuse anyway for the embarrassing flow of tears and unattractive sniffling. After a year of distressing political events in my own country and abroad as well as challenges on the home front, viewing our planet from 30 000 ft was exactly what I needed. I thought back to a night many years ago when I enjoyed the lights of Brisbane city from Mt Coot-tha for the first time (which you can read about here.) Sometimes the ugliness of the world can be all-consuming and we need a little distance to embrace hope again.
I’m experiencing one of those literary droughts, so I’ll cheat and use the words of another to sum up my love of flying:
“More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost…” – Wilbur Wright
Now back to my adventures in Melbourne. Why is Hanging Rock called Hanging Rock? Perhaps this picture answers the question best. I hope you’re suitably impressed.
What? After my big build up about the movie, you expected more than this? Some people are never satisfied. Okay, perhaps this was just an example of local humour. It made a change from the standard gun shot blasted signs we often see.
Hanging Rock is really named after a boulder suspended between other boulders, one of numerous unusual rock formations in the reserve.
In fact, according to the information brochure there are at least fifteen rock formations of interest at Hanging Rock. Being the rebel that I am and having a hiking partner already familiar with the area, I didn’t pick up the brochure until after the walk. Sometimes having too much detail beforehand can spoil an adventure. You can walk in with preconceived ideas and be a little blinkered. I enjoyed making my own observations about what I saw. Thankfully I had a walking partner who didn’t bombard me with information and who allowed me the silence to indulge my imagination.
The summit walk at Hanging Rock is only about 1.8 km and a class 3 walk but with so many strange formations and distant views to discover, you need to allow plenty of time to enjoy it. On my visit the day was warm and shade scarce which added to the lazy pace. A wide concrete path led us to steps which took us under Hanging Rock.
Now at this point much of the commentary will be replaced by photos. Despite the presence of other tourists snapping and chatting away in the distance, being in the location of a movie which left such an impression on me as a child had me overwhelmed. People overuse the world surreal but in this case that’s how it felt for me. I was finding it difficult to believe I was really there. The rest of the walk was a dream.
Doing his best Miranda impression from the movie, Greg led the way and eventually disappeared over boulders.
You’d think the movie would have taught me something, but no, I followed Miranda Version II blindly. Fortunately on this occasion tragedy did not befall us and all that left me gasping was the beautiful view.
After reaching the summit and admiring the scenery for a while, Greg continued his Miranda impersonation by sprawling over the hot rocks to snooze. All he needed was a long blonde wig and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. The resemblance was freaky. I suspected he was recovering his energy after watching my perilous and very awkward scramble up the rocks. Weeks later I was to discover the reason for my balance problems and after a simple procedure am now back to climbing sheer cliff walls and tightrope walking over the Brisbane River. On this occasion though I was giving Greg my best impression of me after a bottle of Tequila. I’m glad the poor man doesn’t have a heart condition.
There was plenty more to discover along this short wander.
We found where the world-renowned graffiti artist, T. Scott, left his mark in 1866.
And flowers beyond reach had me wrestling with the zoom…
I think this is the area referred to in the brochure as the Stonehenge.
Morgan’s Blood Waterfall was dry apart from suspicious dark red patches…
Now this is supposed to be Queen Mary’s profile. I’m a little relieved no-one has named a rock formation after me.
Eventually I had to wake from my dream. While Greg escaped briefly again I used my zoom to take a shot of a distant kangaroo in the picnic area. Upon returning, my puzzled tour guide wanted to know why I wasn’t getting up close to it. Apparently the roos at Hanging Rock are genteel, not like the intestine-gouging kickers we sometimes encounter in Queensland.
After leaving Hanging Rock, we ventured to Mt Macedon to see the giant memorial cross which was by this time glowing in the late afternoon sun. My shots don’t show how impressive it really is. Greg is a giant but he’s dwarfed in its shadows.
The original cross, constructed between 1932 and 1935, was funded by local businessman and resident, William Cameron, to remember those servicemen and women who lost their lives in World War I and to employ people out of work in the Great Depression. Wunderlich earthenware tiles covered a massive steel construction. A lightning strike in 1975 and then the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires led to it being demolished and rebuilt. The original Wunderlich tiles were preserved and later cut into pieces and mounted on timber to be sold as souvenirs.
In the late afternoon sun the trunks of snow gums bordering the path to the cross shimmered white. The Macedon Ranges is a beautiful area with vegetation quite different to what I’ve encountered in sunny Queensland.
Greg has written up quite a few walks from the Macedon Ranges which you can find through a search on his blog. He’s also written a much more humorous account of his trip to Hanging Rock. This was a brief visit for me and I hope to return for a long day walk.
While at Mt Macedon we checked out a memorial to the Kurana plane crash in 1948. Sadly, the pilot and the first officer died but considering the state of the crash site, it is amazing that the rest of the crew and passengers survived. Twenty-four year old air hostess, Elizabeth Fry, was later awarded for her leading role in helping to save the lives of all the passengers on board.
You’d think after the excitement of Hanging Rock, a giant cross, and a plane crash site that would be enough for the day, but we also walked to the lookout at Camel’s Hump which gives an excellent view of Hanging Rock and surrounding land forms. It also gave me another opportunity to enjoy snow gums which we don’t have in Brisbane.
On our way back down we noticed a leaf beautifully patterned by insect activity which kept changing colour in the late afternoon light and it became a competition to take the best picture. I’m glad you can’t see Greg’s results as it means I can pretend I won.
Another leaf caught my attention while poor Greg waited patiently.
I also got rather excited about poo…wombat poo! I’ve never seen a wombat in the wild, but finding their cube-shaped poo on a rock was the next best thing. Tantalising! For some reason my tour guide didn’t feel the need to compete over shots of mammal faeces.
What a day! Visiting a location from a movie which had such a strong impact on me as a child followed by a magnificent glowing cross against a blue, blue sky and then discovering wombat poo! What more could I ask for? Hiking heaven. Many thanks to Greg for enabling it to happen.
If you can put up with another lengthy wait, Part II will recount my first visit to Philip Island and a very special encounter with penguins.
I hope all my reader friends had a peaceful and fulfilling festive season and 2017 brings you special memories and the courage to face the challenges that life throws at you. Thanks for your valued support over the past few years. My blogging has needed to take a back seat as I enter a major period of transition in my life but I hope I can still pop back to share stories from the life of a directionally-challenged hiking hermit.
Best wishes to you all and thanks for reading.