Hanging Rock Reserve is an Australian icon. At its heart stands the Rock itself, a massive volcanic outcrop. It is celebrated as the site for outdoor concerts by popular music legends such as Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen. Great Australian artists and pioneer photographers tried to capture its enigmatic spirit. Joan Lindsay’s novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Peter Weir’s 1975 film of the same name, have added to that aura of mystery. Visitors wonder if, as in both novel and film, a group of schoolgirls really did vanish there, during a St Valentine’s Day picnic in 1900.

Hanging Rock though has a deeper history. Its fortress-like rock walls fascinate all who visit and are the result of volcanic events, some six million years ago. For thousands of years, Hanging Rock was a meeting place for Aboriginal people, a centre for barter in greenstone and the site of ceremony. Hanging Rock horse races are much loved as the classic bush meeting. There have been many plans to ‘improve’ the Rock; to turn it into a quarry, a zoo, or a theme park. But despite all these grandiose schemes, Hanging Rock holds a special place in the Australian imagination. This is the story of how Hanging Rock survived all of these ‘improvements’, to remain a special place for visitors, an icon of global popular culture, and a place that raises new questions about Aboriginal history.