That afternoon, as bugs and snakes lazily scuttled and slid through the brush and scrub, something quite mysterious happened. All the watches carried by the picnic party stopped at midday, and as most of the party snoozed at the base of the rock, three girls and one teacher wandered off into the scrub and simply disappeared.
What happens when the most popular, angelic and beautiful girl in the school vanishes? This book explores the deep fissure which is left.
Joan Lindsay deals with some quite modern themes in a Victorian context, and also some which you see repeated in many Australian novels. Specifically:
- The Australian country side as spiritual and malevolent. For more on this, read Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (spiritual) and for the malevolence, any Tim Winton book.
- The difficulty even wealthy people had living in Australia before the advent of electricity and air conditioning. People were continually aware of and battling against of the elements, all day and all night
- The ripple effect of tragedy, which spreads out in waves, changes lives, and leaves lasting scars on all who were even peripherally connected to the picnic. This disappearance led to other deaths, and deeply affected all in the community: the police, the local gentry, the other schoolgirls, the headmistress, the staff, gardeners, horsemen, shepherds in the area and many other locals.
- The pyschologically tortuous effect of not knowing (which of course makes the story resonate even more - an unsolved mystery like this really stays with you).
- The difficulty of communication in that time. In the case of Miranda, this is what happened - she disappeared on Saturday, they looked for days, on about Wednesday the headmistress wrote and posted a letter to her family on their isolated farm in Queensland, which would have been received possibly weeks later. Imagine your child disappearing and not knowing for weeks afterward. It is impossible to imagine that today, where you would have an email or text within minutes.
(Images (1) Convictcreations.com (2) - (9) (11) screenmusings.net (12) Flickr)