June 30, 2014
Four locals share what Hanging Rock means to them.
Having lived on this property for seven years, Kathy says it’s easy to become enmeshed in the moods of the rock and its neighbor, Mt Macedon. “You get some really dramatic weather patterns here, created by the mountain. Because of the fine mist coming off the mountain, we often get rainbows. It always surprises you.” An avid lover of sunrises and sunsets, the photographer and writer is never disappointed by the daily show presented by Mother Nature. “At teatime, I’ll often pause and just watch for that five minutes as you get the glow on the Rock.”Kathy Mexted is used to people stopping in awe when they first arrive at her family’s Newham property. Their home is blessed with an uninterrupted view of Hanging Rock, its distinctive shape one of the most captivating volcanic formations in the world. Kathy’s first encounter with Hanging Rock was a literary one, studying Joan Lindsay’s classic novel Picnic at Hanging Rock in Year 12. “The book stayed with me and the music (from the subsequent film) haunted me,” she says. Decades later, Kathy found herself visiting Newham when she and husband Dennis were looking to settle in the area. “Dennis found a Newham property, so I came out and said, ‘Is that Hanging Rock?’ It was quite funny how it came back to me without me actively seeking it.”
Far from only admiring Hanging Rock from a distance, Kathy often takes her children to visit for sport and recreation. “Our son played cricket there and I used to play petanque.” She has also enjoyed events such as The Car Club Picnic and the Rod Stewart and Bruce Springsteen concerts.
Kathy isn’t alone in recognising the property’s picturesque setting. Hugo Weaving’s film, Healing used aspects of her home and the original cottage as locations, a BMW commercial was shot near the dam, a past Woodend Winter Arts Festival promotional image was shot here and an artist has visited to paint from this aspect numerous times. Who knows who else has admired Hanging Rock from this vantage point in centuries gone by. “We’ve found a few florins and bits of china,” notes Kathy. “There’s definitely a feeling of us just passing through, because it’s such an ancient thing.”
The winemaker was reunited with the Rock 30 years ago, when his family (above) moved from Echuca, to fulfill their ambition of creating sparkling wine. “I was totally besotted with champagne and this region had the potential for it,” John says, recalling a bare property that was home to kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, koalas and echidnas – “they’re all still here,” he notes.When John Ellis was a teenager growing up in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, he and some mates occasionally rode their bikes to Hanging Rock and home again.
After planting vines on the top side of the property, the Ellis’s had plenty of time to contemplate their new venture. “We’d sit there, looking at Hanging Rock and think, “What are we going to call ourselves?’” To their delight, the name Hanging Rock Winery had not been registered. “It’s just the most magnificent thing,” he says of the winery’s namesake. “Hanging Rock’s moods change by the minute. A cloud goes over and it’s a different colour, and with the angle of the sun late in the day, it’s pink.”
After the Ellis family arrived, they became absolute devotees of the Hanging Rock Races and subsequent events held at Hanging Rock Reserve. When the amalgamation of local shires resulted in advisory committees, John was appointed tourism representative on the Hanging Rock Committee of Management. They organised popular events such as the World’s Longest Lunch (200 people at one table on the racetrack’s main straight) and the Harvest Picnic, which ran until last year. John also notes the markets, car rallies, Valentines Day film screening of Picnic at Hanging Rock and concerts.
“We love that involvement,” he says. “I would like to see more concerts, more events of that nature, and I worry that they won’t be sustainable unless there is a bigger commitment to infrastructure. We love the place, and we are with our community when we say, ‘Respect the Rock’. However, we are also in business, and so we are not anti-development.”
Guido Bigolin has seen many changes since he began working as Hanging Rock’s park ranger in 1982. In those days, the century-old Hanging Rock Race Meets attracted 15,000 people, with up to 600 cars driving through the gates on Sundays. The crowds made a north and south entrance difficult to manage, so the north end was eventually closed. Crushed rock paths proved to be disastrous under foot and were replaced with bitumen, resulting in far less injuries to tourists. Guido and his family were initially Hanging Rock residents, the café/gift shop the previous park ranger residence. Guido has also seen Hanging Rock become an increasingly popular venue for weddings and family reunions, together with sporting events, car rallies, markets and concerts. “It’s good for tourism,” Guido says. “It’s also good because most of those things are all gone the same day.”
Throughout all these changes however, there has remained one constant – the Rock. “My main aim when I first got here was to learn to know the Rock backwards,” Guido says. “Then if something happens to someone, I know how to get to them.” Hanging Rock has also provided places of solitude for Guido. “There’s a spot up there where you look out from the east face over the lake. I sit there and talk to myself a bit and it recharges me.”
Guido says Hanging Rock holds plenty of mystique for him. “I used to have a little Jack Russell Terrier and on one particular part of the Rock, she wouldn’t leave my legs and her hair would stand on end. Even today it’s a really eerie spot at a particular time of the morning. No other spot gives you that feeling.” Visitors have clearly had similar reactions, bits of the Rock being mailed back to Guido from all over the world – two of them are displayed in the Reserve’s Discovery Centre. Did this “souvenir” prove to jinx those who filched them? Guido shakes his head with a laugh. “It’s all just superstition.”
Penny is also a member of the Hanging Rock Action Group, which successfully campaigned against the local government’s proposal for commercial development near Hanging Rock. As part of the agreement, the State Government announced a contribution of $1 million over four years for maintenance at the Rock. “Hanging Rock Action Group is delighted that the Victorian Government has made such a generous contribution,” Penny says. “This is not the first time the community has become involved to prevent inappropriate land usage in and around Hanging Rock Reserve, but hopefully it will be the last.”Penny Robertsbegan visiting Hanging Rock 25 years ago when her family lived in the city. “It was an escape,” she says. “We lived an urban life and to go somewhere as magical as this, it was a wonderful wild adventure playground for the children.” The frequent visits culminated in an eventual moved to the area 11 years ago. Penny has been involved in the Newham and District Landcare Group since its 2004 inception and is currently the group’s president. The members support the Friends of Hanging Rock Group, mostly older people who were struggling to provide support for the environmental needs of the rock. State Government grants enabled 1200 plants to be introduced around the Rock’s nearby creek bed in the past two years, with 1000 more planted last autumn.
Penny is quick to point out the importance of Hanging Rock not just personally, but also to the region. “It’s very special because it’s close to forest, yet reasonably open woodland. Despite the tourist numbers and occasional spotlights, it’s an oasis for wildlife in this area and there’s also a disproportionately high number of threatened species, such as the Brush-tailed Phascogale and Powerful owls. Because it’s such an important patch with its threatened species, it’s iconic.”