White Vanishing and Settler Colonial Anxiety in the 1975 Film “Picnic at Hanging Rock”

Costanza Bergo (Researcher at the University of New South Wales)  

 13 December 2019, 11:00-12:30, Sala del Camino, Villa Salviati

organised by the Visual and Material History Working Group

Settler colonial landscape is increasingly understood as a spatial project produced by imagined geographies. This fantasy-scape is a separate entity from physical, occupied landscape; yet it always maintains a relation to it and can manifests spatially.

Settler colonialism operates as a structure that must be continuously performed, asserted and naturalised. Part of what allows this structure to be naturalised is a network of affective registers: a structure of feelings. My research argues that part of the ways in which this structure of feelings is enacted is through landscape representation.

Considering settler colonial landscape in this way, this paper will focus on the 1975 movie Picnic at Hanging Rock. The movie centres around the fictional disappearance of four Victorian schoolgirls during a day trip at nearby Hanging Rock. While the story is entirely fictional, the movie’s lasting legacy has sparked real-life search parties and a large body of historical research which goal is to find the imaginary missing girls. By contrast, history of Indigenous massacres in the same area have been entirely overlooked. This paper will analyse the trope of white vanishing, and of mythology of the Australian landscape as threat, as symbiotic features of the various ‘moves to innocence’ enacted by the white nation to (unsuccessfully) distance itself from the violence of colonialism. I will consider the paradox of imagined geographies revolving around instability manifesting spatially as concrete, permanent structures, such as the real-life Hanging Rock discovery centre.

Benoit Vaillot

Doctorant en histoire Arche EA 3400 (Université de Strasbourg) / PhD Researcher (European University Institute, Florence). Coordinateur du séminaire doctoral « Nationalism Working Group » hébergé à l'Institut Universitaire Européen.

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