In June 1998 a local pilot flying over the remote South Australian desert discovered an enormous drawing of an Aboriginal man hunting with a throwing stick made on the desert floor, about 60 km west of the town of Marree. The figure is 4.2 km tall with a perimeter of 28 km, making it one of the single largest geoglyph in the world. The figure is so huge it can only be seen in its entirely from above 3,000 feet.
Unlike many geoglyphs found around the world which were created by ancient civilizations, Marree Man is recent, carved into the landscape not more than 18 years ago. The figure was created by scraping off vegetation and soil, possibly by a GPS-assisted bulldozer, which experts estimate must have taken between four and eight weeks to complete. It was created in such secrecy that there is not one witness who could attest to its creation. Thanks to its remoteness, nobody had heard or seen anything, nor anyone has assumed responsibility for it. To this date, it remains one of the world's great unsolved modern mysteries.
Photo credit: Peter Campbell/Wikimedia
When it was discovered, the outline of the figure was 20-30 cm deep and up to 35 meters wide. Assuming the bulldozer was 2.5 meter wide, this would require up to 14 passes. A quick calculation reveals that the bulldozer would have covered 400 kilometers and used up more than 300 liters of fuel. It was a herculean effort.
The figure is so beautifully drawn and such well-proportioned that the artist must have used a computer to superimpose the figure over an aerial or satellite photograph of the site, and adjusted to fit the geography. He (or she) must have then mapped out the latitude and longitude coordinates, and then using expert surveying skills plotted the outline over the terrain with the aid of a hand-held GPS device. Stakes could have been placed every hundred meters or so.
The creators, however, made the mistake of not digging the outline deep enough, for there is a layer of white chalk material slightly below the red soil. If the outline was dug to this depth and the white chalk layer exposed, it would have made the figure more permanent. Because this wasn’t done the image is gradually eroding away through natural processes. By December 2015, the figure had become undetectable when viewed on Google Earth.
An image from NASA showing Marree Man from space. Inset is an outline of the man. Photo credit: news.com.au
During the initial investigation of the site, several items were found in a shallow pit near the figure containing a satellite photo of the figure, a jar containing a small flag of the United States, and a note which referred to the Branch Davidian cult who were infamous for being attacked in the Waco raid in 1993. The police also found one track entering and one track exiting the site.
Following the discovery, several anonymous press releases were sent to the media suggesting that the Marree Man was created by people from the United States. Certain styles on the press release such as the use of “feet” and “inches” instead of metric units, and phrases such as "your State of SA", "Queensland Barrier Reef" and “local Indigenous Territories", that are not used by Australians indicate foreign authorship. Some believe that the “style” was a deliberate ploy to mislead.
Another fax purporting to be from the artist himself addressed the figure as "Stuart's Giant", so sometimes the Marree Man is also called by that name.
The plot thickened when in January 1999, another anonymous fax tipped officials of the presence of a plaque buried 5 meters south of the nose of the figure. Sure enough, a plaque was found, bearing the American flag, an imprint of the Olympic rings, and a quote from the H.H. Finlayson book, "The Red Centre", taken from a section of his book describing the Aborigines hunting of wallabies with throwing sticks. The quote reads:
In honour of the land they once knew. His attainments in these pursuits are extraordinary; a constant source of wonderment and admiration.
Photo credit: www.hows.org.uk
Theories are abound of the Marree Man’s origins. Some say it was a parting gift from American servicemen based at the Australian Space Research Institute at Woomera. Others believe it to be the work of Australian Defence Force. Their vehicles, including a bulldozer, were allegedly seen in the area but the ADF denies it. Another potential suspect is Bardius Goldberg, a Northern Territory artist who was known to be interested in creating a work visible from space. When questioned about it, Goldberg refused to either confirm or deny that he had created the image. A close friend said Goldberg disclosed that he was given $10,000 to create the giant man. But before further investigation could be made, Goldberg passed away.
One South Australia's daily newspaper called for the figure to be made permanent by excavating the outline down to the white chalk layer. But some members of the Dieri tribe, whose lands lie east of Marree complained of harm and exploitation of the Dreamtime, calling for the image to be erased and for the artist to be prosecuted. When the tribe took legal action to stop charter flights and vehicles visiting the site, the local government closed the site. The Environment minister called it "environmental vandalism", and the South Australian chief of Aboriginal affairs said it was nothing more than "graffiti". While ground access to the site is prohibited, it’s still possible to take the aerial route.
Left: Aerial view of the fading mystery drawing Marree Man in 2002. Right: The same figure in 2001. Photo credit: news.com.au
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