Marree Man (1998)
MARREE MAN UPDATE:
It has at last been confirmed that the artist Bardius Golberg was indeed responsible for the Marree Man, as many people had suspected for some time.
UFORQ received confirmation as follows and we thank the emailer for finally solving the mystery and allowing UFORQ to publish the information.
Hi all. I was quite amazed to read your article… It’s time you were enlightened to the truth of the drawing. A great friend of mine, the late Bardius Golberg is the creator of the Marree Man. I met Bardius in Alice Springs in the late 80s when working … in the Centre. He was into some amazing things as an eccentric sculptor… like the famous dot painting out at Ipolera NT, the 40 foot green cross in the Alice and the like. He was Herculean in his gifts and was well respected by all who took the time to know him. In 1996 he indicated he wanted to do something to leave his mark on the Earth by way of a huge etching in the desert. It was at this time (that) I along with (name withheld) taught him the use of GPS systems. Later, I took off (for) Indonesia, during which time Bardius called to say that he was sponsored $10,000 and given the loan of an old Cat D-6 dozer and had started work on the Marree Man. He later called to say the job was done, but (that he) would remain silent on the issue. He sadly died a few years ago, however I can assure you that Bardius did indeed leave his mark on the world.
And so the mystery is solved. Read on regardless, and see what had the world so intrigued for so long…
The Marree Man is certainly big, 28km in circumference and ploughed into the plateau with the aid, surveyors suggest, of a satellite-linked global positioning system. The current theory is the image was created by American service personnel from the nearby American satellite spy base, scheduled to close down at the end of the century. The motive is still not clear, whether it is a “polite” thank you or an flying finger salute to their Australian landlords.
Maybe it’s all those things, but it’s something else as well: a big puzzle. Why would anyone bother? Among the most famous of enigmatic landmarks are the Nazca lines in Peru, thought to have been created on a rainless plain sometime between the first and eighth centuries AD. Covering about 500sqkm, the enigmatic lines and designs were produced by removing red gravel to reveal yellow-white stones underneath. There are swirls, zigzags, straight lines going nowhere and huge representations of animals and plants including a 120m-long bird and a 50m spider. Some claim this all is aligned somehow with the movement of the heavens. More famously, Erich Von Daniken’s book Chariots of the Gods? likened the Nazca lines to landing markings at an airport. Even older are the chalk drawings in England — the White Horse at Uffington, the Long Man at Wilmington and the sensational Cerne Giant who, at 55m tall, is a midget next to Marree Man. At least, the Cerne Giant, in Dorset, is supposed to be ancient — although underlining the ability of these works to inspire debate, some claim he’s a baby at just 300 years old. Wielding a wicked club, the giant is most famous for his 7m erect penis, which has been equated to a sizeable 23cm on a normal man. As no one knows why the giant was put there in the first place, it hasn’t been clear why he needed such a large appendage. One local artist was so moved by the giant’s excitement he thought he needed a partner, and proposed an outline of Marilyn Monroe, skirt blowing around her hips, on a hill opposite. It has been argued that the giant’s not over-endowed or randy. His erection is the equivalent of a single-fingered salute to his enemies. And the generous length? The giant was merely given an extension 100 years back when Victorians cutting back the grass that grows over the chalk mistakenly mistook his belly button for the tip of his penis.
Marree Man may not last as long as these examples but, in the short term, he’s providing just as much intrigue.
Everyone’s got a theory and, as Hercule Poirot might see it, quite a few might also have a motive. There are the locals, of course, who stand to gain most in tourism. Last month the local hotel had been put up for sale and the airline operating joy flights had ordered a new plane. But the town of 80 says it knew nothing of the work until the pub received an anonymous fax in early July announcing a giant image on Crown land on a plateau at Finnis Springs. When a small posse, including the local constable, arrived at the site, they apparently found a satellite photograph of the man, a US flag and a note mentioning the Branch Davidian cult.
It wasn’t long before the mystery was picked up by the media, and the finger-pointing started. Western Mining Corporation, with its Roxby Downs mine a few hundred kilometres away, got a call from one of the Aboriginal leaders from the Maxtee area, asking whether its workers were responsible. WMC’s Richard Yeeles says he looked at whether employees or contractors could have done it, “and there is no possibility anyone associated with WMC did this”. Then there were reports of Australian army vehicles moving through the area. It turned out 17 construction groups had been working with Aborigines on projects in the west of the State, but “it wasn’t us”, says the army.
The attention on the military is understandable. Aerial photography would have been needed to pick out a suitable site, as well as some surveying expertise to plot an outline over such a large distance. It would be relatively easy to transfer a photograph onto a computer, blow it up to a size that fitted the plateau, and then map in co-ordinates of latitude and 1ongtitude. Using a hand-held global positioning system, each co-ordinate could then be marked on the site with a stake every hundred metres or so, says Adelaide surveyor Shayne Hennig. “From a surveying point of view, it’s not very difficult. You have to lean towards the army, they would have all that kind of stuff.” The local Aborigines have split into two groups contesting local land ownership, including the Marree Man site, but they have both condemned the work. The South Australian Government also has warned people to stay away from the plateau and says it won’t allow the outline to become more permanent by digging to a layer of chalky material underneath. Instead, the image is likely to be outlined with plant life.
The head of anthropology at the South Australian Museum says the outline is vandalism, without doubt, and he strongly suspects the hand of foreigners. “If these characters [who did it] are Americans and they’ve taken it upon themselves to improve the Australian landscape in that way, I think it does amount to vandalism,” he says. Jones also believes the perpetrators have used an old photograph and reversed it to make it fit on to the plateau. Hence the man is throwing something with his left hand, but what is it? According to a “clarification” faxed to media from those who did it, the giant is a hunter with not a club, as some have reported, but a throwing-stick, a weapon “carried at all times” and used to bring down birds. Jones says this is more evidence that those responsible didn’t really understand Aboriginal culture. The stick is, he says, a boomerang, as is made clear from the stance. But because of the angle, the boomerang’s curve is hidden and so it has been mistaken for a stick. If it really were a throwing-stick as in a spear-thrower, a woomera (a clue, Monsieur Poirot?) it would have been held at a different angle and have a spear attached. As well, the giant is depicted nude while he almost certainly would have had a loin cloth draped over him for the purpose of the 19th-century photograph. “To my mind, that feature [the genitals] has not only been drawn in but probably exaggerated as well.” Marree Man has his supporters, and they’re not just the postcard and T-shirt makers, or tourist operators such as Oscar’s Outback Tours, which has anointed the drawing an artistic “masterpiece” and the “eighth wonder of the world”.
There’s definitely something mighty weird going on with the Marree Man. Of course it’s only just outside the 200,000 square kilometre Woomera Prohibited Area – the largest secret site in the western world, scene of nuclear and rocket tests, and still a secret base for hundreds of US military personnel. And now the government has extended the forbidden zone to cover the whole plateau where the carving is, even though the ground is supposed to be Crown (Public) Land with free access. This is absolutely unprecedented. And why would they do it if, as has been reported, the figure is so good for tourism? It makes no sense. Also, at almost exactly the same time as the government announced the extension of the no-go zone, the police suddenly announced they were ceasing investigations, after earlier saying they were “closing in on the creators” and that they were “following strong clues”. What did they find up on the plateau? Why did they suddenly call it off?
One thing’s for sure anyway, the Marree Man’s not going away in a hurry, contrary to some reports. Apparently he’s survived recent heavy rain, in an area of normally very low rainfall, with flying colours. He’s marked in the surface something like the Nazca lines and he’s likely to be around at least for decades. Ordinary vehicle tracks hang around that long out there. But why aren’t we supposed to see it or visit it? There was talk of even banning flights over the area (ABC Radio 25/8/98) as well as the ban on ground access. The Government’s whole effort seems to be to play it down, not publicize it, not take advantage of the tourist interest. Why would they do that?