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The Classic Whodunit Mystery of the Marree Man of Outback Australia

BY Namrata Naha September 14, 2018
Marree Man

Aerial photo of the Marree Man from 1998. (Peter Campbell / Wikimedia Commons)

Twenty years have passed since a pilot first spotted The Marree Man — a bewildering colossal artwork whittled into the desert sands in a dim and distant town of Marree in parts of southern Australia, nearby to the far-reaching military Woomera Prohibited Zone. Its origin and the people behind its formation are still nameless. It is extensively recognized as the second largest geoglyph (an enormous design etched on the ground) in the world.

Initial sighting of Marree Man

A charter flight was travelling over South Australia on June 26, 1998, between Marree and Coober Pedy, a town known for its opal mining. Its pilot Trevor Wright was the first person to spot the towering figure of an indigenous tall and naked man spread over 2.6-miles along the desert sand. His left arm was raised, ready to strike prey with a woomera (a hunting stick) or a boomerang.

The carving was coined the Marree Man after the non-descript outback town of Marree in whose vicinity it was discovered.

Satellite photo of Marree Man.

Satellite photo of Marree Man from 28 June, 1998. (Diceman / Wikimedia Commons)

The widely incised borderlines gouged out by 10 inches below the ground, could be visible only from the air above. However, despite the exact planning, precision and absolute intensity invested in making it, nobody approached to profess the geoglyph’s authorship and seemingly even no eye-witness was traced to corroborate its creation.

Unidentified press releases

Shortly after its revelation, between July and August 1998, the media and local businesses received sundry press releases from an unidentified source. Specific features of the writing highlighted the guesstimate of it being the handiwork of a foreign author and that the Marree Man was the creation of the natives from the United States.

To start with, the letter had measurements being cited in units of miles, yards, and inches. It was a strange drift from the metric system used in Australia. The releases further mentioned names and phrases like “your State of SA”, “local Indigenous Territories” and “Queensland Barrier Reef” that were queer terms hitherto not being used by Australians.

Outline of Marree Man.

Outline of Marree Man. (Lisathurston / Wikimedia Commons)

The press release also had a reference to the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio, something which hardly had any cognition outside the US. There were widespread conjectures about these press releases being more of red herrings placed tactfully by an audacious eccentric to render the impression of an American authorship.

Discovery of a plaque and strange items

Adding to the puzzle, were a bunch of peculiar items discovered from a freshly dug out trough at the site. They comprised of a small glass jar that contained a tiny flag of the United States, a photo of Marree Man clicked from a satellite and a note which had remarks about the Branch Davidians, a Texas-based cult group that had its cult leader David Koresh and 82 other followers killed following a raid in 1993.

In January 1999, after receiving a fax message, officials surrendered to their curiosity, dug up the area and unearthed a dedicated plaque buried in close proximity to the figure’s nose.

The plaque was essentially the American flag with an engraving of the Sydney Olympic rings and bore the statement “In honour of the land they once knew. His attainments in these pursuits are extraordinary; a constant source of wonderment and admiration” which had its origin from a book titled “The Red Centre” written by Hedley H. Finlayson in 1946.

The quote was lifted from a page narrating about the poaching of wallabies with throwing sticks and included the photos of aboriginal hunters short of loin clothes that resembled very much the Marree Man.

It may be mentioned here that the book deals with the existence of the Pitjantjatjara tribal hunters. Investigators attempted to connect the dots with these weird accumulations of clues but all their efforts were in vain.

Conjectures about the creation

Rumours were running amok around the tiny hamlet of Marree. Some expressed their opinions about the geoglyph being the brainchild of an inhabitant flight operator, who pulled off this stunt to amass huge profits from the deluge of tourists who started visiting the place post its discovery.

Surely, the local charter flights were found to be plying overtime in meeting the burgeoning demand for joy rides to have a look at the amazeballs spectacle the ground below.

Different odd hypotheses that began doing the whirlwind rounds indicated at Marree Man being the creation of extraterrestrials who descended with an intent to throw caution to a politician named Pauline Hanson against his despicable racist remarks about Australian Aborigines.

Surveyors theorize that a bulldozer might have been used to sculpt the figure and taken a long time to finish, yet nobody could sense a hint of suspicion about seeing or hearing a thing or two. Just a single track was used as an entry and exit point from the site, however, no discernible footprints or tyre marks could be detected. Even a thorough-going police examination came up with nothing substantial.

Most suggested creator

Then there came Bardius Goldberg, who was an Australian craftsman and had expressed enthusiasm for creating a masterly work that could be visible from space. Goldberg, however, showed an inherent proneness towards being provoked. He also had a knack to concoct aboriginal dot paintings in the neighbourhood of the desert town of Alice Springs.

He incidentally got entangled in a hostile dispute with Herman Malbunka, a local landowner. He threatened Malbunka with dire consequences and borrowed a tractor along with a GPS to transmit him a vile notification containing the Marree Man’s silhouette. It had been reported by few of his friends that Goldberg was paid a hefty sum of $10000 to create the figurine.

When Goldberg was confronted about it, he neither affirmed nor denied the rumours on Marree Man’s creation. Unfortunately, Goldberg passed away in 2002 before this theory could even be totally investigated.

Others anecdotes have apprehended that Australian Army members or American soldiers who were positioned in Woomera had designed and fabricated Marree Man.

Revival initiatives of the abraded geoglyph

The monumental geoglyph of Marree Man quickly became an icon and made the township a largely popular tourist spot. But the famous carving was gradually fading into oblivion because of natural erosion by shifting sands and forceful desert winds and could gradually be seldom seen. It seemed only a matter of time before the prodigious illustration would cease to be visible evermore, confiscating the secrets of its creation alongside.

In 2013, through a landmark initiative, some passionate natives submitted a public plea, spearheaded by Phil Turner, a pub owner in Marree to plough back the outline into the sands and revive the geoglyph. According to Turner, it had everything to do with reinforcing the mystery and the myth.

Turner in a bid to strengthen the tourism business embarked upon the project costing half-a-million dollars along with the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation to enliven the artwork after its considerable dissipation into the sand.

The latest technological advancements made it convenient for them to locate the eroded Marree Man in 2016, with the support from a zealous and prolific restoration team and redefine the geoglyph using imaging data, a grader, GPS and satellite images.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “The Incredible Geoglyphs of Peru, the Nazca Lines“.

Recommended Visit:
Marree Man Historical landmark | Australia

Fact Analysis:
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