Skip to content
15 September 2019 / leggypeggy

The Marree Man—a modern whodunnit in Australia

Marree Man, South Australia, art

Flying over the Marree Man, more than 4.2 kilometres tall

Have you ever heard of the Marree Man? I hadn’t until about a month ago. That was when I listened to an amazing interview on our ABC radio station. Phil Turner, who lives in Marree, explained some of the mystery surrounding the Marree Man.

No one knows who created it. No one knows exactly when it was done. And no one is confessing anything. Turner says, ‘It’s probably Australia’s greatest peacetime whodunnit.’

The Marree Man was first noticed in June 1998, spotted by outback pilot, Trec Smith, when he was flying from Marree to Coober Pedy in remote South Australia.

Smith later said, ‘It was so big I assumed everyone would know about it. But when I landed back in town nobody had any idea.’

In fact, the Marree Man is the world’s largest geoglyph, measuring 4.2 kilometres long, 28 kilometres around, and covering 2.5 square kilometres (or 620 acres). When first discovered, his etched outline was up to 30 centimetres (one foot) deep and 35 metres (115 feet) wide.

Marree Man, detail of a leg and foot

Notice the multiple grooves

Marree Man, detail of torso and head

Did you need to know the penis is 400 metres long?

Marree Man, detail of torso and head

Marree Man throwing a boomerang or, more likely, a stick

A few weeks after Smith’s discovery, someone claiming to be behind the artwork sent anonymous faxes to businesses in Marree and, later, the media.

The first fax said, ‘On a plateau 36 miles north-west of Marree there is a giant drawing of an Aborigine more than two miles long.’

A later fax said, ‘During the creation of the figure, a 36-inch by 25-inch dedicatory plaque was buried on the plateau four inches below the surface, 23 feet south of the point of the nose.’

Police dug a hole and, sure enough, there it was: a chipboard plaque with an American flag and a faded version of what looked like the Olympic rings.

The next message said, ‘There will now be provided weekly, for several weeks, a series of answers to such questions as: Who, Why? How?’

More faxes arrived, all leading to clues buried near other giant geoglyph figures in England—the Cerne Giant in Dorset and the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex.

One clue answered the why. It said, ’As a permanent benefit to the state of South Australia through increased tourism, and also to honour the inherently athletic pursuits of the Indigenous people for the Sydney Olympiad’ referring to the Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

Marree Man, South Australia, art

Flying over the Marree Man, more than 4.2 kilometres tall

Who and how were never answered because the messages stopped.

There have been countless theories about who created the Marree Man, but it remains a mystery. Some think it was done by American or Australian soldiers based in Woomera in South Australia.

Others suspect Bardius Goldberg, a Northern Territory artist who died in 2002. Goldberg, who talked about creating a work visible from space, refused to confirm or deny that he had created the image. On his death bed, Goldberg made references to the Marree Man and indicated some involvement. But who knows. Marree Man is certainly visible from space.

Over the years, Marree Man had been worn away by the elements. Aaron Stuart, chairman of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, that holds native title over the location, launched a plan in 2016 to restore the image.

He recruited Phil Turner to organise the job. They got a surveyor, crunched all the data they could, rented a grader and went up to the plateau for 11 days and restored the Marree Man. Unfortunately they lacked the GPS coordinates that would make the finished work look like the original Marree Man, and not some jumbled mess.

Amazingly, someone sent an email with the exact GPS coordinates. Turner reckons they are from the original operation. GPS technology was in its infancy in the 1990s. Obviously someone who knows a lot about the Marree Man was still around in 2016.

Marree Man's location

Tracking our location on the control panel

So why am I writing about this fellow today? I’m thrilled to say that after hearing about the Marree Man about a month ago, I’ve now seen him in person. Poor John and I have just finished a tour in central Australia that included three flights.

We travelled with Outback Spirit, with the main focus on Lake Eyre (more about that later). Poor John’s brother and sister-in-law, David and Charlotte, were among our traveling companions. We met our pilot, Chris, in Marree the night before our first flight, and Charlotte was quick to ask whether he’d be swinging us past the Marree Man on our way to Lake Eyre.

Thanks Charlotte, your request worked. And I almost forgot to mention that I scored the co-pilot’s seat on the first flight. We had two more flights that day. David and Charlotte scored the co-pilot seat on both. 

P.S. If you want to know even more about the Marree Man, you can check Wikipedia or the script of an ABC Radio interview with Phil Turner.

Marree Man, South Australia

My best photo of the Marree Man

 

30 August 2019 / leggypeggy

Archibald Prize features Australian faces

Archibald winner, Lindy Lee by Tony Costa

Archibald winner, Lindy Lee by Tony Costa

Time for a quick detour to Australia and the wonderful Archibald exhibit. The Archibald prize, first awarded in 1921, is Australia’s favourite art award, and one of its most prestigious. These days it is accompanied by the Wynne and Sulman prizes.

I felt the need to tuck in this post because the exhibit—on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney—ends in about a week on 8 September.

Don’t worry. It’s a travelling exhibit. Over the next few months, it will be displayed in Victoria and various locations around New South Wales. Here’s a link to the schedule.

The prize is judged by the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW and awarded to the best portrait painting. The portraits are a who’s who of Australian culture – from politicians to celebrities, sporting heroes and artists.

One of our daughters lives in Sydney and we visited the exhibit between our travels in West Africa and Vietnam.

People's Choice Award, Tjuparntarri—women’s business, Daisy Tjuparntarri Ward by David Darcy

People’s Choice Award, Tjuparntarri—women’s business, Daisy Tjuparntarri Ward by David Darcy

Packing Room Prize, Through the looking glass, David Wenham by Tessa Mackay

Packing Room Prize, Through the looking glass, David Wenham by Tessa Mackay

The winning artist receives $100,000 from the ANZ Bank. This year’s winner and subject were Tony Costa and his portrait of Lindy Lee, Australian artist and Zen Buddhist. It’s titled Lindy Lee.

Just recently the People’s Choice Award was announced. It’s a magnificent portrait of Daisy Tjuparntarri Ward, an elder from the Warakurna and Ngaanyatjarra in Western Australia. It was painted by David Darcy and is titled Tjuparntarri—women’s businessHere’s more about Daisy and the award.

There’s also a Packing Room Prize, selected by the people who unpack and hang the exhibit. This year that went to Tessa Mackay and her portrait of Aussie actor and heartthrob, David Wenham. The painting is titled Through the looking glass.

Other portraits that caught my eye were Jude Rae’s portrait of stage actress, Sarah Peirse; Adam Norton’s portrait of artist, David Griggs, who was also a finalist in this Archibald Prize; and Loribelle Spirovski’s portrait of singer, songwriter and musician, Meg Washington and her son and dog, Amos and Art.

There’s also the Young Archibalds for children aged 5 to 15. There are three age divisions. My favourites were Jayden Hong’s (aged 5–8) portrait of his dad, Hana Lee’s (aged 5–8) portrait of someone (maybe himself) on the playground, and Jaylan Yang’s (aged 9–12) portrait of his friend Matt Tran.

And on to the Wynne Prize. It’s awarded for a landscape and was won by Sylvia Ken. Her painting, Seven Sisters, reminded me of the National Museum of Australia’s exhibit I wrote about a few years back. That entire exhibit told the traditional story of the Seven Sisters. You can read about it here.

Wynne Prize winner, Seven Sisters by Sylvia Ken

Wynne Prize winner, Seven Sisters by Sylvia Ken

I also liked the landscape Ngayuku ngura by Barbara Mbitjana Moore, whose work is inspired by wildflowers.

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t get any photos from the Sulman Prize. Maybe next year. In the meantime, here’s an overview of the winner and finalists.

Cooking
I keep forgetting to mention my cooking blog. Here’s a simple recipe that I make often.

Ngayuku ngura (my country), landscape by Barbara Mbitjana Moore

Ngayuku ngura (my country), landscape by Barbara Mbitjana Moore

20 August 2019 / leggypeggy

Portraits capture costumes and history

The Lu

The Lu. She asked the photographer why he didn’t come when she was young and beautiful.

The Lu costume

I think she’s as beautiful as ever. What do you think?

Hoi An, on the east coast of central Vietnam, has changed dramatically since we first visited in 2011. The old town looks much the same, but the town itself has become so popular with tourists that the streets, shops and historic sites are overrun with people.

And then there’s the traffic—cars, vans, buses, motorbikes, scooters and push bikes. It’s not an easy place for pedestrians. I’m surprised we didn’t see a steady stream of ambulances carting accident victims off to hospital.

But we did manage to find a divine haven that allowed us to escape the heat (most days it was 38°C or 100°F) and the crowds.

Precious Heritage Museum, Hoi An, Vietname

Precious Heritage Museum

Two years ago, world famous photographer, Réhahn, established the Precious Heritage Museum as a way to permanently display his work done across Vietnam.

For eight years, Réhahn travelled from tribe to tribe, visiting and photographing 53 of the country’s officially 54 documented ethnic groups. He also found many subgroups. His goal was to capture the faces and the traditional costumes unique to each culture.

The museum displays 100 photographs and 62 traditional ensembles. Signage explains where each ethnic group is located within the country and how large the population is. One group has fewer than 400 members (2009 census) and the largest has almost 75 million. There are also stories about the costumes and the person shown in the portrait.

In many cases, Réhahn was given a costume by a group’s chief. Too often, the groups are down to one or very few traditional outfits.

Here are some summaries. Each group’s name is in the photo caption. My favourite is from the Lu. They are shown in the first photo and explained in the last entry below.

Meet the tribes
The Ha Nhi
The Ha Nhi number about 11,000 and are organised into two subgroups—the Black Ha Nhi and the Flower Ha Nhi. Réhahn met the former group, as well as a subgroup known as the Pink Ha Nhi. The Ha Nhi’s cotton, indigo costume takes up to six months to make.

The O Du
The O Du is Vietnam’s smallest ethnic group, with fewer than 400 members. Today they have only 5 original costumes left. Réhahn met Vi Thi Dung, the last woman making the traditional skirt. I’m guessing she is the person featured in the photo.

The Pu Peo
Réhahn had just 25 minutes in the Pu Peo village in northern Vietnam and near the Chinese border. He’s not sure why he was asked to leave so abruptly, but he managed to capture a quick photo of the oldest person in the village.

The Si La
The Si La keep their traditional costumes for special occasions. The silver coins are believed to bring good health and good luck. Réhahn was the first foreigner to visit the village in far northwest Vietnam. They came to Vietnam from the Philippines, via Laos.

The Pa Then costume, Vietnam

The portrait is of an 8-year-old from the Pa Then group

The Pa Then
Huong, the 8-year-old old Pa Then girl in the portrait, was delighted to dress up in her outfit. Some schools require children to wear the traditional costume every Monday. Today only two people still know how to weave the fabric to make the brightly coloured outfits.

The Lo Lo
This ethnic group is divided into three subgroups—Flower, Red and Black. The bottom photo on the left is the Black Lo Lo version, while the top is the Flower. Because it is covered with 4000 appliquéd triangles (photo on right), the Flower version is the most expensive at about US$1200.

The Phu La, Vietnam

The Phu La

The Phu La
The Phu La are reserved. Réhahn struggled to find someone willing to pose in a traditional costume, until he met the young girl (pictured) and her mother. While travelling, he also met the Xa Pho, a subgroup of the Phu La. He hopes to photograph them soon. 

The Flower H’Mong
The Flower H’Mong  is a subgroup of the H’Mong ethnic group and is named after their brightly-coloured traditional costumes (see above). These detailed garments take up to 6 months to make and are so precious that they are considered heirlooms.

The Cho Ro
Réhahn spent two days with the Cho Ro, who were puzzled as to why he was interested in their traditional clothing. In the end, the chief gifted Réhahn the village’s last costume and his wife offered to pose in it for him. These outfits are no longer made.

The Cor
This traditional costume was one of the hardest for Réhahn to find. He visited more than 20 villages before he came across the woman (pictured) who owned the last original version. The provincial government also holds several costumes for traditional festivals.

The Ro Man
The Ro Man live in a restricted area near the border with Cambodia. As a result, it took Réhahn three years to get permission to visit. He was given one of the village’s last 12 traditional costumes, along with a pipe and a basket.

The Cham, Vietnam

The Cham

The Cham
The Cham live in the south central coast, along the Mekong Delta. They are considered to be the root of Muslimism in Vietnam. The picture is one of Réhahn’s best known works. The girl has blue eyes, inherited from her French paternal great-grandfather.

The Co Tu, bark costume, Vietnam

The Co Tu

 

The Co Tu
For centuries, the Co Tu wore costumes made out of tree bark. They used five types of bark with solid fibres. These were beaten and then soaked in a mixture of water and spices for about 10 days. The museum holds the only known one in existence.

The Chu Ru

The Chu Ru

The Chu Ru
The Chu Ru is said to have links to the Cham group. They are also known for making good rice wine and wine jars. I was surprised by how similar their outfits are to the Indian sari. Réhahn was given a costume, as well as a ring and a musical instrument.

The Ede, Vietnam

The Ede

 

The Ede
It took Réhahn several visits to the Ede before he managed to see and secure an original costume. In this case,  he found a male outfit. The bright red frontispiece was traditionally reserved for those of high social ranking. Today it is wore for festivals.

The White and Black Thai
There are some obvious differences between the White and Black Thai—starting with colour (see below). This group is large, with more than 1.5 million people. It has good relations and connections with the O’Du group, which is introduced above.

The Lu
Without doubt, this is my favourite portrait (shown at the very top). The subject, 93-year-old Lo Van Bau, told Réhahn, ‘Why didn’t you come when I was still young and beautiful?’ I think she’s still as beautiful as anyone can ever be. What do you think?

Love these images
I hope you like these images as much as I do. This is one of the most remarkable and most rewarding museums we have ever visited. We bought one of Réhahn’s books. If you want to know more, please visit his home page.

White and Black Thai costumes

White and Black Thai costumes (see explanation above)

11 August 2019 / leggypeggy

History museum gives great overview of Vietnam

Ancient timber buddha

A 1600-year-old Buddha

It’s the rainy season in Vietnam, so Poor John and I have visited four museums in our first week here.

By far the best has been the Museum of Vietnamese History. Designed in the 1920s by French architect, Auguste Delaval, the colonial structure displays a combination of Indochinese and French architectural styles.

Garden outside Museum of Vietnamese History

Museum garden

The building and its gardens are located within Ho Chi Minh City’s picturesque Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens. The museum itself is home to about 30,000 artefacts dating from the early Vietnamese kingdoms to the present day. It represents all of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups, and also showcases ancient art from surrounding Asian countries.

There are plenty of Buddhas, including the most elegant, haunting and unusual Buddha statue I have ever seen (shown at top). It’s from the Mekong Delta, is about 1600 years old, almost three metres tall  and made of sao wood. This divine statue was declared a national treasure in 2013.

IMG_8866

Amitabha Buddha

A year before that, another Buddha statue was declared a national treasure. The Amitabha Buddha is from the Hanoi region and was carved in 1057. It is the largest, most ancient and most intact stone Buddha in existence. It is typical of the Ly dynasty’s culture and art. The museum displays a replica.

Many other statues caught my eye. One was a jade image of a Kṣitigarbha. That’s a bodhisattva, or someone on the path to Buddhahood. A Kṣitigarbha is usually depicted as a Buddhist monk. Another was Tianhou, who became a popular Mother Goddess. She is worshipped in temples throughout the south of the country. We also liked the googly-eyed Buddha from Cambodia.

There’s also a plump, stylised lion from the 12th or 13th century and a head of the mythical bird, Garuda, from the 10th century. Both are carved from sandstone.

But the museum is way more than statues. In fact, it’s been on the receiving end of two important collections. Vuong Hong Sen was a famous researcher of culture and antiquities in South Vietnam. He donated his entire collection of about 800 items dating from the 10th to the 19th century. Likewise, the entire collection of Professor Duong Minh Thoi and his wife, Ha Thi Ngoc, was donated to the city by their daughter after both had died. These collections include pieces from the everyday to the elaborate. 

Games table, Vietnam

Games table and other items from a donated collection

There’s also household goods, tombhouse statues, coins, ancient tools, musical instruments, dioramas of ancient battle scenes, cannons and other weapons, stelae, drums, columns, and clothing. There’s even an unusual base of a lamp stand.

A timber door from the Pho Minh pagoda in the Red River Delta in northeast Vietnam dates from 1262. The door is carved with dragons, waves, foliage and geometric patterns. The museum displays a replica.

Tombhouse statues, Vietnam

The more beautiful the tombhouse statue, the more peacefully an ancestor ‘sleeps’

Overall, Poor John and I were impressed by the breadth of the exhibits, as well as the organisation and signage. Most items are explained in three languages—Vietnamese, English and French. A central exhibit area was being updated when we were there and, other than an overpowering smell of glue, the work was progressing quickly and professionally.

Royal clothing, Vietnam

Royal clothing

3 August 2019 / leggypeggy

Ghost month and its consequences

Painting furniture, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Never enough gold furniture

In a matter of a few weeks, we’ve gone from hot, dry West Africa to hot, wet Vietnam. We arrived two days ago.

Our daughter, Petra, who lives in Ho Chi Minh City, told us not to join the ‘landing visa’ queue on arrival. ‘You already have electronic visas, so go straight to immigration.’

Unfortunately, the guy at immigration thought otherwise. He ignored our e-visas and sent us, along with many others, back to the queue for visas on landing.

Two hours and US$50 later we managed to collect our luggage—two bags sitting on their own next to carousel 2. The fact that the cashier for visas managed to disappear for long periods of time added to the delay. Luckily the airport had wi-fi, so I was able to let Petra know about the hold up. And Poor John reminded me it wasn’t as bad as the last time we entered Vietnam when we were stuck overnight at the border.

Anyway, Petra was puzzled and annoyed by this change of system. It had worked perfectly well for others in the past. She discussed the matter with her work colleagues and speculated that it was because immigration hadn’t reached its financial quota in July.

Nope, her colleagues were confident that it was because ghost month had begun and ‘it’s bad luck not to pay your fees because the spirits of your ancestors will get you’. Below I’ve added a short explanation about the annual Ghost Festival observed in much of South East Asia.

After leaving the airport long after dark, we were pleased to find one of the two taxi companies Petra had recommended. She said the ride would take about 30 minutes and the fare should be about 140,000 dong (or less than A$10). One guy pretended to be from a recommended company, but his offer of a $25 fare exposed him as a fake.

Our taxi got us to Petra’s place for 139,000 dong. I managed to take a couple of pics along the way, including one of a furniture showroom/workshop where two fellows were adding gold paint to chairs.

Yesterday was a chance to settle in. We explored the nearby markets and treated ourselves to pho (the famous Vietnamese noodle soup) and a watermelon juice (less than A$5 each).

We’re in the Mekong Delta now and it’s pouring with rain.

Ghost Festival
The Ghost Festival is held during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon. During this month, it is believed that the gates of hell are opened and ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who forgot to pay tribute to them after they died, or those who were never given a proper ritual send-off.

In Vietnam, this festival is known as Tết Trung Nguyên. It is a time to pardon the condemned souls who have been released from hell. The ‘homeless’ should be ‘fed’ and appeased with offerings of food and, presumably, the extra $50 for visas we already had.

Pho and watermelon juice, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Pho and watermelon juice

28 July 2019 / leggypeggy

Smiles always win the day

African smilesAfrican smiles

Let’s be honest—life in Africa can be tough, really tough.

In the course of our travels, I’ve met people who don’t have jobs but who want to work. Others have been employed, but don’t have enough money to send a brother or sister to school. Some find it hard to look after a parent who is blind or unwell. And way too many are generally unwell.

African smilesAfrican smiles

There are people who have lost family members to AIDS or horrific road accidents. We came down a mountain road to find an overturned/crushed ute (pickup) that had been fully loaded with passengers. It had toppled over a missed curve. Hard to believe that anyone survived.

Yet, in the face of all this hardship and heartache, Africans still manage to smile.

So this post is about the many smiles we saw this year. As I go back through photos, I’ll probably find more, but these are here to brighten your day.

P.S. We are back in Australia now, but heading to Vietnam later this week to visit Petra, the daughter who lives there on a diplomatic posting. You can expect a mishmash of postings that cover Africa, Vietnam and everything in between.

African smiles

19 July 2019 / leggypeggy

Let’s go shopping—the Ivory Coast

Nassian market, Ivory CoastNassian market, Ivory Coast

In the comments on my last post, fellow blogger Sharon Bonin-Pratt asked what we ate most of the time on this most recent African trip.

Overland travel and camping in Africa means we were almost always shopping in local markets (proper supermarkets are rare outside the big cities in West Africa).

Generally, the markets have tinned goods and fresh items that are in season and abundant. In all our African travels—now and 10 years ago—the most widely available fresh ingredients have been tomatoes, onions and eggs, eggs and more eggs.

You don’t want to know how many eggs I’ve eaten over the three months of this trip. Oh okay, I’ll confess. We usually bought eggs in trays of 30 and usually bought two trays a day—for just over 20 people.

Nassian was an exception—they didn’t have any eggs. This village was our first food shop in the Ivory Coast. Luckily it wasn’t my group’s turn to shop and cook, so I was free to tag along and take photographs. Frankly, I love markets and could bore you with pics of every market I’ve ever visited.

The Nassian market was quite basic, but still sold an array of food, clothes, tools, toiletries, fabric, towels, fans, luggage and more. Potatoes were on sale, which was rare at this time of year. Two local fellows even bought a live goat.

Nassian market, Ivory Coast

Carrying a goat

Goats to market, Nassian market, Ivory Coast

Goats to market

Orange shop, Nassian market, Ivory Coast

I was delighted to see an Orange phone shop across the road from the market. I bought one of their SIM cards in Bondoukou when we first entered the country, but I ran out of time to get in activated—too many people in the queue in front of me. So after photographing the Nassian market, I made a beeline to the fellow sitting out the front.

He didn’t understand any of my French or even any of my charades trying to explain what I needed. Turned out he didn’t work there and was just sitting in the shade of the large umbrella. I suppose he spoke the local language, but not French. As it turned out, I never managed to activate the SIM for the Ivory Coast.

Most of the pics don’t have captions, but you’ll see what’s going on.

P.S. Do you ever have the good fortune to shop in a local/farmer’s market?Nassian market, Ivory Coast

Nassian market, Ivory Coast

Weighing potatoes