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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

 

104 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Eliza Ayres / Sep 15 2019 10:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal and commented:
    The outback looks like a vast empty canvas for this kind of work. Fascinating…

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Sep 15 2019 10:33 pm

      Thanks so much for the reblog. Always appreciated. You’re right, our outback is the perfect landscape for this kind of artwork.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. ralietravels / Sep 15 2019 10:31 pm

    Thanks. It’s both fun to see and to contemplate how it was done.

    Like

  3. Anna / Sep 15 2019 10:32 pm

    Wow I had no idea! Looks interesting. I can still remember being a kid during the time of the “crop circles”. I remember watching the 60 minutes story on it and not sleeping for weeks afterwards convinced aliens did them. Lol. I think it’s safe to say the aliens did not do Marree man. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

  4. fragglerocking / Sep 15 2019 10:35 pm

    Love it when someone does something this much fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 15 2019 10:37 pm

      It is fun. I wish the creator would speak up. The South Australian government has recently agreed not to prosecute for vandalism or graffiti.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. beth / Sep 15 2019 11:49 pm

    That is so very cool

    Liked by 1 person

  6. lexklein / Sep 15 2019 11:50 pm

    The fact that it’s not even widely known about is the coolest part – both in the early days and seemingly even now. Nowadays we seem so swamped with information about every little thing, so it’s fun to find something a little mysterious out there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 7:36 am

      It’s such an intriguing story. I wonder if anyone will ever tell the whole story. The relevant governments have said the creator won’t be prosecuted for vandalism or graffiti!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. beetleypete / Sep 16 2019 12:07 am

    Glad to hear that it was restored. Whatever the background to its creation, it is certainly impressive.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 7:37 am

      I love the fact that someone comes up with these ideas and then just does it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sy S. / Sep 16 2019 12:20 am

    And where are the Marree Women, Children, Herding Animals, Dogs… to go along. Ok, very interesting and yes only can be fully appreciated for viewing by airplane tours of the area.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 7:38 am

      You’re right Sy. There’s certainly room to add a dog.

      Like

  9. kunstkitchen / Sep 16 2019 1:24 am

    Just saw the Marree Man in an article. Thanks for the history on this fascinating Glyph. Luck that you have seen it too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 7:39 am

      When I heard the interview on the radio, I was so hoping that one of our flights would include it. Marree Man wasn’t mentioned on our itinerary, so it was a fingers-crossed wish.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Gilda Baxter / Sep 16 2019 3:35 am

    How fantastic to be flying over this giant…see it from above in all its glory and also flying around the great outback in a small plane. Brilliant! I live very near the Cerne Abbas giant in Dorset, another mysterious figure.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. macalder02 / Sep 16 2019 4:13 am

    I had no knowledge of these figures in the field. With your travels, let’s inclement our culture and, not to mention geography. The drawings are similar to the Nazca lines that are of pre-Columbian origin that were developed before the arrival of the Spaniards in America in 1492. A chronicle, like all yours, of the most interesting. Regards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 7:42 am

      Thanks so much. You have reminded me that we’ve flown over the Nazca Lines. I must write about them too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • macalder02 / Sep 16 2019 7:52 am

        That would be very interesting to read.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 10:05 am

        I’ll have to find the photos. They’re on a different computer.

        Like

  12. Melanie B Cee / Sep 16 2019 4:21 am

    Wow!!! 😐

    Liked by 1 person

  13. IreneDesign2011 / Sep 16 2019 5:17 am

    Impressing figure, Peggy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Chris Riley / Sep 16 2019 7:58 am

    Wow, I’ve never heard about this. Amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Vicki / Sep 16 2019 9:10 am

    Very impressive and I’ve never heard of it either. Thanks for sharing, Peggy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 10:04 am

      You’re most welcome. Worth checking out the ABC interview with Phil Turner. It’s on their website.

      Like

  16. Julie Manley / Sep 16 2019 10:19 am

    Somebody got bored and decided to try out their new GPS on their tractor… (GPS was first introduced in cars in 1990, so possible? Who knows.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 11:22 am

      Based on the width of it, the creator would have had to driven around about five times. Oh the patience.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Lynette d'Arty-Cross / Sep 16 2019 10:51 am

    That’s great. 🙂 It’s good to know that there are still people who do the whimsical.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. mistermuse / Sep 16 2019 12:36 pm

    What type of surface are we talking about here? I doubt that it’s sand, because the Marree Man would’ve been covered over by the first sandstorm that came along. If it’s rock, it must be very porous rock for such a large undertaking to have been completed in a relatively short time period. If it’s just plain dirt, the word “furrows” would seems more appropriate than “grooves” (but perhaps that’s nitpicking).

    In any case, very interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 1:17 pm

      I haven’t found a source that explicitly identifies the surface, but Wikipedia says, ‘While there is a layer of white chalk material slightly below the red soil, the figure was not defined to this depth.’ So I’m guessing very hard-packed soil.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mistermuse / Sep 16 2019 9:13 pm

        Thank you — your guess makes the most sense to me too.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Sherry Thomas / Sep 16 2019 12:37 pm

    Thanks for your great insight. I am in Sri Lanka with Sharon then Borneo and Bali. Back mid October. Would be great to chat when I get home. Love to you and Poor John

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 1:18 pm

      Have a wonderful time and give our regards to Sharon. Does she need any West African money? I might have some. Chat in October.

      Like

  20. Brian Lageose / Sep 16 2019 1:01 pm

    This is extremely fascinating. And yes, I did ponder about the penis. Thank you for your consideration with including the statistic… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Alison and Don / Sep 16 2019 2:11 pm

    Oh this is so fabulous! I’d never heard of it. Lucky you to get to fly over it. I love the mystery of it.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  22. A Mindful Traveler / Sep 16 2019 2:11 pm

    I had no idea about this mysterious man! So very interesting Peggy. It’s nice to have a bit of mystery, some things are best left unsaid. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Emma Cownie / Sep 16 2019 5:31 pm

    Fascinating post, the 1990s was an era of all sorts of “unexplained” patterns on the landscape like those crop circles. You don’t see them anymore so this was quite a treat to see it’s still here and people want to preserve it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 6:15 pm

      There’s a big business now in flights over the Marree Man. Poor John even wondered if it was done by a charter pilot. hahaha

      Liked by 1 person

  24. thewonderer86 / Sep 16 2019 5:58 pm

    This is so amazing. Just the man himself, without all the mystery of whodunnit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2019 6:15 pm

      Yes, I agree. Wonderful that someone, or many someones, actually did it.

      Like

  25. paolsoren / Sep 16 2019 9:49 pm

    That’s a new one for me. I’ve been up that way but no one said a word – maybe it just wasn’t the right time. Thanks very much for the pics.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Jolandi Steven / Sep 16 2019 11:58 pm

    Ah, I love this Peggy. Such a great whodunnit, and glad you not only found out about it, but also managed to see it. And of course share it!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Phil Huston / Sep 17 2019 1:30 am

    The really crazy thing, aside from the inclusion of a penis, is that this sort of thing done thousands of years ago are with us still, and something done with current technology is fading after 15 years. For my money all the crop circles and all that, meh. Stonehenge? The Pyramids. The mountain top stuff in Chile? Somebody needs to ax in how THOSE happened. And Stonehenge. Nobody knows? Really? How long have people been on the island, anyway and the thing just showed up on Vardoogle’s farm one day? Please…
    The nod to “natives” and their contributions is a nice touch. And the plane ride…have we been reading the same books?

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 17 2019 1:13 pm

      Your comments always make me laugh. So what are you reading? I’m on The dogs that made Australia.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phil Huston / Sep 18 2019 7:57 am

        I’m reading a Nelson Demille, which has inspired me to write the current crop. What I was alluding to though was the bush pilot (something I know nothing about but am writing anyway) and your bush pilot adventures.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Sep 18 2019 12:01 pm

        I have a few more bush pilot adventures to tell, plus I grew up in my dad’s DC-3.

        Like

  28. Forestwood / Sep 17 2019 1:18 pm

    Incredible feat, and I totally love the mystery that came along with it. Fascinating. Worth a share!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. gerard oosterman / Sep 17 2019 2:01 pm

    400 metres long penis? Who measures? It is not the size, you know!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 17 2019 3:47 pm

      Hahahaha! Don’t know who measured it, but I felt obliged to report it.

      Like

  30. CarolCooks2 / Sep 17 2019 7:36 pm

    I love a mystery it would take all the magic out of it if the artist was known…I was always fascinated by the crop circles I didn’t buy the alien stories though…haha…Great post, Peggy I love hearing about these little known mysteries 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 17 2019 10:06 pm

      The mystery is the best bit. I hope when the Marree Man starts to deteriorate again that someone is just as keen to restore it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • CarolCooks2 / Sep 17 2019 11:27 pm

        I hope so also, Peggy as any such artifacts should be restored and kept for future generations 🙂 x

        Liked by 1 person

  31. indianeskitchen / Sep 18 2019 4:53 am

    What fun! Not knowing is the best part!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. shawnthompsonart / Sep 18 2019 12:16 pm

    Very interesting!!

    Liked by 1 person

  33. The Whitechapel Whelk / Sep 19 2019 4:57 am

    Fascinating piece. Can you lend us any money? We’re running short and don’t have enough to buy cat food. A few hundred dollars would be greatly appreciated. Without your largesse, the cat will surely perish. Could you live with that on your conscience?

    Liked by 1 person

  34. kkessler833 / Sep 20 2019 8:24 am

    Wow! Fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

  35. afterthelasttime / Sep 20 2019 12:16 pm

    You two/four are fortunate! I read about this amazing artwork a while back so I’m envious you got a birds eye view! From my reading it seemed to me the artist from the NT was the creator however surely he had CO-conspirators!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 21 2019 9:13 am

      Good to know you were aware of this. Who ever did it must have had some co-conspirators.

      Like

  36. J.D. Riso / Sep 21 2019 1:16 am

    Wow, Australia’s own version of the Nazca Lines. Very cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. tony / Sep 23 2019 4:34 pm

    Fantastic Peggy! Great story and great description of it. Love the photos.

    Tony

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Sep 23 2019 7:32 pm

      Thanks Tony. We felt so lucky to be able to see this masterpiece.

      Like

  38. jeanleesworld / Sep 24 2019 8:11 pm

    What a fascinating creation, and I love how it’s dedicated to the Aborigine. I hope the restoration goes well!

    Liked by 1 person

  39. chattykerry / Sep 25 2019 6:34 am

    That’s fascinating, Peggy, especially since it’s still a mystery. I think it’s nice to still have some mysteries in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. notesoflifeuk / Sep 30 2019 4:36 am

    I haven’t heard of this one before, but there’s a similar, very old one, on a hill here in the UK (outlined in chalk, I think).

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 30 2019 7:08 am

      Many people in Australia haven’t heard of the Marree Man. I think the UK has several large figures.

      Like

  41. barkinginthedark / Oct 3 2019 8:41 am

    another wonderful mystery. continue…

    Liked by 1 person

  42. doublegenealogytheadoptionwitness / Oct 6 2019 10:56 pm

    Great to begin the day with something out of the blue, unknown to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 6 2019 11:00 pm

      Very happy to share. I hadn’t known about the Marree Man until a few weeks before our trip there.

      Liked by 1 person

  43. Polmeetsworld / Oct 8 2019 7:45 am

    I know the Nasca Lines in Peru, which I visited, but didn’t know there is something similar in Australia, great pictures. I see you also been around the world so many countries on your blog and so many followers, wow impressing

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 8 2019 2:50 pm

      Thanks. I see from your blog that you have travelled a lot too. Way to go!

      Liked by 1 person

  44. Sharon Bonin-Pratt / Oct 19 2019 2:24 am

    Man marks the world with mystery and a little mayhem. Much fun to think about this modern whodunit regarding The Maree Man.

    (Intentional alliteration – hope you don’t mind.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 2 2019 7:40 pm

      Oh my, how did I miss this comment. I must have been travelling again. Mystery and mayhem sit well with me.

      Like

  45. Thom Hickey / Nov 2 2019 5:59 pm

    Now that’s a fascinating tale!

    Regards Thom

    Liked by 1 person

Trackbacks

  1. The Marree Man—a modern whodunnit in Australia — Where to next? – Truth Troubles
  2. Sculpture in the middle of nowhere | Where to next?

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