Written by Penelope Debelle
This article and the excerpts and photograph below, show that the Marree Man is a detailed portrait of a Pitjantjatjara tribe hunter from northern South Australia.


THE EVIDENCE SUGGESTS MARREE MAN WAS CREATED BY PEOPLE WITH EXPERT KNOWLEDGE OF ABORIGINES - An academic says the huge carving in the South Australian desert is culturally accurate, writes Penelope Debelle.

Anthropologists in South Australia are arguing over the cultural authenticity of the desert drawing known as the Marree Man, which may be more accurate than first believed.

A possible source of the drawing has also been identified by an anonymous South Australian academic who discovered similar photographs in journals of the Royal Society of South Australia from the early 1900's. (See below)

The figure looks to have been an amalgam of the body of a man photographed in the distinctive throwing stance depicted in the desert drawing and the head of another man wearing a headband and chignon.

The Marree Man, gouged out of red soil on a remote plateau 60km outside of the town of Marree on the Oodnadatta track, is the world's largest known art work but its authorship is unknown.

It is about 4km long and its scale is so vast it has to be appreciated from the air.

The creators meticulously and secretly surveyed the man's outline using a satellite based global positioning system then ploughed the figure into the earth where it was discovered by accident last July. No crime was committed and police investigations have been dropped but intense curiosity remains about who did it and why.

"At least 80% of the people who stay here at some point in our conversation will mention the Marree Man and ask a question or two," says Ms. Susan McGuire, proprietor of the Marree Hotel.

Detailed information sent to THE AGE disputes the judgement by South Australian Museum anthropologist, Dr. Philip Jones, that the figure was "cartoon-like" and culturally incorrect. It also challenges Dr. Jones' contention that the figure was holding a boomerang whose shape could not be clearly seen.

Instead of the weapon looks to be a throwing stick that historic records say were used by some South Australian desert Aborigines to throw into flocks of small birds.

An accompanying letter written by a South Australian anthropologist - and a member of an academic community still scarred by bitter divisions over who said what during the Hindmarsh Island bridge affair - says this is the strongest clue yet to who did it.

"Considering the size of the object, many details are astonishingly accurate, such as the perfect posture of the non-throwing hand in standard Aboriginal throwing technique, the perfect placement of chest initiation scars and the excellent representation of the hair ties," the letter said.

The writer concludes this level of knowledge points either to Aborigines themselves, or more likely, to those familiar with details of desert Aboriginal culture, " e.g. my own anthropological community".

But Dr. Jones, a published authority on boomerangs, said the Marree Man's characteristics - his beard, chignon, and chest scars - put him in a cultural region, namely the central desert, that did not use throwing sticks for hunting.

"You are looking at an image that amalgamates discordant elements together," Dr. Jones said. "So why be surprised that here is this central Australian figure using an artefact from south-eastern Australia?"

Contract pilot Mr. Mark Koster said the figure is still visible although its outline has blended in more with surrounding land.

Mr. Koster marvels at the ingenuity that went into the figure and is amazed that, having gone to so much trouble, no one has claimed it.

"I love it," Mr. Koster said, "I've seen it hundreds of times now and it never fails to amaze me that they'd go to so much trouble. Incredible stuff."

Notable similarities with Marree Man

A South Australian anthropologist says the notable similarities between the Marree Man and the throwing stance of the figure (Far Left) and the distinctive hair style of the Man (Right) provide clues to who made the drawing.

Pictures courtesy of Royal Society of South Australia.



The photograph from "The Red Centre" which may be the inspiration for the Marree Man.

"The Red Centre" by H.H. Finlayson

An excerpt from chapter 7, page 47 of  "The Red Centre" describing men hunting wallabies with throwing-sticks, as shown in the photograph.

"It is a time of most stirring appeal. The world seems full of flame and smoke and huge sounds; and though the heat is terrific, yet one is scarcely conscious of it. In the few tense moments that remain before they break into frenzied action and frenzied sound, I watch the line of hunters. The boys can scarcely control their movement in their excitement; the three men, muscled like greyhounds, are breathing short and quick; they swing their weight from foot to foot, twirling their throwing-sticks in their palms, and as they scan the advancing flames their eyes glow and sparkle as the climax of the day draws near. It is their sport, their spectacle, and their meat-getting, all in one; and in it they taste a simple intensity of joy which is beyond the range of our feeling."

Another excerpt from chapter 8, page 57 of  "The Red Centre" showing the source of the quote on the plaque buried near the Marree Man.

"The first interest of the [Aboriginal hunter] is the getting of game, and his activities as a hunter have undoubtedly built into his make-up, both physical and mental, much that is most admirable, and most distinctive.

Ritual, ceremonies, magic, and the interchange of traditional lore may play a big part in the brief life of his corroborees and gatherings, but when the semi-solitary wandering which makes up most of his life is resumed, he takes up again the absorbing problem of food-getting, and becomes of necessity and intensely keen student of all that makes up the animal life of his environment. His attainments in these pursuits are extraordinary; a constant source of wonderment and admiration to all who can in any measure appreciate the difficulty of the problems he is constantly solving with certainty and ease.

His skill as a hunter is largely based on his powers of observation. These again depend on his ability to receive and retain, very swiftly, visual impressions of extraordinary minuteness of detail - a faculty which few adult whites retain."