Australia’s Desert Enigma: Unraveling the Origins of the Marree Man

In June 1998 while flying from Marree to the famous mining town of Coober Pedy in the remote wilderness of South Australia, a pilot noticed a huge, human-shaped geoglyph on a plateau. It has become known as Marree Man, one of Australia’s most baffling whodunnits.

18 September 2023

The vast, sunscorched expanse of South Australia’s outback is home to the Marree Man mystery, one of the nation’s most bizarre modern wonders.

Discovered in 1998 by a pilot named either Trec Wright or Trevor Smith (sources disagree on his name), this colossal geoglyph – one of the largest in the world – depicts a tribal hunter armed with a throwing stick.

From the sky, the sheer scale and precision of the Marree Man elicits awe, and yet its origin remains one of the continent’s greatest puzzles. Also known as Finnis Springs Man – it sits on a plateau in Finnis Springs around sixty kilometres west of Marree – the questions surrounding who created it and for what purpose have intrigued scholars, enthusiasts, and conspiracy theorists alike.

Was it made by local Australian artists aiming to make a grand statement or to draw attention to the once-thriving opal mining region? Could it be the work of American soldiers stationed nearby? Is there another, more mysterious explanation?

Let’s take a ride into the dusty South Australia outback in an attempt to shed light on a truly baffling mystery.

Marree Man: An Outback Oddity

In the sleepy South Australian town of Marree, giant man drawings in the desert are few and far between. Perhaps this is why it has come to national and international attention.

Marree Man is a geoglyph, described as a large design or motif created on the ground, often by arranging or modifying rocks, removing soil or grass to reveal the ground beneath, or by digging shallow trenches.

Geoglyphs are typically made to be viewed from above or from a significant distance. Some of the world’s most famous geoglyphs are the Nazca Lines in Peru, the Sajama Lines in western Bolivia, the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire and the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset.

By comparing images from NASA’s Landsat-5 satellite, it was possible to establish that Marree Man came into being somewhere within a sixteen-day window between May 27 1998 and June 12 1998.

The Marree Man / Finnis Springs Man is generally agreed to be 2.7 kilometres (1.7 miles) tall with a perimeter of 28 kilometres (17 miles) and covers an area of around 2.5 square kilometres, or approximately 620 acres. The outline markings were up to thirty-five metres wide and twenty to thirty centimetres deep.

The geoglyph is depicted holding possibly an ancient throwing stick known as a woomera, or a more commonly-recognised boomerang.

By comparing images from NASA’s Landsat-5 satellite, it was possible to establish that Marree Man came into being somewhere within a sixteen-day window between May 27 1998 and June 12 1998.

Stuart’s Giant: Faxes not Facts

Shortly after the Marree Man was spotted in 1998, anonymous faxes were sent to local media outlets and businesses. These faxes, styled as ‘press releases,’ contained details about the Marree Man geoglyph and its location, drawing significant attention to the phenomenon.

These faxes referred to ‘your State of SA’, ‘the Queensland Barrier Reef’ and mentioned native Australians ‘from the local Indigenous Territories’, terms never used by Australians. They also, bizarrely, mentioned the Great Serpent in Ohio, a prehistoric serpent effigy mound believed to be the largest in the world.

These phrases – along with American spellings and distances in miles rather than kilometres – led researchers to think that the creators of the Marree geoglyph may have been American. It may also have been of Australian origin in an attempt to perpetuate a red herring. As with almost all aspects of the Marree Man mystery, this remains open to debate and conjecture.

Within weeks of the discovery, reports surfaced that a newly dug trough at the site contained a small glass jar, within which was a satellite image of the Marree Man, a note with a U.S. flag emblem, and mentions of Stuart’s Giant and an American apocalyptic cult called the Branch Davidians.

Why Stuart’s Giant?

Those who have studied the Marree Man mystery generally agree that Stuart’s Giant refers to John McDouall Stuart, the first European to traverse Australia from south to north. The faxes also mentioned that the figure was created in honour of Stuart’s efforts, which played a key role in opening up the Australian interior. Despite these clues, the actual creator or group behind the Marree Man has never been conclusively identified, and the story behind these faxes and their senders remains a significant part of the geoglyph’s enigma.

Who Created the Marree Giant Man?

The Marree Man appears to depict a man hunting with a throwing stick (Credit: JohnCarnemolla via Getty Images)

There appear to be two main suspects behind the creation of South Australia’s most perplexing mystery.

American and/or Australian Soldiers

Around 240 kilometres south of Finniss Springs is the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) base of Woomera. One suggestion was that it was a fun parting gift made by the Americans who were training alongside their Australian counterparts. However, why they would choose to travel such a distance for such a massive undertaking is unclear.

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Bardius Goldberg

Bardius Goldberg was an eccentric artist from Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory (around a thousand kilometres north of Marree) and most discussions as to who created Marree Man usually lead to him. However, again there’s no concrete evidence to suggest it was him, just rumours and hearsay. Some have suggested he received a payment of $10,000 from an unknown businessman in Adelaide to fund the project. Others have said he wanted to create an artwork visible from space. Before he died in 2002 he was asked whether he was responsible but refused to confirm or deny any involvement. It was rumoured he admitted it was him on his deathbed, but any supposed confession was undocumented.

Marree Man: Unearthed Yet Unsolved

The Marree Man mystery has long captured the imagination of both locals and international observers. Its immense scale and precise design is hard to fathom, yet, even more tantalising than the artistry itself is the mystery of its origin.

While various theories abound, the true creators and their motivations remain concealed, rendering the Finnis Springs Man not just a massive desert artwork, but also a profound and enduring riddle. As time marches on, and despite restoration efforts and offers of rewards leading to concrete answers, its origins may forever remain Australia’s desert secret.


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