The small township of Marree in the north of South Australia lies 685km from Adelaide has a population of only 150 people. Formerly a break-of-gauge railway town on the Adelaide-Alice Springs line (which was rerouted to the west in 1980), Marree lies at the confluence of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks. The town remains an important service centre for the large sheep and cattle stations in the area, and for tourists to outback Australia.
On 26 June 1998, a Central Air Services pilot made a remarkable discovery on the south-eastern edge of Lake Eyre, 60km west of Marree. From the air, a huge 4.2km tall figure of an Aboriginal man wielding a throwing stick had been etched into the landscape. A fax sent to media outlets announced the etching as ‘Stuart’s Giant’, named after the explorer John McDouall Stuart who visited the area in 1859.
Shortly after its discovery, the Marree Man was deemed an act of environmental vandalism by native title claimants and the State Government. There was intense speculation as to how the figure came into being, as the 28km-long, 30cm-deep, 35m-wide cutting represented a major engineering feat. Various theories attributed the Marree Man to alien involvement; the Branch Davidian sect; Australian Army engineers who had operated in the area; and departing US Air Force personnel from the Joint Defense Facility at Nurrungar near Woomera.
The most credible lead was taken to the grave by eccentric South Australian artist Bardius Goldberg. Goldberg had apparently told friends that he was responsible for Marree Man. He was known to be interested in creating an artwork that was visible from space, he was familiar with global satellite technology and he had access to earthmoving equipment. Goldberg had supposedly sourced a Panasonic GPS, 600 litres of diesel and a D6 Caterpillar bulldozer from a drilling contractor. Goldberg died in Hahndorf in 2002 without shedding further light on his creation.
After 18 years, Marree Man had faded significantly, until some locals decided to take action in August 2016. With the blessing of the local Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, publicans from the Marree and William Creek Hotels arranged for surveyors and a grader to restore the faded outline of the figure. In doing so, they found 250 of the original pegs that were used to stake out the outline of the man.
Restored to its former glory, Maree Man remains the second largest geoglyph — a large human-made design produced on the ground — in the world (the ‘Nazca Lines’ in Peru are the largest).