Outback icons the Maree Hotel and William Creek Hotel have led the revival of South Australia’s famous ‘Maree Man’ – the world’s second-largest geoglyph.
Located nearly 800 kilometres due north of Adelaide, in the State’s far north, Maree Man is a mysterious human outline etched into the barren earth near the mostly-dry region of Lake Eyre.
The figure stands 4.2 kilometres tall, with a perimeter stretching 28 kilometres. It was discovered by a pilot in June 1998, and its creator has never been determined.
In July, 1998, the SA Government closed the site due to legal action by native title claimants describing it as “exploitative”. Then environment minister Dorothy Kotz labelled it “environmental vandalism”. The subsequent police investigation lasted just a month, ending with admission there was no evidence of an actual offense committed.
It became a popular tourist attraction, but by 2010 flights over the Maree Man were being reduced due to its noticeable deterioration at the hands of wind and rain.
In 2012 the claim was settled for the Arabana Native Title, encompassing nearly 69,000 square kilometres including both Lake Eyre and the Maree Man.
By 2013 the tourism industry was calling for action before The Man disappeared altogether, but nothing eventuated.
Just 200 km north-west, the nearby William Creek Hotel – as seen in March PubTIC Magazine – has had a connection with the massive figure since its discovery, having receiving an anonymous communication describing its location.
Current owner of the William Creek, Trevor Wright, teamed up with the owners of the local Marree Hotel, Phil and Maz Turner, to save the famous figure before it was too late.
The publicans had the blessing of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, and set to work with surveyors, mapping software and a grader cutting a 10-cm deep furrow into the ground.
The work took from dawn of Monday (15 August) until mid-afternoon the following Friday. Sixty-five-year-old Turner told Adelaide Now he felt “compelled” to help keep the Marree Man alive, both to honour its unknown creator and to endow its virtues (back) on the area.
“I just had the most extraordinary week, following the same sort of tracks the original creator did,” said Turner.
“That will probably last about 15 years. It’s a gift to the indigenous community and they’ve now got the opportunity to look after it.”
Arabana Aboriginal Corporation chairman Aaron Stuart said the organisation would now do its best to preserve the asset.
“We will try to look after [it] the best way we can.”
Turner and Wright did what intrepid entrepreneur Dick Smith was considering doing. Smith revealed he has always been fascinated by the giant figure, and has now pledged to construct an airport in Marree to traffic charter planes and tourists to the area. Visitors to Marree will be able to fly over Marree Man, which is necessary to gain perspective of its massive form.
It is estimated tourism to the area could net about $22 million annually.
While debate over the who, why and how of the figure’s original creator continues, Turner reported he found a significant number of ground pegs that suggest the use of a surveyor’s theodolite.