BUSINESSMAN and philanthropist Dick Smith is offering a $5000 reward to anyone who can solve one of Australia's most enduring mysteries.

Twenty years after a pilot first spotted The Maree Man - a mysterious large-scale artwork carved into the desert in a remote part of Australia - its origins and the people behind it are still unknown.

The 4km-long artwork was carved into the desert in the north of South Australia, south-east of Lake Eyre. It's widely recognised as the world's second largest geoglyph - a large design produced on ground. It can only be recognised from the air.

The artwork - sometimes also referred to as Stuart's Giant - features a series of dug-out lines carved into the red ground to form an outline of a mythical giant man.

The carving totals 28 kilometres, and makes up the clear shape of what appears to be a hunter with a throwing stick.

People have long sought an explanation for the elaborate artwork's origins.

It was first spotted in 1998 by tour flight operator Trevor Wright who noticed the outline from the air and reported back to the town, which was soon in the grip of theories about its origin.

Everyone from the US Army to local artists are said to have had a hand in creating the figure.

But over the past 20 years no one has been able to determine who created him or why. And no-one has come forward to claim they created the outback masterpiece.

Before the first sighting, a series of tip-offs were sent to the Marree Hotel and Adelaide newspaper The Advertiser. The "press releases" said it "appears to be the world's largest work of art".

Many reports have noted that, strangely enough, the press releases used American spelling and phrasing, referring to "miles" rather than "kilometres".

The iconic Marree Man.
The iconic Marree Man.

 

For the past two years, Mr Smith and his team have worked to pinpoint the origins of the artwork. It was expected to be an effortless operation, given how sparsely populated the district is. But the secrets of how the Maree man came to exist have yet to be uncovered.

Mr Smith believes the artwork takes its design from the outline of an ancient statue of Zeus, and says there is no doubt it was a complicated and expensive job that required a degree of scientific knowledge.

"After two years meeting people, I'm realising that probably one or two weren't telling me the truth," the entrepreneur told The Australian.

"I believe it's quite a few people who did it. I reckon some blokes were standing around in a university or a government ­department and said, 'Hey, we want to test this software, let's go and put a giant like Cerne Abbas in the desert'."

Dick Smith is offering a $5000 reward to trace the origins of a mysterious large-scale Australian artwork.
Dick Smith is offering a $5000 reward to trace the origins of a mysterious large-scale Australian artwork.

Since the artwork was first carved, natural forces have caused the once 35cm-deep outline to erode.

In an earlier interview with news.com.au, Phil Turner, a local publican and vocal campaigner for the preservation of Marree Man, said the piece is becoming decreasingly distinguishable.

"Very little of it remains and it's just devastating," he said.

"There are so many aspects about it which are just mind boggling. The size, its shape, where it's located, how it was done. On top of those things it was just an absolute herculean task, a major effort and it produced an extraordinary work of art.

"The most incredible thing is, we don't know who did it."

But in recent years efforts have been made to restore the artwork using imaging data and a grader.

The Marree Man is technically now owned by the Arabana people, who won native title to more than 800 square kilometres of land north of Marree - including the artwork - in 2012.


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