Lawrence Hargrave and Henry Lawson

December 29, 2013

Norman Lindsay was a writer and artist at the beginning of the 20th century.  His involvement as an illustrator and writer in the Bulletin and Lone Hand magazines, as well as his separately published stories and art, have made him one of Australia’s best known artists.  In 1911 he and his literary colleague J.H.M. [John Henry Macartney] Abbott had a brief but enduring encounter with Hargrave that, arguably, influenced his approach to consider looking for evidence through archaeological excavation.

Figure 2.  Norman Lindsay's depiction of the engraving of the 'Spanish Proclamation'

Figure 1. Norman Lindsay’s depiction of the engraving of the ‘Spanish Proclamation’

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Gordonvale scarab – 3

February 10, 2013

For the earlier parts of the Gordonvale scarab story go to Part 1 and Part 2.

A practical joke?

This leads me to propose that that finding of the scarab was a practical joke.  Not singling out Isaac Brown or any unnamed perpetrator, we have a well that needs re-digging on a property either immediately before, during or maybe even just after the Great War.  The standard process would be [1] hoaxer brings scarab in his pocket, [2] chucks it in hole when no one is looking, [3] innocent pulls up a spadeful of dirt and sees scarab, [4] hilarity ensues, [5] culprit confesses, [6] revenge plotted.  That would work anywhere in Australia.  In Gordonvale, however, the joke has added meaning and irresistibility, because it and Egypt are the only two places on Earth where you get money for digging up scarabs.

I would argue that the standard joke was given a much sharper edge in the Gordonvale area, precisely because farmers would have been aware of the double meaning of the scarab beetle.  For the joke to work the scarab has to be so out of place and incongruous that it cannot have been mistaken for a rock.  Therefore a fairly large one was required.  When it was dug up, the joke worked on three distinct levels. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordonvale scarab – 2

February 10, 2013

For the first part of this discussion go to Part 1.

Clive Morton’s account

Almost all mentions of the Gordonvale scarab say that it was found when digging a well in 1910, 1911 or 1912.  In a paper held by the Mulgrave Settlers Museum local historian and author Clive Morton offered a slightly different account.  He says

The Egyptian scarab beetle above was dug up at Napiers property at Packers Camp between 1912 and 1915.  The Napiers tried to draw water from nearby Mackeys Creek with a windmill and a pipe buried under the dirt road and into what came to be called the Pump Hole which was a favourite swimming hole up until the 1950s when it silted up.  Napiers found that the pump would not draw and they asked for expert advice. This came from either Muir chief engineer of Mulgrave Mill and later a water driller or a man called Ebrington. The advice was to lower the suction pipe under the mill to assist with drawing the water which they did and the scarab beetle came up with one shovel full of dirt.  Claims that Isaac Brown a local man brought a fake scarab beetle home from the Middle East during WW1 are wrong because he did not get to the Middle East as his troop ship returned to Sydney from a day or two on the way when the war ended.  [Morton no date]

Morton’s additional detail is important – it provides an exact find location, the property owner and clarifies that it took place when an existing windmill pump drawing water from Mackey’s Creek was being repaired.  The scarab came from what seems to have been the first spadeful of dirt.  The date is later than that usually cited, and there is an interesting, unprompted mention of Isaac Brown, who could not have planted it as a hoax. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordonvale scarab – 1

February 10, 2013

The Gordonvale scarab is one of two found in remote Australian locations that are frequently brought forward in support of secret visitor claims.  The other, the Daly River scarab from the Northern Territory, is much better known, and has already been discussed in the Secret Visitors Project.

While the Gordonvale scarab appears to have been known about in that part of northern Queensland for decades, it only achieved publicity from about 1985 through Marilyn Pye’s investigations of alleged Egyptian sites near Walsh’s Pyramid, a naturally pyramidal mountain near Gordonvale.  Since then it has been cited either in conjunction with Pye’s other claims or been picked up by others as demonstrating Egyptian presence in far north Queensland.

In this post, and the two following, I want to take a close look at the Gordonvale scarab and put forward what I think are the key elements of its discovery, and why it should not be considered as proof of Egyptian contact.

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Lawrence Hargrave’s Spanish Sydney – new paper

December 8, 2012

I’ve just had a new short paper published in the December 2012 issue of Placenames Australia, which is the excellent quarterly newsletter of the Australian National Placenames Survey [ANPS] .  This organisation is supported by the different state and Commonwealth place name gazettal boards, to capture the history and meaning of the different toponyms around Australia.  These provide a rich landscape archaeology of successive occupations from indigenous people to the present.

The paper is ‘Lawrence Hargrave’s Spanish Sydney’, and it is about his belief that Lope de Vega landed in Sydney in c.1595, in the ship Santa Isabel [or Ysabel], after separating from the rest of Mendana’s expedition to the Solomons Islands [Gojak 2012].  Hargrave believed that place names around Sydney and Torres Strait supported his case.  According to him the Spanish named various parts of Sydney Harbour and the surrounding coast they explored, and these names were adopted by the Aborigines.  Later, after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, it was assumed that these were Aboriginal names.  Hargrave annotated about two dozen of these into his evolving text for his book on Lope de Vega, added them on maps and charts and in amongst his voluminous correspondence.  A further list of names was ready to hand, presumably ones for which he was still searching for an origin.

You’ll have to read the paper for the full list [download of all the ANPS Newsletters is free], but just one example shows Hargrave’s logic follow.

In 1900 heavy storm surges had eroded or stripped grassed dunes, leaving behind exposed dense beachside scatters of Aboriginal artefacts.  These were written up by Etheridge and Whitelegge [1907].  A few years, in 1914, later Australia was hosting the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and a variety of excursions were offered to the delegates.  One took in Kurnell, on Sydney’s southern outskirts, for a visit to Captain Cook’s landing place, and a side trip to Quibray Bay, on the Botany Bay side of the Kurnell Peninsula.  At Quibray Bay one of these desne artefact scatters had been exposed.  Hargrave’s copy of the conference handbook is annotated on the page describing the tour.  He notes ‘quibra’ is Spanish for ‘crack’, as in Quibray is ‘the flint cracking place’.  Seemingly unaware of the Etheridge and Whitelegge paper, he may have otherwise wqondered why this place was so named, when they record the same storms having exposed Aboriginal artefact scatters on many beaches all along the coastal area of Sydney, and Quibray was perhaps one of the more modest.  Quiebra acloser meaning is to break or fail, rather than crack.

Hargrave didn’t speak Spanish, but did get assistance from Captain Bertram Chambers of the Royal Australian Navy.  Its not clear how good Chambers’s Spanish was, but he seems to have been a speaker of the language rather than a writer or reader.

This was just another example of how Hargrave’s obsession with the inherent truth of his belief clouded his judgement, allowing him to selectively pick at different facts, and twist them until they matched his belief.


Etheridge, Robert and Thomas Whitelegge 1907
‘Aboriginal workshops on the coast of New South Wales, and their contents’, Records of the Australian Museum, vol. 6 [4], pp. 233-250.  Available here.

Gojak, Denis 2012
‘Lawrence Hargrave’s Spanish Sydney’, Placenames Australia: the newsletter of the Australian National Placenames Survey, December 2012, pp. 3, 6-8.  Available here.

Kariong – when were the glyphs found?

October 22, 2012

‘When were the Kariong engravings produced?’ has been the focus of nearly all the discussion about this site.  Another question that asks something slightly different is ‘When were the glyphs found?’.  Although it is most important to determine their actual date, we also need to know the date at which the glyphs were first brought to public attention.  In 1983-4 a National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger apprehended a man at the site with a chisel, and freshly carved engravings was observed by a rock art conservation specialist.  If we take that as the date of confirmed public discovery, when everyone in the pro- and con- camps agrees that they existed,  how much further back can we push knowledge of them?  This can lead to a better appreciation of when they were made and the way that dating evidence can be interpreted.

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Kariong hieroglyphs – press release

October 21, 2012

I’ve limited my mentions of the Kariong hieroglyphs to date, mainly because its a big topic and because there are lots of other places on the Internet you can go to to see both sides at work.  So far I’ve mainly posted on Kariong clips on Youtube here and most recently here.  There are plans for a comprehensive treatment, but work has got in the way, so while there is a lot in draft, very little has actually appeared on this site.

A few days ago I got contacted about the Kariong glyphs by a Newcastle, NSW, journalist.  The main advocate for the authenticity of the engravings – Hans Dieter von Senff – had issued a press release to a host of news agencies about the site and some new discoveries he had made there.  Iwas asked to comment, and gave a fairly general answer about my overall studies rather than the claim, since I had not seen the press release as yet.

I thought it might be useful, while the news is still ‘hot’ to call your attention to it.

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