‘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.
The video clips showing Kariong just keep coming. The first part of the this post gave 14 clips that collectively ran for more than an hour and a half. In the year or so since then another bunch of clips have emerged. Some of these follow the same format of shaky close-ups on the glyphs, which don’t really add much to what you have seen before, and can make you seasick after a while. But there’s a lot more too!. We get the site’s all too brief stardom when it featured in the Tony Robinson’s Australia series. Among other highlights are footage of Val Barrow channelling her spirit guide Alcheringa on the site, and Paul White, who wrote the first articles about the site, presenting part of his dcumentary series from 1993. All together its an interesting mix of scepticism through to wholehearted acceptance as genuine, and its even longer – totalling just under two hours.
As before I present these for your information and enjoyment. If you come across any others, please drop me a line. Until then, take the phone off the hook, uncork that shiraz and enjoy!
Michael Terry is little known now but was one of a small group of adventure-writers who helped to shape Australia’s self image during the 20th century. A genuine explorer, who took advantage of motor vehicles to traverse some of the last desert areas crossed by Europeans in Australia, he helped to open up and map large areas of desert country. In 1961 he discovered unusual rock art at Cleland Hills, west of Alice Springs, depicting stylised faces, which he thought may have indicated ancient foreign contact. From that time on secret visitors became an obsession and he can be credited with collecting many of the stories that were later picked up by Rex Gilroy and others and have become part of secret visitor lore.
Michael Terry wrote in his autobiography of being contacted by Peter Muir, ‘a pen friend for years’, who travelled in Western Australia about potential evidence for secret visitors on Pingandy Station. The station is located about 443 km east of Carnarvon, and due south of Tom Price in the Upper Gascoyne Shire, which puts it hundreds of kilometres from the coast through pretty dry country. Muir had seen an exposed cliff face formed from mudstone along a creek near the homestead that showed markings like lettering. His interest piqued, Terry arranged to visit the site in January 1971 with Muir, took some photos and, as had become usual with him, ‘plagued the erudite for an on-site examination’ [Barnard 1987: 96].
At this stage Terry was talking to Steve Boydell, who was working with the [then] Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies as a site recorder and also Jack Golson, an archaeologist at the Australian National University [611-1-22 Golson to MT 4.8.70]. Terry was referring to the inscriptions at this time as ‘Sanscrit’ [eg NLA 611-1-32 MT to Rouhani 23.12.70]. It may have been either Golson or Boydell who first disagreed with the human origin of the markings. Gilroy would sympathise with Terry about the lettering being cynically dismissed as ‘freak geology’ [NLA 611-1-38 Gilroy to MT 25.1.71].
Preserved correspondence about the site is patchy but Terry got in touch with Dr Barry Fell, of the National Decipherment Center at Arlington, Virginia. According to the biography Fell suggested that this may be a natural formation that took on the appearance of writing – ‘…I am bound to believe that all of them are natural. Some fossils such as Alcamenia hieroglyphica simulate writing to a remarkable degree …’. . While Fell thought no further investigation was required he was sure Australia would display many other contacts from ‘early Egyptian, Libyan, Hindu and Chinese sailors’ [Barnard 1987: 97].
So who was Fell? Dr Bruce Fell of the National Decipherment Center at Arlington sounded impressive. Arlington had military connotations as the site of the National Cemetery, where US war dead may be buried. This sounded very governmental and hush-hush. Almost certainly it conjours up images of large banks of computers, serviced by people in lab coats with clipboards cracking Soviet codes. However, it was nothing so glamorous, and Terry had the bloke’s name wrong. Professor Barry Fell, a New Zealander who was a respected marine biologist at Harvard University, had an epiphany of some sort in the late 1960s which saw him move out of his field and embrace linguistic interpretations of inscriptions and even what were probably random natural markings as indicative of hyper-diffusionist migrations. At this stage there were only inklings of Fell’s later beliefs in large scale migrations, seemingly restricted to meditations on whether Polynesians had reached America in their travels. Fell became notorious during the 1970s and 80s for ‘reading’ a succession of ancient scripts that to him showed a range of African, European and Asian cultures of all periods had made their way to the Americas [Flavin 2011]. His publications America B.C. , three later books and numerous articles published through the Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers [RSNZ 2011] uncritically propagated an extreme view of hyper-diffusionism that was more detached from the evidence than even Rex Gilroy’s most active speculations. Fell remains a posthumous poster-boy for the hyper-diffusionist movement, who usually emphasise his Harvard professorial status to legitimise his views [e.g. Equinox Project 2012].
The blog entry on the engraving site that Lawrence Hargrave called ‘The Spanish Proclamation’ at Meriverie, on the northern headland of Bondi, provides a detailed discussion about its authenticity and likely history of creation. Since it was posted in April 2011 I have come across some additional information about the engraving which adds more to what we can say about it.
Who told Hargrave about the engravings?
The earliest I had tied Hargrave back to the Meriverie engravings was his tracing of 12 March 1910, with a short note a month later jotting down his possibly first inspiration of the symbolic textual message it contained. However, some further work at the National Library at the end of last year adds more to this story.
Hargrave received a letter from [illegible] Kirk of ‘The Ravine’, Ormond Street, Bondi, who had read of Hargrave’s claims in the Sydney Morning Herald in late July-early August 1909. He or she wrote:
After having a look at the Woollahra Pt carvings as a result of your interesting description in the ‘Herald’, I walked across to Meriverie to refresh my memory in regard to the carvings there which I have not seen for some years & with which doubtless you are acquainted. I venture to remind you that they have all the characteristics of those at W. Pt and there can be no doubt were the work of the same people, if not of the same individuals. And if as you surmise they were the work of Spanish adventurers, then those I refer to prove that those gentry travelled at least as far afield as Meriverie & made some stay there. As at W. Pt there are outlines of men and fish, and a similar track of oval markings. Also there are the hulls of two ships but although of antique looking, high pooped built they are in better drawing and probably of later date. They were there however at least 30 years ago & were weatherworn then. I am inclined to think however that some of the glyptic vandals who in late years have been carving initials & dates over the drawings have been adding finishing touches to the ships, touches which I don’t remember as existing when I formerly saw them. [NLA MS 352 ? Kirk to LH 5.8.1909]
Clearly Kirk’s main reference was to the Aboriginal engravings, but their comments on possible additions to the ships is interesting. They push the date of the ships back to before c.1880, which does not challenge the claim made by Peck that they were done by two employees of the Dredge Department in c.1870 [Peck 1929]. Ot is possible that the unfamiliar touches left by the ‘glyptic vandals’ refers to the additional letters.
On this basis we can assume that Hargrave was made aware of the Meriverie site by the letter from Mr or Ms Kirk in August 1909. If he visited it soon afterwards Hargrave would have had some basis for accepting the idea that there was a common hand at work – the Aboriginal engravings are much more abundant than those at Woollahra Point but essentially in the same Sydney engraving style. It was probably before Hargrave obtained a copy of Campbell’s monograph and therefore likely that he formulated the idea of all of the engravings representing the work of Lope de Vega’s men. As with other theories, once he came up with something and fleshed it out to his own satisfaction he was incredibly reluctant to change his mind, regardless of the contrary evidence.
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And yet amongst all of this there were little gems of insight that shone with great intensity. Reading his field notes, you soon realise that where he really wanted to be was among his beloved Pacific islands, rather than in the succession of bedsits and lodging houses on Sydney’s north shore, shouting at the other loud and uncooperative houseguests. Even at the age of 75 when he was carrying plaster across the rickety scaffold at Yasawa he had a discernable vibrancy, of wanting to explore, discover and explain, which I think any archaeologist would respond to when they read it. Amid the reams of newspaper copy and aborted scholarly writing the best, most empathic prose was a short piece he wrote on the fringe dwellers living in bush camps on Sydney’s outskirts. In it he conveyed something of his own lack of fit – these hermits were driven there ‘not by hardship or poverty, that destroys the mind, but incompatibility’ [Vogan Papers: Box 18, 'The Muddlers' manuscript].
Another factor that softened my view of him was that Vogan was also an early advocate for the conservation of rock art. He became a gadfly to Woy Woy Shire Council in particular, constantly lobbying them to preserve the rock engravings in their area, particularly the ‘rabbits’. Although this never eventuated, some protection was ultimately given to the more accessible Bulgandry site nearby.
Go back to Part 1 of Arthur J. Vogan’s story.
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The Yasawa inscriptions fulfilled two critical needs for Vogan. Firstly they were the field credential he had always craved, that could legitimise him as an archaeologist. Almost everything he had written about until then had been someone else’s discovery. Here now was a real archaeological site, in an exotic location that he had found [although see Footnote 5] and adventurously overcame difficulties to record the evidence. Secondly, the Yasawa inscriptions provided a link he could argue existed between the literate civilisations of Asia, specifically the Shang, and the Pacific. While the resemblance between the angular Yasawa motifs and Chinese pictograms is coincidental at best, it looks superficially plausible. The relative dating of this push by Asian peoples into the Pacific at around 1500 B.C. gave Vogan a chronological anchor point to develop further his theoretical connections with early civilisations. Another factor that appealed to Vogan about the inscriptions was their abstraction. Since the 1910s some of his writings had explored various then fashionable by-ways of psychology, symbolism and gnosticism. While he rejected all isms, and was happy to declare himself all but atheistic, he nonetheless maintained an attraction to the essential idea that human psyche could be understood by exploring the earliest languages, religions, writings and other archaeological evidence as symbols reflecting underlying human constants. His writings, particularly the endless newspaper columns often reverted to talking about the links between early religious symbols around the globe. Vogan’s theories were certainly not the only outlandish ones doing the rounds at the same time. If anything they were more reflective of the late 19th century than the between-wars period, but this was no great progress. His belief in symbolism was of it as a fundamental early human psychological trait, rather than an adopted cultural element. In this and other matters he largely disagreed with the claims of the diffusionists such as Perry and Elliott Smith.
The inscriptions were Vogan’s final achievement and the subject of his ‘scholarly’ papers, one in the French language Le Courrier Australien  and the other in the Journal of the Polynesian Society , although some more popular columns in the Fiji Times and Pacific Islands Monthly also set out his findings. Neither is particularly academic, being essentially narrative and rambling at that. His correspondence shows Vogan was wracked with anxiety when writing them and waiting for their publication. In contrast he continued to produce voluminous newspaper copy with relative ease. Vogan used journalism skilfully as a tool of self-promotion. He was often referred to in newspaper copy, which he certainly would have written beforehand, as ‘the well-known archaeologist’, ‘the pioneer Pacific explorer’ and so on. Most of his newspaper articles on a broad range of subjects appeared in fairly obscure publications. While they ostensibly dealt with archaeology or history in their titles they very soon drifted into the spiritual and esoteric. He claimed to anyone that would listen that the Jewish conspiracy had black-balled him from all the major newspapers but what he wrote was dense, wordy, meandering rubbish most of the time. His letters to the editor, however, were usually pretty snappy, if somewhat snippish in tone, while his personal correspondence tended to continually restate a few things that he saw as establishing his status and credibility, such as knowing Sir John Lubbock, later Lord Avebury [1870s as a teenager], working for the Illustrated London News [1880s-90s], being the writer of the only Australian-published book that had ever gone into a third edition [as the Black Police did at the beginning of the century], being in the first ever St Johns Ambulance class [as a youth in London] and so on.
Working through a lifetime’s paper, with the carbons of countless letters, dozens of small notebooks filled with copytext notes on Sumerian- Indian-Chinese-Aztec mythology, boxes of clipped or torn newspaper items, the repetitions quickly became apparent and very hard to face. By the end of the third day I was fantasising what I would say to AJV if I saw him at the Library cafe. I knew his secrets – the girlfriend who said no to marriage and made him seek out the New Guinea expedition so he could die heroically, upsetting Margaret Collingridge’s family with so much anti-Catholic hatred that her mother called in the lawyers, refusing to discount his belief in the truth of the Protocols of the Elders Of Zioneven when trusted friends told him it was a forgery, approving of Hitler well into the war. All these were bullets I could use on this tedious man, who moaned that it was everyone else’s fault except his own that he got nothing done on his research. Vogan’s anti-Semitic racism runs throughout his correspondence from about 1914 onwards, but reached a peak in the mid-1930s, when he ceases to identify Jews as the cause of his, and the wider world’s, pains, and begins to use it as an epithet for anyone he does not like. Those who wrote to him because they thought he was an expert in Pacific history sometimes received letters back that had a paragraph about the topic and then an extended rant about why he was in no position to help them because a conspiracy of the Jewish controlled press had barred him from journalistic work in Australia or because he withstood the wholesale Americanisation of Australian-British culture. Vogan thought Australians wilfully ignorant and often repeated the story that an editor had spiked one of his discovery stories because ‘Australians only want to read about things they can put a bet on’. While some objected to his racist assertions, there were many who clearly thought on the same lines. Along with racism as an easy crutch for his failings with his theory, the lack of academic recognition for his theory led Vogan to see professional archaeology in universities and museums as inherently opposed to ideas that challenged the status quo. To gain their support you needed to belong to the right club, or follow the party line. Seeking to engage and receive support from the recognised experts he quickly became intemperate, accusing them of various ethical shortcomings and severing contact. As a result the few people with whom he remained civil were promoted as the most enlightened scholars imaginable, such as ‘probably the best authority in Australasia, Dr C.A. Monticone, the New South Wales Government hermeneutics expert’ [Vogan 1937: p. 101] who was in reality the head of the NSW Court translation service. Many other examples of both condemnation and praise can be found in his papers.
The Mitchell Library, Sydney, holds the unprocessed collection of Arthur J. Vogan’s personal papers [28 boxes stuffed full of paper]. Vogan is one of the forgotten early archaeologists of Australia, probably the first one to call himself an archaeologist as their primary vocation. He is now forgotten in large part because his theories were so comprehensively wrong. Despite that, he has lots of interest for secret visitor theories. As well as his own efforts to frame a theory for Australian and Pacific settlement, he was a friend of George Collingridge, an enemy of Lawrence Hargrave and corresponded with many people who had any interest in Australian archaeology at the time. Vogan was also a man of complex beliefs – staunchly committed to Aboriginal causes at the same time as being a virulent anti-Semite, Hitler admirer and hater of the ‘smart’ women he increasingly encountered in the early 20th century. I managed to get in some solid time in the Mitchell Library in Sydney a few months back. His papers have allowed me to fill in a gap in our knowledge of Australia’s early history of archaeology.
A previous blog post described the Devils Hands rockshelter along the Shoalhaven River, which was interpreted and incorporated by Lawrence Hargrave into his theories. Since then I have found the correspondence between Hargrave and Walter Hull, who brought it to his attention, in the National Library of Australia.
On 20 August 1910 Walter Hull, of ‘Tolosa’, Beuna Vista Road in the Sydney suburb of Mosman wrote to Hargrave. He was interested in Hargrave’s idea that what was considered to be Aboriginal art had a more complex origin. He included a copy of the photo that had been reproduced in the Lone Hand, having sold them the copyright some time earlier. Hargrave gave a quick and positive reply within a few days, as was his practice, but a month later came back with a much more developed understanding of them.
… Boat shaped marks refer to water journeys, footsteps refer to land journeys and ‘hands’ refer to manual labour. What labour? The search for gold, and it is certain that if Lope de Vega got any gold from near Sydney it was from the Shoalhaven River. The hands or fingers are a record of the number of quills of gold obtained. The Peruvian-Spaniards did not go there by water, they had had enough of the sea and were only interested in the land. The land journey was easy, a few cabbage palms or dry logs would ferry all that it was necessary to keep dry. 14 days would suffice to get there.
The blacks got it hot for the memory to last to our time; and continued opposition would decorate the outskirts of the gold working camps with blakc fellows seated on pointed stakes. [NLA MS 352-6: Hargrave to Hull 22 Sept 1911]
A month later Hargrave wrote again, requesting whether he could use it in his forthcoming latest work. Neither Hull nor the Lone Hand had any issue with it, and it was incorporated in the third Lope de Vega instalment [Hargrave 1911]. Hull set out his belief that the hand stencils reflected foreign influences, asserting that the hands were found only in the Shoalhaven district, which was also cited by Hargrave. Given that Hull’s Mosman home was probably within a few kilometres of many rockshelters with all manner of hand stencils it is hard to know how he made that statement except by remarkable lack of awareness.
In another group of papers in the Hargrave collection there is a small map cut out of the Daily Telegraph of 4 July 1913 showing the proposed Warragamba Dam in Sydney’s west. Hargrave marked it with a red pencil and the annotation ‘Probable track to silver mine and gold river’. The path chosen was along the coast south of Sydney, then along the Shoalhaven, to where it swings southwards and into the Bungonia Gorge. The Spanish travellers then emerged passing the site of Marulan and joining the Wollondilly River, which they followed north into the Burragorang River valley, now submerged by Warragamba Dam. Joining the Nepean River at Mulgoa they then followed this to about Richmond, presumably crossing back to Sydney overland [NLA MS 352-19].
Hargrave sought corroborating evidence for this theory, including writing a letter to the Burragorang Valley school principal, in case he had come across anything of interest. Unsurprisingly, no answer was forthcoming.
As I had supposed, Hull was prompted by Hargrave’s newspaper articles to offer his own idle speculation to what was a surprisingly sympathetic ear. As discussed in the earlier post the quest for gold provided a very useful reason to have Spanish mariners and their Peruvian slaves running around the landscape, and attempting to explain the great quantity of contrary evidence that did not fit his theory. In late 1910 Hargrave was busily working on the third instalment of his Lope de Vega paper, and perhaps if he had more time may have looked harder at the evidence. As it was he put more effort into getting a copy of the Lone Hand picture into his paper than in thinking about the contribution it made to his case.
Greig, A.W. 1909
‘Aboriginal art: with an account of the mysterious rock pictures of the Glenelg District [W.A.]‘, The Lone Hand, 5, 1 May 1909, pp. 42-48.
Hargrave, L. 1911
Lope de Vega: in continuation of previous publications contained in the Journal of the Royal Society of New South Wales, Vols XLIII,XLIV, 1909, 1910, privately published, Sydney.
National Library of Australia
MS 352 – Lawrence Hargrave papers relating to Lope de Vega
Series 6 – correspondence 1908-1910
Series 19 – newsclippings
William Augustus Miles came to Australia to serve as the Superintendent of Police in Sydney. He did not have any particular aptitude for the task and is generally seen to have been a very ordinary administrator. He was reputed to be the illegitimate son of one of the British monarchs and a ‘remittance man’ – recipient of an allowance that obliged him to clear off and keep his head down. Miles was an amateur naturalist and also had undertaken archaeological work in Britain. From when he arrived in Sydney in 1841 until his death in 1851 he was probably the most experienced archaeologist on the continent.
Our interest in Miles rests on his interpretation of Aboriginal rock engravings and cultural connections. These were presented in two papers – one as an appendix to George French Angas’s Savage life and scenes in Australia and New Zealand [1847, also Angas 1877] and the other read to the Ethnological Society of Great Britain, and presented in its Journal [Miles 1854]. They reveal a very speculative but also insightful application of what was then a fairly vague body of theory in relation to Aboriginal origins. The results were totally wrong, wrong enough to make it into the secret visitor category but represent an important early attempt to make sense of the evidence.