In 1963 a brass plate covered with Egyptian designs was discovered at Geraldton, on the northwest coast of Western Australia. Whats more, it was uncovered during an excavation and was pulled up from a pit from below the present water level. The find was reported to explorer and believer in the Egyptian discovery of Australia, Michael Terry. My question is ‘why have we not heard more about this amazing find?’ To find out why, read on… Read the rest of this entry »
‘During 1931, Professor A.P. Elkin, then Professor of Anthropology at Sydney University, visited the north-west Kimberley region of Western Australia to make a field study of the Aboriginal cultures thereabouts. He came upon a strange tribe of Aborigines whom he soon found had never before seen a white man. Not only was the professor astounded when tribal leaders greeted him with secret Masonic hand signs, he was struck by the startlingly Semitic features present in the natives.
‘Prof. Elkin soon discovered that the natives worshipped the Sun, that they also had an Earth Mother and Rainbow Serpent cult, and that they practiced mummification of the dead. He recorded these and many other customs including the languages of the region. Only later did he discover that many of the words spoken by the tribes were of Egyptian origin.
‘These findings led Prof. Elkin to conclude that at some time in the distant past the Aboriginal culture of the north-west Kimberley had been influenced by visitors from outside Australia – that is, by visitors from the ancient Middle East, notably Egyptians’ [Gilroy 1995: pp. 248-9]
Could this be true? Could one of Australia’s most eminent anthropologists have discovered such convincing evidence of contact with ancient Egyptian sea-farers? And who kept it secret for half a century? What was the story?
In this post I want to look at the claim made by Gilroy about Elkin, but also mentioned by other explorers and travellers that they had met and exchanged Masonic hand gestures with Aboriginal people. It has some currency among secret visitor claims, and gets repeated often enough on the internet to merit discussing. Here are some other examples.
Atlantis Rising Forum – posted 10 May 2004
RBG Street Scholar – posted 25 Feb 2007
Above Top Secret Forum – posted 10 March 2012
In 1963 it was reported in a letter to People magazine that an Egyptian scarab had been discovered by some children while playing beside the road near the Daly River, in the Northern Territory of Australia. This discovery soon featured in articles about secret visitors written by Michael Terry in the mid-late 1960s, was picked up and promoted by Rex Gilroy in the 1980s and 90s, and then perpetuated and spread by the internet in the 2000s. Is it actual proof of Egyptian contact? Is it an actual scarab? Is it actual anything? Read on for the story.
Michael Terry wrote extensively about his explorations. His later travel journalism is less well-known, but probably was much more widely read, in popular mass-market publications like Walkabout and People. It is this material which includes his secret visitor speculations. I have found the following references thus far, but doubtless there are more. This list will be updated when necessary, and any additional references are most welcome.
Terry’s life is documented in his manuscript autobiography, which was completed by his sister Charlotte after his death [Barnard 1987]. A later historian of Northern Territory exploration discusses some of the problems in filling the gaps in Terry’s life, when he had carefully edited the surviving documentary record [Dewar 2009].
Terry’s personal papers largely relate to correspondence from the 1960s-70s and of letters received. He does annotate the date of his reply on many of them, but almost none of his own responses are preserved [NLA 611-1]. In individual posts relating to particular claims I have tried to verify the presumed sequence of correspondence, including letters that are lost.
In a 1967 article on the Egyptian presence in Australia Michael Terry wrote
[i]n February 1964 the tomb of a woman, probably dating back to 1,000 B.C., was found on the site of an ancient city in the Jordan Valley. Examination of the body suggested that eucalyptus oil had been used to embalm it. The only sources then of such oil were the gum-trees of Australia and New Guinea. Now, of course, they are relatively common overseas but only since Baron von Mueller instituted a seed exchange between Australia and other parts of the world … [Terry 1967: p. 21].
As with many of the elusive snippets of information Terry used, no source was provided for this find. The aim of this blog is to track down the source of Australian secret visitor claims such as this, and to work out what the actual evidence is, rather than the snippets that are sometimes misinterpreted and misapplied.
For example, in an earlier post I tried to track down claims that kangaroos had been found in Egypt. As it turned out there had been a misreading of a well-publicised palaeontological finding. Fossils of ancient marsupials, millions of years old, had been found in Egypt but journalists had misunderstood the meaning of this and had focussed entirely upon the marsupial aspect, assuming it inevitably meant kangaroos. In fact, these were the ancestors of the South American opossums, and were only very distantly related to Australasian marsupials. The mistake was readily understandable once I was able to get back to the original source and to do that I had to narrow down the time range by looking at the earliest mention of the mistaken reading, and working backwards from there.
Terry’s gave no source for the information. Having only occurred three years before it was written I had hoped that it would have been based on a news item and readily findable. Could I find it? Would the eucalyptus resin be a mistake, a journalistic flourish, a reliable result?
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].