The Standing Stones Will Never Stand Still
By Steven & Evan Strong
Special Thanks to Belinda Rich
This site refuses to sit in the background patiently biding its time. Irrespective of our agenda and intention to put the Standing Stones site on hold for the time being, it just keeps coming back into focus regardless of whether we believe a pause in proceedings is needed. We made the mistake of assuming that because the Council-supported subdivision of 465 rural home sites, which also included the property where the Standing Stones Complex is located, was dismissed due to not meeting the basic legal and developmental requirements, the site was safe for now. That did seem to be a reasonable expectation. However, once the rules were changed and a Byron Councillor (Paul Spooner) announced that the subdivision was back on the table for reconsideration, it became obvious that the site is no longer secure when there are investments and profits clamouring at the front gate.
As the compulsory first step, it is time to settle arguments over the actual authenticity of the site. Putting aside issues relating to the meanings, relevance, narratives and advanced technology, there are still many academics and officials who deny that the main mound is sacred and worthy of preservation. Quite simply, they refuse to accept there were ever 184 standing basalt monoliths on that site, end of story. And they have academic reports and scholar’s negative verdicts to prove there is ‘nothing to see here.’ The problem is they are almost right, now, but before September 1955, they are undeniably wrong. Reports after the carnage rarely exceed rehashing the remaining collateral damage, however, anything seen or written before 1955 shares one commonality: massive basalt stones were standing on a mound near Brunswick Heads. That truth is confirmed in many newspaper reports and all of the correspondence we recently received.
Despite that pre-1955 consensus, the critics of today and not long past attribute all of this talk of a huge stone complex as being down to the offending archaeologist, Frederic Slater, fantasising. No doubt this was fueled by the “unbridled enthusiasm”(1) of his colleague when investigating the site. They allege all talk of the site ceased when Slater passed over, and past that point nothing was said or acknowledged until Slater’s personal notes were found by Richard Patterson about four years ago. The rebuttals vilify Slater as a “crackpot”(2) and “dreamer,”(3) who had a tenuous hold on reality and literally dreamed this fabrication up in his idle moments. They are adamant it is a concoction that was thankfully put to bed once Slater was no longer on the scene.
Meticulous Research Versus Scurrilous Rumours
But talk of the mounds never ended when Slater died, far from it. Many Original and non-Original Elders and citizens knew of the site and openly agreed it was the real Original article. The historical records are clear and continuous, no-one ever disputed its authenticity. And that consensus should have remained, in fact, before September 1955 an unconditional acceptance was compulsory. Then a tragedy of monumental proportions came upon this sacred complex, and once that happened the truth left the site and the cynics walked in with blinkers firmly attached.
Before presenting a series of letters and clippings in a semi-chronological sequence, we do need to thank the person responsible for this most recent influx of local documents that mention the Standing Stones. Belinda Rich’s tireless and unpaid work in sifting through countless historical documents held in far north coast Historical Societies has been invaluable, once again. Her latest collection of ten documents picks up from where the last set of documents left off. In combination, although written by different people about varying topics and concerns, what is agreed upon is that the site is real and genuine. But when determining what this Complex meant and how it came into existence, it seems everything revolves around questions about integrity and credentials of the two men who devoted a lot of time, energy and frustration in trying to reclaim what is arguably the most important archaeological site in the world. The ever-present reality is that it comes down to this, if these two men are correct, then that changes everything we thought we knew about human genesis, evolution and earlier history, it is all wrong. If these two men are lying, they are scurrilous deceivers who have insulted the entire Original nation and should be ashamed of themselves.
The documents plead their case very effectively and need little assistance from us, and because of this many quotes selected are lengthy as their testimonies are first or second accounts given at a time much closer to when the site was intact. What they all support, either directly or indirectly, is Slater’s contention that the complex “was the centre of perhaps the highest degree of Aboriginal culture.”(4)
The oldest document copied comes from a time when the larger standing stones were stacked in four rows beside the dairy. Fred Fordham’s reply was to a report sent to him by the President of the Lismore Historical Society (Louise Daley) after two inspections were made by eleven members of their association. It was a glowing commendation of both Fordham and Slater’s research, focusing particularly on the larger rocks removed from the mound by the farmer’s son. The details of four rows of large basalt stones were recorded, colour photographs were taken and the markings described was totally in accord with Fordham’s memory and earlier notes.
Such was the receptive fertile audience of like-minded people, Fordham went further in expanding upon the magnificence of what was there, in sharing with them Slater’s understanding of the importance of the Standing Stones Complex.
“Slater described this ground as the ritual book of this very high degree. In it were told the stories of the first men on earth, their history and their philosophy. He claimed the men who used this ground prior to the coming of the whites, believed in an invisible God and the immortality of the soul. They set up no craven images but within this temple are still to be found the seven elements which are the basis of all knowledge, all science, all history and all forms of writing-which began in numeration.”(6)
Fordham made it clear that his work on this holy site was far from complete. “When I worked on the mound some fifteen years ago the surroundings were quite dry and the mound itself perfectly clean. Took me months to clean it. I charted the position of every stone that was visible on it … There are hundreds buried: but I was not prepared to unearth them … I know I worked all my spare time and I only uncovered the smallest part of the whole show.”(7)
“Every spare moment”(8) was spent by Fordham at this site. He is a highly respected member of the local society, headmasters before the Second War had a standing equal to that of doctors, lawyers etc. He is an intelligent educated man, but the recent critics dismiss him as a fool deluded by Slater, so much so that he deliberately lied about what was on site. Where is the reason for this deception? The money, kudos or fame is in short supply, all they got was grief and hostility. Why bother?
Knowing the archaeology conducted by these locals was entirely sympathetic to Slater and Fordham’s combined efforts, he confided with Louise Daley as to why he was so sure Slater was absolutely correct in his total understanding of the motivations, settings and arrangements that led to this sacred stone complex being made. That “the surroundings were quite dry”(9) troubled Slater, as his notes indicated that was not how things used to be. “Mr. Slater could not understand the dry surroundings. He assured me that when the Aborigines used it as a degree ground it was surrounded by water. I had noticed drains in the vicinity and currently decided that they had been responsible for the dry condition; for I learned from some old hands that in their youth, the water surrounding it was-“waist deep.”(10)
Fordham’s conviction that this was a national monument to the mystical and ancient truths was not just based on the notes Slater had that was penned by Eliza Dunlop. As absolutely truthful as that first-hand document is, there was plenty of local knowledge, or rather a total lack of it, which is proof enough they were right. “Despite criticism I firmly believe that this place was the centre of perhaps the highest degree of Aboriginal culture that existed in the central eastern parts of Australia. That belief is not wholly due to Slater. A full-blood, Dick, from Fraser Island, roughly at the southern end of the Barrier Reef, told Bashford that his father and other old men of his tribe used to come down to this ground, but they would not exactly say where it was. Old Dick said that he and his fellows of similar age and degree had been searching unsuccessfully for it for years. Beyond that he would not comment.
Another full-blood would not discuss it. To my questions concerning it he would reply, “The old men would kill me if I talked to you about it.” Nothing we could offer him would alter his attitude.”(11) That secretive attitude still exists to this day and is the greatest stumbling block in reconstructing this complex.
In closing Fordham’s reply to those who went back to the site validating their earlier research, he once again shared details of an opportunity never fully offered, then misplaced. Talk of the Egyptian “boat and the anchors”(12) is something we have heard often, but never seen. Fordham at least managed to sight half of this ancient maritime package. Once again whether this is a real set of artefacts, or a fabrication used to embellish a “legend,”(13) is entirely up to the honesty of the reporter.
“I did not discover the boat and anchors. I wish I had done so. I should certainly dug beneath them …. The stone anchors were in perfect condition until one of them was split by the mattock of the man who dug them up. These stones were brought to me at the Heads. When I asked to be shown the exact spot as to where they were dug up, I was told that it was “here, somewhere” accompanied by a wave of the arm that covered several square yards. These stones were found about half a mile north of the mound on what was part of an ancient coast line, well sheltered from any south-wester.”(14)
September 9 and 11, 1955-A Stock-take, Roll-call and Reality Check
At that particular time we have the names of eleven people from the local Historical Society who saw the larger basalt stones taken from the mound stacked by the dairy. Added to that attendance sheet we can include the farmer, his three sons and Fordham. But the tally of sixteen is incomplete, as I have personally spoken to a gentleman (whose name we have) who was five at the time and can still vividly remember the stones standing proudly on the mound. Throw in a huge collection of “legends”(15) from “old-timers”(16) and we do not just have Fordham prepared to distort and fabricate, but sixteen other accomplices to this Slater-inspired deceit spread over decades, and all they share is never having met or corresponded with Slater. Why are they all lying? There is no incentive or reward to do so!
This wasn’t, as one university categorised this ‘fantasy’ “Fordham’s Folly,”(17) but the culmination of decades of “legends”(18) of Original Elders and “old hands”(19) that testified to the destruction of one of humanity’s greatest treasures. There is not one dissenting voice or unconvinced critic on the scene before September, 1955, in fact, the first equivocation and hint of slander is still another thirteen years away. Up until then, the Standing Stones Complex is real, magnificent and regrettably, about to disappear, for a while.
At some time soon after, the team of historians and archaeologists inspected the four rows of large basalt standing stones, we suspect it was an almost immediate response, all of the most incriminating evidence was hidden or disposed of. Despite this apparently successful coup-de-grace, knowledge of this site was neither forgotten nor was it the fictional product of two mischievous academics.
The Passing of Years
Admittedly when we next pick up the correspondence trail, it is thirteen years past 1955. And undeniably that same trail has gone ‘cold,’ and the specifics are beginning to fade, but the Dreaming tracks and truth has never left the site. Although many years had passed and the impact of that span in time is apparent in the reply Louise Daley wrote to Captain Fletcher’s inquiries regarding the Standing Stones Complex, there is one recurring theme in her letter that remains consistent and central.
She still remembers seeing “some of the stones … by his barn when I was there … but that was a long time ago!”(20) The use of an exclamation the mark to emphasise this gap in time and distance is appropriate in her case, because alas, Daley has runs a series of marathons, her memory is failing here when probing further. She is the same person who negotiated entry on to the site with the farmer and acted as photographer, and “was told recently that the photographs I took of the symbolic stones from the site is also at the Lismore Museum. Alas-it is not very clear as it is in colour and one cannot make out much from the “foot” stone.”(21) It is remarkable that she can remember visual details of the “foot”(22) stone, but forgot the name of the farmer. She stated that “Mr. Slater was the owner of the property where the mound is,”(23) which of course is not true, but it does illustrate that the suggestion Slater was a nobody researching nothing of worth does not ring true in this area. Even when in error he is still an integral part of the site. Especially so in Daley’s case as she actually saw the larger rocks stacked against the dairy. For Daley to transfer ownership, even though mistaken, shows that as far as she is concerned now, Slater represents the Standing Stones Complex.
Fortunately, after this reply which is inconsistent and in places, mistaken, there is clarity ahead. Captain Fletcher’s next letter in setting up an investigation is clearer as he seeks advice from another who has been to the site after the larger stones were removed, and is still clear in recall. He wrote to A. D. Marrinon as he had been told “you are very interested in the stones on the Saddle at Brunswick Heads. I understand that you have been developing a theory associating them with megalithic circles in Britain e.g. Stonehenge.”(24) Bearing in mind Slater coined this site “Australia’s Stonehenge,” ironically it would seem Marrinon was doing no more than picking up from where Slater left off.
He also mentioned that “Mrs. Louise Daley told me about the Saddle months ago,”(25) so I think we can dismiss the critics allegation that once Slater died this place disappeared with him, as both of the people Fletcher has approached are unequivocal in their endorsement of the reality of the site.
It is for that reason Fletcher thanked Marrinon “for your long and lucid letter about the Saddle; it certainly does seem that a visit would be profitable.”(26) Obviously that letter was a positive affirmation, even though the main rocks were stolen and off-site, the sacredness of the location is not diminished and as for any residual archaeology, there was plenty of it when we looked a few years ago.
Marrinon then went further in recommending a person who is agreed to be the ultimate academic authority of all things Original in this area. He wrote that ”Mrs. Marjorie Oakes has been very interested in the Saddle and in Aboriginal research, working through the University of Sydney.”(27) If she has given that site the tick, any future denial should be automatically ignored.
Irrespective of every past truth found in these documents and correspondence, the site is not registered and still under threat of total annihilation. Perhaps the reason for this can best be summed up by Captain Fletcher in his letter to Marrinon when observing that this site shows “evidence of the presence in Australia of persons more gifted with talents than usually associated with the Aboriginals, he never built anything more than a bark hut.”(28) Just like Slater, another visionary well ahead of his time, Fletcher already knew what was there, but another commentator he consulted had less clarity and forgot to look to the past for guidance and could only see the present confused state of affairs.
Second-Guessing When it Doesn’t fit
We had already read snippets of the first report compiled by an academic that cast out doubts on the honesty of the sites two main proponents. Having this much larger reply to examine, we now realise that no actual negative verdict was given. But what was mentioned in passing and at some length, was the possibility flaws in character and integrity could be a factor that led to distortion and fabrications. What this report did for the first time was to canvas alternative explanations, but at no time was a verdict passed.
Marrinon does not deny there was an Original site there, but his main focus and expertise in teaching was geology, and he knew that the soil/sand present in the second mound did not belong to the surrounding countryside. He was surely aware from reading Slater’s letters that Fordham made note of exotic geology found within the 70 metre by 5 metre high smaller mound and found that the nearest deposit of similar sandstone was over twenty miles away. Because of this obvious geological anomaly his “main concern at present, is not to rediscover any circles or designs (as I said the area has been greatly disturbed) but firstly to find a geologist who can ascertain whether the stones are a natural occurrence on the slope or imported and a test drill to compare these with the underlying rock strata. Also a test drill of the mound on the flood plain to see if this yields any secrets. Even this introductory work will need time and money.”(29)
Marrinon began his reply to Fletcher by basically suggesting that he should not bother coming as there was nothing left after the damage and removal. His opening response both confirms the sites legitimacy and the scope of desecration. “The stones were charted by Fordham in 1939. Since that time much has happened in the area.” Well yes, the entire complex was ploughed and scraped and the larger rocks are no longer by the dairy and missing through means unknown. Apart from that considerable change in scenery “the low lying ground has been drained, cattle graze on the area disturbing any vestiges of circles and the majority is greatly overgrown, all making any study of the area very difficult.”(30)
Even so, despite the decay and pillaging, if you insist on coming, Marrinon added that “I would be willing to show you.”(31) But as to how enthusiastic that invitation is, becomes more questionable when reading the accompanying disclaimer, “I assure you, that at this time, there is virtually nothing to see of any dramatic interest.”(32)
Legends or Deceit
Those two conflicting imperatives lead Marrinon to declare I have “no theory.”(33) Undeniably Slater’s controversial interpretations did not sit well with him, what Slater was claiming was well outside his comfort level, and that unease would not rest.
However, in challenging the truthfulness of both Fordham and Slater, this man never met either person or any member of their families. Marrinon admitted that he was quite puzzled by the loss of records or any research that mentions Slater’s name in passing. “I tried for over twelve months to trace Slater’s family or effects-no hope. He apparently disappeared from sight.”(34) Or perhaps his past was deliberately removed and censored from all official records, and that absence was noted as unusual. It seemed Marrinon did not follow through in ascertaining why all mention of this academic was hidden “from sight.”(35) That absence of itself should have the alarm bells clanging and automatically disqualifies any challenge on his character, as he knows nothing of the man he is suggesting could be dishonest except he existed.
The attack on Fordham is even more unforgivable as he is a principal, respected member of the local community and to accuse him of lying simply because the content does not sit with his expectations is unprofessional and insulting. The only truth that remains untarnished is that he has no track-record in lying or law-breaking. Quite simply, the content was so “strange”(36) and sensational the truth was too hard to digest, so a more palatable course was ‘cooked up.’
“Maybe Fordham’s chartings did look like circles etc. in 1939-but how much was he swayed by enthusiasm and the want to find and how much by any true scientific and thorough searching. On these grounds (possible unbridled enthusiasm) he accepted without query the interpretation of his contact Mr. Frederic Slater.”(37) “Enthusiasm”(38) is not a bad quality at all, but when it becomes “unbridled”(39) then morality is sacrificed and the end result justifies any lie or means of getting there. That may be, but I would ask did this man make direct or indirect contact Fordham’s friends and relations in determining is character and honesty? Or could it be, if Fordham isn’t lying then everything they reported is correct and the world history narrative has to be dumped and rewritten. The pivotal point is that there is no actual proof that the headmaster lies when excited, or if in a mischievous mood, that opinion is purely a convenient assumption.
Marrinons questioning of Slater’s morals is equally flawed through his admission he could find absolutely nothing recorded or written about him, except some spiteful critiques lacking in facts or archaeology. He had read Slater’s letters and thought “they appear to be the fertile imagination of the mind of a man who has done some reading.”(40) Once again that declaration is contradictory, as he concedes he is briefed in these areas, but is also making it up-that sounds like an ‘each-way bet.’ It should be one or the other, not both.
Yes, he was the President of “the Archaeological Society of Australia,”(41) which Marrinon agrees was the case, but then offers another contradictory rebuttal in attacking the qualifications of the members in stating that this group chaired by Slater “apparently contained no qualified members.”(42) Considering press clipping in the 30’s contain many highly respected names of people working with Slater, and Marrinon cannot supply one solitary name of the misled minions following Slater’s rantings, this criticism is one again lacking in any substance beyond rumours and personal vendettas. “Apparently”(43) is an equivocation, and any sentence that opens with this word cannot claim a definite status, the best it gets under favourable conditions, which do not exist here, is a maybe.
Banishing the “Crackpot”(44)
With actual proof of a serious character deficiency in short supply in either person, it is reasonable to ask why is it Marrinon was even prepared to canvas such a dishonest path of action. When he said that Slater “apparently disappeared from sight”(45) when searching through all official records, that isn’t exactly true, as there was mention made of Slater in official dispatches, and it was as patronising as it was insulting.
“Professors Elkin and McCarthy state that the area is not genuine and in Elkin’s own words, Slater was considered a “crackpot.”(46) This dismissal, lacking in one specific example, is par for our course and so hard to counter. What Marrinon could have done is consult the owners of the site, and if he had spoken to them about this claim, he would never have put this quote up.
When I was in discussion with the son of the farmer, who was ninety-one at the time, he raised the name McCarthy. What immediately grabbed my attention was that McCarthy’s name was raised, as it certainly wasn’t on my mind nor did it fit into the conversation. It literally came out of the blue, not only the content but delivery. He obviously felt this academic was dishonest and deceitful. McCarthy was blocked at front gate by both Jack and his father and told he neither had permission to look and nor would he ever receive it. To this day I still cannot understand why his name was raised, but of one thing there is no doubt, this man saw nothing.
Equally, I have letters addressed to Elkin describing the mounds and larger rocks by the dairy and inviting him to attend in 1955, and it is clear at that time he still had not personally inspected the site. So his dismissal of authenticity has been done from a distance.
Marrinon made it clear he had read all of Slater’s notes to Fordham. What seems to be lost in his translation is the constant reference made by Slater to the three antagonistic groups he most despised and advised his colleague to deny access: the “government,”(47) anyone representing the “Australian Museum,”(48) and top of the list was any person working at “Sydney University.”(49) These letters were written in 1939 and it is not coincidental that is the same year the first academic post was set up in the first university that dealt with Original archaeology and anthropology, which happens to be, Sydney University. Moreover, the academic appointed to head that faculty was Professor Elkin.
It is not unreasonable to assume that the reason Elkin and Slater were at loggerheads would have a lot to do with their diametrically opposed views on Original history, ancestry and technology they held. Maybe not, but what is clear is that the group mentioned the most to be avoided at all costs is Sydney University, and that is Elkin’s posting. So the mistrust runs both ways, Marrinon must have known that. Yet with no details given by either side as to why this chasm existed, he made a cardinal teaching error when settling playground disputes in accepting one version that gives no explanation beyond, ‘he did it!’
After providing a list of innuendos and rumours, which all support the notion that the site is bogus, Marrinon concedes he is not finished in his research by supplying “my main reason for continuation.”(50) Despite the tenuous collection of reasons to doubt, Marrinon cannot dismiss the fact that in this area the locals are insistent it is genuine and magnificent, irrespective of what the academics allege. “Legend dies hard, the old timers in the area, although not alive during the tribal days, have ‘heard stories.’ Perhaps there is some truth in them.”(51) Well there is a lot more truth in what the locals hold as factual, than the motley collection of personal feuds and unwarranted attacks on the integrity of both men found in the correspondence written after the clean-up and removal.
Marrinon’s concern that the local talk is so positive is reflected in the official investigation made by Elizabeth McBryde made at least a decade after the large rocks were disposed of. “My one and only viewer, with any tried and tested knowledge, was Miss Elizabeth McBryde,”(52) who was an academic from the “University of New England.”(53) As with many latter day commentators “the area did not impress her as anything to do with the Aborigines,”(54) and to be sure that sentiment has been quoted from and supported by others, but the quote is incomplete and intentionally selective. The observation continues with a “but,”(55) in that she also admits “that the legend may be true.”(56) However, having conceded that possibility, McBryde was aware that up ahead there was an obstacle in filing that would be costly and make it incredibly unlikely anything would happen here. “The find is logged in the university files as “Fordham’s Folly.”(57) Knowing how strong the intransigence was and the closed minds that had created such a negative climate around this site, “she stated that the expense to uncover or disprove would be great. Promises of further investigation have not been fulfilled.”(58)
`So it really is one or the other. The local lore is insistent the site is genuine, the academic verdict passed after the clean-up sees this all down to the irrational rantings of a deluded academic supported by his loyal misguided apprentice on site. One version is wrong and one is right. In concluding Marrinon is torn between two sources, but his summation begins and finishes with the truth, and in between, is the dross.
“So-legend, misplaced enthusiasm, fertile imagination, crackpot rantings or the truth, I cannot say at present.”(59) What we can say “at present”(60) is that the site is still authentic and always has been, and the dissenting academics are still wrong.
1) – 3) A.D. Marrinon, 28th Feb, 1969. Letter to E.N.R. Fletcher.
4) Frederic Fordham, Sept 13th, 1955. Letter To Louise Daley.
5) A.D. Marrinon, 28th Feb, 1969. Letter to E.N.R. Fletcher.
6) – 12) Frederic Fordham, Sept 13th, 1955. Letter To Louise Daley.
13) A.D. Marrinon, 28th Feb, 1969. Letter to E.N.R. Fletcher.
14) – 16) Frederic Fordham, Sept 13th, 1955. Letter To Louise Daley.
17) -18) A.D. Marrinon, 28th Feb, 1969. Letter to E.N.R. Fletcher.
19) Frederic Fordham, Sept 13th, 1955. Letter To Louise Daley.
20) – 23) Louise Daley, 22nd Sept., 1968. Letter to Caption E.N.R. Fletcher.
24) A.D. Marrinon, 5th March, 1969. Letter to E.N.R. Fletcher.
25) – 26) A.D. Marrinon, 7th Feb., 1969. Letter to E.N.R. Fletcher.
27) – 28) A.D. Marrinon, 5th March, 1969. Letter to E.N.R. Fletcher.
29) – 46) A.D. Marrinon, 28th Feb, 1969. Letter to E.N.R. Fletcher.
47) – 49) Slater, Frederic. 1939.”Personal Letters – Correspondences- Notes”. In 2013, Edited by Richard Patterson, No. 1-19 & Original 53-61, Archaeology and Education Research Society.
50) – 60) A.D. Marrinon, 28th Feb, 1969. Letter to E.N.R. Fletcher.