Awareness Quest Research

� Report Authored by Greg Jeffery approx 1989. Reprinted with permission.

‘Gympie Pyramid’

Introduction

About 5 km to the north of the township of Gympie in south east Queensland is a structure (or series of structures) which has become known as the ‘Gympie Pyramid’. There have been many differing claims as to its origins and function. Some of these claims have been quite controversial and gained considerable media attention beginning in 1956 through to the present. In preparing this paper I investigated the various claims and the local folk-lore which surrounds the ‘pyramid’ and attempted to place these in a context which is supported by empirical or historical fact. Documentation was scarce which has meant that the results of my investigation tend to highlight what the structure is not rather than what it is. I hope to remedy this situation by completing a more detailed survey of the site in early 1990.

 

The Structure and Its Setting.

The Gympie pyramid is found at the eastern end of a sandstone ridge approximately 5 km from the centre of Gympie on the Tin Can Bay road (Map reference: Series R733. Sheet 9445:N060:E690).

To call it a pyramid would be to ascribe the structure characteristics which it appears not to have, that is of a mega-lithic construction. For although there is a rough pyramidical shape this arises mostly from the natural shape of the ridge terminal which has been enhanced by a series of terraces on the south-eastern and south-western slopes. At this stage there appear to be six of these terraces the first of which begins at approximately 60 meters above sea level.

The first four terraces are approximately 10 metres wide, the fifth is about five metres wide and the sixth is 2 metres wide. The last terrace is about 100 metres above sea level. Above the last terrace is a mass of sandstone blocks which constitutes the peak.

The last terrace is also the one which has either retained its original form most fully of which was formed most effectively to resist weathering action. The fact that it would be subject to less run-off from the heavy rainfalls to which the area is subject (50 plus inches per annum) which tend to fall in a "wet" season characterised by occasional extremely heavy falls over short periods of time (such as were seen in May of 1989 when 10 inches fell in less than 24 hours) would tend to indicate the former is the reason for its good condition. Bulldozing was also carried out on the lower section of the slope in the early 1960’s (personal communication T. Jones 1989). The same factors are probably responsible for the gradual deterioration of the terraces from the highest to the lowest and the proportional decrease in visible and intact stone walling which occurs as one descends the terraces.

Walking on an ascending line from the bottom of the S.E. slope the first terrace appears to be only earth formed although the long grass and erosion may be obscuring stone wall remnants.

On the second terrace there are only two sections of stone wall clearly visible, each section being about 2m in length. The third terrace has two sections visible, one of about 6m which then either breaks down or is buried under leaves, earth and general erosion for about 10m until another length, about 3m, becomes visible.

The fourth terrace presents 32m of reasonably intact stone walls. The fifth terrace presents over 80m of continuous wall which ends in a 90 degree corner mound, the integrity of which has been disturbed by a Camphor Laurel tree of about 30 years age growing in the middle of the mound. The wall above the last terrace appears to be a utilisation of the existing nature rock formation of the peak.

The total area terraced would be approximately one hectare. The stones of which the walls are made do not show any sign of being worked by tools, although depending of the age of the structure, tool markings would have been subject to weathering as the sandstone is relatively soft. Most of the blocks weigh between 10 and 20 kg’s with there being no obvious uniformity in size within this range although there are larger stones in the walls of some sections. Whilst there is no evidence of terracing on the northern slopes which are covered by very small boulders, the south western slopes do have evidence of terracing and some other structures which are not terraces. One of these non-terrace structures is a semi-circular section of stone wall about 2m in diameter (see photo 1). There is evidence of recent digging in the centre of this structure to a depth of about 0.5m. Inspection of this excavation shows that the structure appears to have been filled with a gravelly soil.

The remnants of a stone mound is about 5m behind the semi-circular structure, due to the thickness of lantana growth over this it was not closely inspected.

At the peak of the pyramid, on a kind of platform area, there is what appears to have been an Aboriginal rock shelter beneath the over hang of a large boulder and two grinding stones, one intact and one broken ( see photo 2.) lie nearby.

 

Previous work.

As noted above the ‘pyramid’ has, on different occasions, been the subject of controversy, speculation and an amount of media attention. As a result of this the Archaeological division of the Queensland government commissioned Dr Michael Moorwood to do an archaeological survey of the site. Moorwood appears to have done a reasonably brief survey of the site which missed several major features which caused him to reach a conclusion that the structure has an agricultural function. He states "It would appear that the structure was of agricultural and horticultural function resulting from talus clearance of the southwest corner of the ridge. Terracing DID NOT (emphasis mine) extend onto the south-east slope which is not suitable for agriculture......" (Moorwood 1976). My investigations have shown that there is clearly evidence of extensive terracing on the south east slopes, although I am in complete agreement with Moorwood that these slopes are unsuitable for agriculture. Another person who examined the ‘pyramid’ is a Mr Rex Gilroy who ascribes to a strong diffusionist view and sees the structure of being of Egyptian origin. Gilroy also investigated a stone object which was ploughed up in the paddock of an adjacent property in the early 1960s by the person farming there. This is approximately 1m high. It appears to be a natural formation that has some resemblance to the upper section of a male human torso. This resemblance has been enhanced by the carving of a face into the head section. The face is highly stylised resembling, to a degree, artefacts found in Melanesia and also in the Andes. The fact that the statue was found within the proximity of the ‘pyramid’ may infer that there is a relation between the two.

A range of the other groups have expressed interest in the ‘pyramid’ some of these include the ‘Order of Ancient Astronauts’ which has a base in Brisbane and a Gympie occult group that includes several people who claim some degree of psychic ability. I interviewed one of these, a Ms Betty Dodd, who claimed to have seen a white garbed apparition at the ‘pyramid’. She also reported that a friend of hers was unable to approach the ‘pyramid’ without experiencing feelings of vertigo or other forms of distress.

Another local, Mr Trevor Jones, a timber worker, equated the location with what he has heard of local Aboriginal lore. That is to say that there were certain places that the Aborigines believed it was unsafe to go due the presence of bad spirits or other entities and that the ‘pyramid’ might fall within that category of places.

 

Possible Origins

At this stage, due to the limited amount of data available on this subject, it is difficult to present any firm inferences as to the structure’s origins however the possibilities that do exist fall roughly into two categories:

1. That the structure was created at some point in time after European settlement of the area and had some kind of agricultural function (Moorwood 1976).

2. That the structure was created at some time prior to European settlement and was of Aboriginal construction.

3. That it was pre-European and of non-Aboriginal Construction.

The main problem with the first possibility, of European origins, is to ascertain who constructed it and for what purpose. The notion that it was constructed for some kind of agricultural venture, such as the growing of grapes, table or wine, Italian migrants, as suggested by the local rumour referred to by Moorwood in his paper, appears reasonable at first. However having examined local records (electoral rolls, land deeds and cemetery records) the indication is that there was no Italian community existing in Gympie as any time prior to W.W.2. (the structure can safely be dated at least 40 years old by the tree growth on it). Also if it has been a vineyard it would have had a production capacity of in excess of 40,000 litres per annum using traditional Italian farming methods (Notarianni 1989 personal communication) which would be a huge quantity of wine and would have required the construction of a range of associated equipment such as storage vats, storage cellars and so on within a reasonable proximity to the site and of which some remains or record should still exist. Further more one would expect to find some remnants of the posts used for trellising the vines. None have been found at this pint in time.

Further points against agricultural usage are the southerly aspects of the slopes used. the local agricultural community almost inevitably favours northerly slopes. The question also arises as to why the huge investment of time and energy required to terrace such a large area should be expended when much more suitable areas for agriculture (ie. with better soils, slopes, access and aspect) which would not require terracing exist in abundance around that area. The soil of the area, as Moorwood notes, is very poor, shallow "at best skeletal" (Moorwood 1976). None of the backfill shows any evidence of including introduced of more fertile soils.

Terracing in agriculture is an activity which generally occurs only when land is in short supply as by its nature it is an exercise in exploiting or utilising intensely a marginal zone. The Gympie region is a lush, fertile area with many undulating hills of deep soil types. This is the case today as it was 100 years ago. Rich alluvial flats and gentle slopes exist in abundance within 500 metres in all directions of the ‘pyramid’. The terraced area is unique in that it is probably the least suitable area for agriculture within a radius of at least several kilometres. If it was not constructed for agriculture then what for?

 

Are the Terraces Pre-European?

An argument against the structure being of historical origin is found in the Queensland Government Lands Department records. The structure is actually intersected by three separate land deeds or titles, Homestead Mining Leases, the first of which was granted on the 30.6.1892 as mining homestead lease (No.1484) to an R.H.James who held the lease for 11 years, the lease was then transferred to Edwards in 1903. This lease was for five acres of land and takes in roughly 50% of the total terraced area (see appendix). In 1929 and 1931 the leases which adjoined to either side of the first lease were taken up by Drummond and Parke as joint tenants, in 1932 Drummond acquired the 5 acres of lease 1484. This was the first time that the ‘pyramid’s’ ownership was formally united. The presence of old fence posts and the remnants of barbed wire on those posts which run across and through the terraced areas indicates that the area was probably used for grazing cattle during Drummond’s ownership although this inference has yet to be firmly verified. Drummond and Parke held the three leases until 1961 at which point they were acquired by Ward who held them until 1973 when they were acquired by Blackmore who then split the leases back into individual blocks by selling them in 1981 and 1982 to separate groups.

From this history of ownership we see that the Leases on which the ‘pyramid’ structure is found were owned by the same persons from 1929 to 1961. As the first controversy on its origins appeared in the local press in 1956 (Hall 1989 personal communication) it follows that the then owners would have known if it had been constructed by themselves or during the period of their ownership. If the terracing was done prior to 1929 why would any group or individual carry out such extensive works on land over which they did not hold title, particularly given the ease and low cost of these leases at that time?

The problem with the possibility of pre-European origins is that whilst Aborigines have been known to construct significant earthworks in the form of Bora-rings there is no known tradition of hill terracing amongst Australian Aboriginal populations (the same applies to Australian European populations). It may be possible that if the structure is pre-European there is a relationship between the stone wall technology used on the terraces and the stone wall construction used in the Toorbul Point fish trap which is a continuous wall enclosing an area of about 70m by 35 m (Walters 1985). Even if there was a relationship in construction technique it would be extremely difficult to find any functional justification for the terraces which could not have the same subsistence value as the fish traps.

Non-functional use of the stone structures has been noted in central Australia by Mountford amongst the Pitiandadjara tribe. In this case unusual rectangular slabs of stone of approximately 1m high were erected in geometric patterns ( Mountford 1958).

 

The possibility of non-aboriginal, Non European Origins.

To date there has been no substantiated evidence for a pre-European non-Aboriginal presence on the East coast of Australia. This is perhaps unusual given the relative closeness of Australia to the Islands of Melanesia and Polynesia with the populations of seafaring nations. Australia is close to the early centres of Oceanic expansion such as New Caledonia, the New Hebribrides and Fiji. In the case of the first two it is considerably closer than New Zealand which was extensively colonised by several waves of colonists, most likely from Fiji (Bellwood 1978).

On this basis it is possible that the structure is of Polynesian origins. The Polynesians certainly has a tradition of terracing hills in the construction of forts and for religious purposes (Bellwood 1978) and many examples of these are found through out Polynesia. The god mounds of Tonga and the village fortresses of Rapaiti being just two examples. The stone wall structures on Rapaiti (Heyadahl 1958) bear quite a strong resemblance to the Gympie terraces.

Access to the area from the ocean would have been relatively easy via the Mary River although it is difficult to see why a people would travel so far up river, particularly if they were of seafaring tradition.
The site is well located for a fortress commanding extensive and uninterrupted views of the surrounding flat terrain. The slopes are steep and easily defended. The unusually shapes boulders on the summit could easily be adapted to make excellent parapets. A permanent source of fresh water is available from a spring on the south west sloped and fertile flat land watered by a substantial permanent creek exists in abundance at the base of the ‘pyramid’ to the east and south.

The discovery of an Oceanic styled statue in a field nearby may lend support to this hypothesis.

 

Conclusion

This investigation, being only of a preliminary nature, tends to indicate that there are still a range of questions concerning this site the most important of which is establishing the structures age. The indications are that it is at least 60 years old and that further information of its age will only be acquired by:

1. Contacting a living individual or historical source that has information on its origin.

2. Using dendrochronology on dead and living trees which have grown since the terracing was done.

3. Doing a stratigraphic analysis of selected locations.

4. Obtaining material suitable for Radio-carbon dating.

If there is any credence to the idea of the structure being of pre-European and non-Aboriginal origins it would be expected that a more thorough survey of the site would turn up evidence in the form of artefacts which are out of context with the aboriginal material culture. If the structure was a fortress of some kind, possibly including residences, it would be expected that the remains of shelter structures would be found. I would also anticipate that evidence of some kind of barrier such as a pole, fence of a trenching would be found on the ridge behind the ‘pyramid’s summit.

back to other researchers