“Intending to leave the land of Peru, he made a speech to those he had created, apprising them of the things that would happen. He told them that people would come, who would say that they were Viracocha their creator, and that they were not to believe them; but that in the time to come he would send his messengers who would protect and teach them. Having said this he went to sea with his two servants, and went travelling over the water as if it was land, without sinking. For they appeared like foam over the water, and the people, therefore, gave them the name of Viracocha which is the same as to say the grease or foam of the sea…This absurd fable of their creation is held by these barbarians and they affirm and believe it as if they had really seen it to happen and come to pass.” – Pedro Sarmiento De Gamboa
“I was fishing the Clarence with mates, and we all saw and felt it: a fine material like a spider’s web, settling all around us, over the boat, the river, the banks. When rubbed or even touched, it just fell apart to nothing, like gold leaf, if you’ve ever cooked with that…”
“The Northern Rivers! More strange lights up that way than anywhere in the world. A mate of mine was growing bananas near the Clarence – and maybe another crop as well. Anyway, he got so used to lights following his ute at night he used to wave back at them…”
“Maybe that had more to do with the second crop he was growing.”
“Ask him next jail visit.”
“No, but seriously…”
It was that kind of late night talk: aliens and unexplained lights. The talk was not worthy of the company, a bunch of hardheads, except for me, a bunch of wealthy deciders and doers. But expensive grog will have its way just like the cheap stuff, and men who never miss a practical angle on anything were droning about what’s “out there”, about increased “activity” since that first blast at Alamogordo…and about Roswell, of course.
Jackson (I’m changing his name) sat listening, too polite to be bored, but clearly not engaged. He has a way of not drinking while not avoiding drinking, a way of skirting crassness without prudery. Acceptance and aplomb in everything: that’s Jackson. He’s welcome everywhere for a reason. There’s probably a mountain village in New Guinea that can only be reached by an expert climber – Jackson will be expected and greeted there like a member of the tribe who just popped out for a bit.
With a little self-promotion, Jackson would be a lot more famous. Yet why bother? The coming of digital should have devalued his photography, but it didn’t. His books should be reading creaky, selling poorly, but no. All of that was achieved without the hindrances of fame, or any kind of urging.The money and physical fitness he needs are always available to him – even at age sixty – so there’s little point in show, as far as Jackson is concerned. He’s right. If I was rich, I’d tip money in his lap. He has that effect.
To avoid urgency, he chose the right pause in the chatter, a refuelling pause for us drinkers. He began by shaking his head deliberately.
“Up there, it’s pretty cold and empty. I’m talking about space. Nothing much up there. Never mind about mysterious lights and so on. That’s just weather – or maybe even diversion.”
“Diversion? From what? And how are you so sure there’s nothing else except us?”
“I said space is cold and empty. I didn’t say there were no aliens, or whatever name you want to give.”
“With respect, that’s where aliens are supposed to come from. Nowhere else.”
“Jackson, are you saying aliens from right here? That makes them non-aliens, doesn’t it?”
“Maybe. I won’t get bogged down with names, definitions. But your mystery lights and UFO sighting have got you looking upward, up where it’s cold and empty. And I’m saying that may be a diversion – from aliens, or something else.”
“So you’re saying they’re here amongst us?”
“Not that either…I may need to explain. Just don’t quote my observations as opinions. I observe, that’s mostly all I do. In fact, try not to quote me at all on this one. Or don’t mention my name if you do.”
“Since it’s you, we’re listening.”
Following is Jackson’s account.
I was working along the Tasman Peninsular.
At the time, the Australian coastal cliffs weren’t well photographed or explored. The Bunda Cliffs of the Bight, the Shipwreck Coast in Vic, Red Bluff in the West: we’ve got some startling ocean frontage on this continent. I’m handy with rope and camera, as you know. Before modern abseiling gear and rock-climbing walls in gyms, I was taking on that sort of thing.
This is about the east side of Oz.
What I’m about to relate happened at the south end of the Tasman Peninsular. While I was taking snaps of the Cape Pillar area, where the cliffs can reach nearly a thousand feet above some pretty cranky sea, there was the chance to do some close up geology, and mineral and flora sampling for a certain scientific body. It was a good earn at the time, and interesting. A bit dangerous, of course, especially because I was overloaded for more than one job.
I was younger and sillier. These days, they won’t let you work alone in that way. Even if they did, I’d likely dangle a second rope, parallel to the one I was using. Anyway, the rope gave out: manufacturing fault probably. I slid some metres and managed to land on top of an “organ pipe”, as they call the attached tubular forms, staggered at different heights, that make up the cliffs in those parts. Camera and samples crashed to the rocks below, and there I was left pillar-sitting, like an early desert hermit, with room only to stand or gently work my way into a crouch. These days, you’d pull out a mobile phone and just ring. Not then. Crazy, deadly situation it was.
My pillar was tucked out of sight of the ocean, inside a fold or partial chimney formation, so a fishing boat or ship would be unlikely to see me. Flares? I had none. The few metres of rope I had left, still attached to my waist, were not enough to swing or lower me on to another “organ pipe”. Climb up or down the face? It was sheer, only a handful of climbers in the whole world would have tried it with no equipment.
The remaining chance was a jump into a big surge on high tide, and that was hardly any chance at all. All I could do was wait, hope, and reserve that jump for the very last.
This was that caught-on-a-ledge nightmare most of us have at some time. But it was actual.
With the light fading, my eyes kept combing the rock face for ideas, for distraction. I discovered one oddity. Within the chimney, just metres away though unreachable, another of those pillars or cylinders had a strange form etched into it, almost too neatly arranged to be natural. It first drew my attention because there were three deep cavities, arranged to express a frowning, squashed-in face with oriental eyes and a grimacing mouth, wider at both edges. Then, in the lulls between ocean surges, I picked up a deep wheezing coming from those cavities.
For a while, I puzzled how to reach the face, since it offered refuge within its cavities, a place to at least lie, maybe even to sleep – since sleep in the present position would mean death. But there was no way across.
Night was coming on, the tide was too low and the surges too small for my final desperate jump. It was a matter of staying awake, standing or in a squat, resisting the cold which would bring on dangerous cramp. I smoothly changed my posture every few minutes, performing slow leg and arm exercises while wriggling toes and fingers.
In the night, with the slack sea and relenting of the gales, the wheezing sound from the facing pillar and its strange cavities was much more audible. If only I had landed on that cylinder! Those cavities must lead somewhere, to make such a constant and deep sound after the seas and winds had subsided.
All through the night, I exercised each limb and joint with method, not allowing myself to be still for a second, since cramp or a drowsy moment might send me plunging.
And I listened to that peculiar deep wheezing from the other pillar with its angry, freakishly symmetrical features, no longer visible in the dark, but easily imagined. I’d take any company at all!
The slow and constant yoga was more draining than the heaviest exertion. But I held.
With the first light, there was a touch of relief – just because it was a change. Little hopes came sneaking into my brain. Hopes? Or the mental static generated by extreme exhaustion? Maybe a boat would draw in close, maybe there would be walkers on the cliff tops above, or aircraft…Maybe a massive tidal surge would make a jump just barely possible…If I could close my eyes, the right decision might come…
That moment of abstraction, of retreat from the physical to the mental, was enough to suspend my movements – and to send me into the briefest of dozes. I tipped forward. All balance was gone. Death was certain within the next seconds.
Instinct alone prompted me to thrash about, looking for any means of support, though there was obviously none. And yet, ridiculously, impossibly…
I was clasping a rope! My hands had found a rope which had been dangling right in front of me. What’s more, it was holding firm, swinging me back on to my perch. It reached some feet below me, and seemed to come all the way from the top. It was hard to tell in the vague light.
There was no point testing the rope further, or even looking it over. I discarded the old broken length and fitted the new rope to my waist. The pain involved in hauling myself up was extreme, after the night I had spent. But I know how to use a rope.
Moving higher, I yelled out, assuming that somebody above had seen me and lowered the rope. Whoever it was would be waiting, unless they had gone off to seek added support.
There was no reply. All one could hear were various seabirds, mewling and shrilling on the change of light. Soon, none of it mattered, as I pulled myself over the lip of the cliff, then collapsed on the first piece of flat ground, to lie panting, groaning, whimpering…but to lie living.
Nobody approached me. Gradually, I recovered breath and composure, though my joints still throbbed.
I sat up, looked about. Nobody. At last it occurred to me to check the rope and its mooring. But what kind of rope was it? It was bluish, with a synthetic look to it, but felt like it was woven from a natural and surprisingly soft fibre. It felt light in the hand, like string, though it was of a normal thickness for clasping. There was no trace of fraying or abrasion. On regaining my feet, I detached the rope from my waist and went looking for its mooring.
It was looped around the base of a large rock which protruded from the flat like a headstone. On inspection, I could seen that there was a deep, smooth groove in the base of the rock, and the rope had actually fitted the groove, as it might fit the roller of a pulley. But where was the rope actually moored? As I followed, it led straight back to the edge of the cliff and down over the lip again, some fifteen metres from where I had hauled myself up.
Just as I was peering over to find the mooring point below, the rope was pulled back down, at great speed. However, I was able to glimpse its path as it shot, like a hastily sucked strand of spaghetti, into the mouth of the carved face I had observed – and heard! – while stranded below.
Of course, I told nobody. People who need respect and funding don’t tell such tales. I lied by omission, but since there are some rather naughty fellows in the present company, I’m sure nobody will be scandalised.
You doubt it happened? So did I, especially when I came back to the same spot a week later with high-powered binoculars and all sorts of photographic equipment – to find that the face had been erased, that all was just smooth rock! Mind you, the groove in the pulley stone was still there, shiny and perfect.
And could I have imagined everything? The fall? The fact I was alive?
Before anybody speculates…there’s a bit more to tell.
The coastal research projects continued, though I grew more cautious. I used high powered lenses from fishing boats for much of it, though it was still necessary to make the odd risky descent to do geology. There’s a scenic coastal road that was never built after I found some fissures in the rock below. All that research is dated now, but had to be done at the time.
My last task involved good old Hawkesbury sandstone, not far from Sydney. Many of the prettiest cliffs line the coast along the Sydney Basin, some right in the city suburbs.
From an almost inaccessible cove – which I had reached at high water by Malibu board – I was surveying the tight gorge of a certain sandstone cliff, earmarked for military uses it would probably never have. Still, a preliminary geological survey was needed. To be honest, I did more than was needed, partly for my books, partly because I’m that kind of Queenslander.
As I inspected the cliff above through the lens of my Leica, my eye was drawn by a familiar form, high up but well below the rim. It would only have been visible from someone standing in my position – and it was likely no-one had ever stood in that spot.
There was no mistaking the severe features: angled eyes, squashed nose, mouth widened at the corners. It was the same carved visage I had seen many hundreds of miles to the south. That visage which had saved me – somehow.
Or was this just a trick of light on the many folds and crevices?
After taking what photos I could, I resolved on a plan which would not draw attention, yet might satisfy my curiosity.
Was that formation was making a deep, wheezing sound through its crevices? I had to know!
The next day I was back, but on the very top of the cliff, directly above the mysterious face. This time I would not risk my body in a dangerous descent on sandstone, which has far too much hydraulic conductivity. Using a heavy fishing rig with winch, I wound a kind of weather-proof dictaphone, borrowed from the military, down to the exactly calculated spot where the eyes and mouth would be. The line itself was maximum strength, good for holding full grown marlin. I steadied the well weighted recorder, intending to leave it in position for about five minutes.
The line went light, yet there had been no snagging or tugging. I pulled. The line was without any weight at all.
After winding it up, I examined the break with a pocket magnifier on my survival knife. It was not a cut, but a neat fuse.
There was nothing more to do that day. But I needed to know more.
Another approach by surfboard to the cove would mean waiting for calm conditions on a very high tide. That might be a long wait, so I persuaded a military friend to have me flown by chopper to a spot in the air where I would have a view into the cove and a good sight on the mysterious face. Needless to say, I did not tell the chopper pilot the real reason for our flight.
We flew in easily, the draughts were favourable, my camera was ready…
The face was gone from the rock.
No cavities at all, just sandstone cliff, smoother than the rest. The chopper pilot, seeing my expressions of disappointment and disbelief, accompanied by unmanly whimpers of frustration, decided I was a little eccentric. Can’t blame him.
I can tell you this to conclude. That carved face was plain to view some days before, regardless of light or angle. And I still have those initial photographs, though they prove nothing, just that a bit of cliff somewhere once carried an odd looking form.
Jackson fell silent, we said nothing, just drank thoughtfully, raised our brows a little and exchanged looks. Finally, one of the company:
“Jackson, you never saw any more of these…faces?”
“Not in real life. But in photos, yes. I don’t mean my own photos. I mean photos that millions have seen, in another context.”
“Where, for god’s sake?”
Jackson paused, and actually took a large swig of cognac.
“Look here, this is the part where you conclude I’m a ratbag, if you haven’t concluded as much already. Just remember it was you lot who started all this, with your talk about aliens and Roswell and so on.”
“Oh, go on. Just go on. We’re all ratbags by the cognac.”
“Okay. I’ll continue. Some years after the events I just recalled, I happened to pick up a coffee table book on the Incas. I’d read the blind historian, Prescott, in my youth, but since forgotten much about the subject. In that glossy book were pictures of a valley in Peru: a sacred landscape of sorts. And on a cliff overlooking that valley there’s a face in the rock, though only in profile, and rougher, like a first draft. The locals have believed since forever that it’s the face of their main god…”
“Kon-tiki! In the valley of Olly-something. Kon-tiki was the Inca god who left, and went west across the ocean. Hence Kon-tiki Expedition.” I broke in rather too eagerly, having recently perused the internet on the subject.
“Kon-tiki is one name for their god. And that valley is called Ollantaytambo. Another name for their god or gods, meaning ‘Foam of the Sea’, is Viracocha.”
He said nothing further. One of us had to prompt.
“So you’re saying there are…that there are gods who have come west from Peru? Inca gods? Come on now, Jackson!”
“Gods? No, not gods. Maybe not even aliens. I’m telling you what I saw and experienced. My life was saved by something lurking in one of those cavities, and it was something…something superior…”
He gave an upward toss of the head.
“I’m saying that up there it’s cold and empty. The more we know about it, the colder and emptier it seems.”
Now he stamped sharply on the floor with one foot.
“But down there is energy: an endless supply of heat and pressure, to be manipulated, concentrated, or even reversed. Down there is sweet, fresh water. Oceans of it. Down there are minerals and other substances in enormous supply. The only thing lacking is common air …and that can come through vents in inaccessible cliffs…vents which double as some kind of sacramental interface with life on the surface, as symbols neither secret nor open…That’s it! Those faces in the rock are meant to be seen and then not seen. They’re a hint. A hint of a covenant. They’re like bacteria floating on your eyeballs. You can see them, but focus on them and they roll away. Ah, I don’t know what I’m trying to say.
“But why look up? It’s all just cold and void up there…
“But under our feet, just a stroll away, if we knew how, and what…No, not gods, not even aliens. Not anything that has a common name or label. But right beneath us, right down there…”
Again he stamped on the floor.