THE "SEA FURY" ENCOUNTER
One of the most controversial radar visual reports of the fifties
occurred on August 31st, 1954. The story leaked out in December,
1954, and made front page headlines. The official navy file on the
event remained classified until the Directorate of Naval Intelligence
released a copy upon my request in 1982. During his 1973 visit to
Australia, Dr. Hynek was able to interview the pilot involved in this
famous incident, which became known as the "Sea Fury" encounter. Dr.
Hynek made his notes on this interview available to me during my 1984
visit to the Chicago headquarters of his organisation, the Centre for
UFO Studies (CUFOS). I, in turn, provided Dr. Hynek with a copy of the
official file on the incident.
Lieutenant J.A. O'Farrell was returning to Royal Australian Navy
Air Station Nowra after a night cross country in a Sea Fury aircraft.
After contacting Nowra at about 1910 hours, O'Farrell saw a very
bright light closing fast at one o'clock. It crossed in front of his
aircraft taking up position on his port beam, where it appeared to
orbit. A second and similar light was observed at nine o'clock. It
passed about a mile in from of the Sea Fury and then turned in the
position where the first light was observed. According to O'Farrell,
the apparent crossing speeds of the lights were the fastest he had ever
encountered. He had been flying at 220 knots. O'Farrell contacted
Nowra who in turn confirmed that they had two radar "paints" in company
with him. The radar operator, Petty Officer Keith Jessop, confirmed
the presence of 2 objects near the Sea Fury on the G.C.I. remote
display. The two lights reformed at nine o'clock and then disappeared
on a north easterly heading. O'Farrell could only make out "a vague
shape with the white light situated centrally on top." The
Directorate of Naval Intelligence at the time wrote that O'Farrell was
"an entirely credible witness" and that he "was visibly 'shaken' by his
experience, but remains adamant that he saw these objects"
In a recent interview, "Shamus" O'Farrell described the incident:
"I said, "Nowra, this is 921. Do you have me on radar."
"And a few seconds later they came back and said, "Affirmative
921. We have you coming in from the west. We have another two
contacts as well. Which one are you."
"I said, "I think I'm the central one." And so they said, "Do a
180...for identification." So I did a quick 180 and then
continued on around and made it a 360 back to where I was going.
"They said, "Yes, we've got you. You're the centre aircraft." I
said that's correct. They then said to me, "Who are the other two
aircraft," and I said, "I don't know. I was hoping you would
tell me, because I didn't think there was anyone up here. "They
said, "Well there shouldn't be, and they certainly shouldn't be
that close to you."
"So the conversation went on like this and I was very pleased to
be talking to somebody because it gave me a lot of reassurance.
With that these two aircraft came in quite close to me and I could
really see the dark mass and that they were quite big, but I
couldn't make out any other lights or any other form of an
aircraft. With that they took off and headed off to the north
east at great speed.
"I was about to press the button and tell them at Nowra that the
two aircraft were departing when Nowra called me up and said,
"The other two aircraft appear to be departing at high speed to
the north east. Is that correct?" and I said, "Yes!". And they
said, "Roger, we'll see if we can track them." They tracked them
for a while and then lost them. "I came in and landed at 7.30
(1930) and when I got there there were quite a few people waiting
for me. I thought it was a bit strange and so they came over, and
they said, "You sure you had aircraft out there!", and I said yes.
The Surgeon Commander came over and spoke to me. He said did I
feel sick, or was I upset. I said no. He ran his hand over my
head to see whether I had any bumps. He had a look at me and
decided I was okay. So then he said, "Perhaps you'd like to come
to the sick bay after you've changed and we'll do an examination."
So after I was finished I went up to sick bay and he gave me a
more thorough medical, and said, no, I appeared to be alright. I
found out later, that at the same time, they checked to make sure
I hadn't been drinking before I took off and all that sort of
During this interview, Dr. Hynek's involvement came up:
"This man (Hynek) - a professor - had made a study of thousands
of sightings all around the world and he had decided my sighting
was one of those that he had not been able to explain away by
other means. Any way I had a talk with him. He was a very
interesting chap and he made the comment that there were about 13
or 15, I don't remember, sightings that he was aware of over the
years that were like mine and could not be explained away. The
interesting thing he said was that all of these sightings had
been made by professional people in aviation. By that he meant
they were military pilots, military air crew, civil aviation
operators, air traffic controllers, and the like, or airline
pilots. These were the ones he was now (1973) going around
meeting the people themselves and investigating. All the others
he had written off and had been able to explain down to some
other phenomena. It came to the point where he said, "Your
sighting cannot be explained away." And he left it at that. To
this day I wouldn't know where it came from or where it went."
I have had the opportunity to talk extensively with Shamus
O'Farrell. I was particularly interested in how the interview with Dr.
Hynek in 1973 came about:
"It was done through Sir Arthur Tange, who was secretary of the
Department of Defence at the time. Hynek contacted him
direct.... Sir Arthur Tange contacted me and said Hynek was
coming out. He had written to him, through the US Embassy, to
set up a meeting.... And the next thing I knew I had a telephone
call one day from Sir Arthur Tange saying that Hynek was coming
and he would like me to met him. I said, well, I haven't got all
the facts, there all a bit hazy. So he sent me the two Defence
Department files over to read, to refresh it all."
Bill Chalker: "That seems to indicate a high level of interest in Hynek's
visit at the time?"
"Yes, well, I don't think so. All that happened was that it was
more of a courtesy because he was a very important guy, Hynek,
and they wanted to show him the courtesies etc. As far as
Defence was concern it was dead and forgotten but they had not
got rid of the files. They kept them. Normally when files like
that are written off they are either decided they'll put them in
Archives or dispose of them and destroy them. But they had done
neither. They had remained in the JIO. They'd kept them. I
don't know what they had in mind about it, I never questioned
it. I just used them as a means to refresh my memory.
Bill Chalker: "That must have been a bit of a concern to you?"
"Later the guy who became the chief Defence scientist, John
Farrands, was very interested in it too, and he had done a lot
of early investigations in most of the reports when he was chief
defence scientist and in the period just before he became chief
defence scientist. He had a talk with me. I was a friend of
his. I use to meet with him at lunch. He went over it in
great detail. He knew it all. He agreed it was something that
couldn't be refuted. No matter how hard they tried, and they
tried very hard to knock it all back. They checked everything
from medical, down to when was the last time I had had a
"Well, I wanted to hush it all up. That sort of investigation
made me look a bit of a fool. I was worried it wasn't going to
do my career any good. "(Apart from the radar witness) it locked
in a sighting over the NDB (non directional beacon) at Narulan,
at the same time. There happened to be a guy working on the
NDB. It was down at the time. He had gone to repair it. He
happened to look up at the time because he saw these lights fly
overhead. Also the air traffice control officer in the tower at
Mascot saw them approaching him. "It was all investigated by the
then RAAF guy who did it and later it was also investigated by
the Joint Intelligence Bureau."
In 1993 I assisted The Extraordinary television programme with a recreation of the Sea Fury incident. Shamus O'Farrell, Keith Jessop and I were
interviewed on the show. The case stands as one of the best
unexplained radar visual UFO cases on record in Australia.
It was not long after this that the RAAF asked JIB to take "the
UFO problem" over. On April 1st. 1957, Group Captain A.D. Henderson,
the Director of Air Force Intelligence, wrote to W.H. King, the
Director of the Joint Intelligence Bureau (JIB):
Investigations into reports of UFOs
1. This Department frequently receives reports direct
from civilians, or passed on by other departments, of
unidentified flying objects. We also receive requests
for assistance and advice from various "Flying Saucer
2. Many of these reports presumably cover such mundane
things as meteorological and astronomical phenomena;
others appear to be inexplicable [my emphasis - B.C.].
Most of them are outside the aeronautical field.
3. As your branch has now established a scientific
Intelligence Section, it would appear that these reports
could best be investigated and evaluated by one of your
Scientific Research officers, who will have a broader
background of knowledge of this type of phenomena than
anyone in this Directorate.
4. If you agree that you can accept this commitment I
will be glad to make available all the papers which we
have acquired, to date, on this subject."
While the official files do not reveal a reply from JIB Director
Harry King, Harry Turner, who would later become a JIB scientist and
their liaison man with DAFI, told me that JIB rejected the RAAF
overture. The clandestine side of JIB did not want "a bar of it", as
they considered they would then be caught up in what they regarded as a
complex conjectural matter, which might drag them into the limelight -
the last thing an intelligence organisation would want. Turner would
try to set up a "rapid intervention" UFO team during the late 1960s
within the Defence Science and Technical Organisation (DSTO).
Harry Turner's JIB superior was R.H. Mathams, the Director of
Scientific Intelligence and author of the book Sub Rosa - Memoirs of
an Australian Intelligence Analyst (1982). Harry King appointed Bob
Mathams as the first Australian scientific intelligence analyst in May,
1955. His initial secondment ended in mid 1957. In October, 1958 he
rejoined JIB as the first head of their Scientific Intelligence Branch.
Bob Mathams indicated to me that his Directorate of Scientific and
Technical Intelligence (DSTI) "had only a marginal interest in UFOs."
"Our analytical resources were limited and I had to take the
position that we could not afford to become too involved in
investigation of UFO sightings until we had reasonable grounds for
believing that they were of foreign - as opposed to alien - origin.
We relied on DAFI to make the initial investigations and, at times,
assisted in the interpretation of the resulting data." He advised
me that his "interest ( as DSTI) in UFO sightings was aroused only
when there was sufficient evidence to suggest that they may have
been connected with or caused by foreign scientific or technological
developments. There were only one or two that fitted that category
We never really decided who would take responsibility for further
investigation if it were shown, convincingly, that a UFO sighting in
Australia was of extra-terrestrial origin".
The Joint Intelligence Organisation (the reorganised JIB)
maintains a secret BOLIDE file. It still seems to be anchored to the
premise that "UFOs" could involve the chance of retrieval of Soviet
hardware and therefore contribute some useful intelligence. It
appears JIO have a "rapid intervention" capability as they have been
able to institute prompt widespread ground searches in suspected
"hardware" crashes. They do this through "special access" channels.
This operation may be similiar to US activity operating under the code
name Project Moondust.
Air Marshal Sir George Jones, who was Chief of Air Staff (RAAF)
during World War Two and also undertook what appears to have been the
earliest RAAF investigation into UFOs way back in 1930, observed a UFO
on October 16th, 1957. He described it as "a brilliant white light at
the bottom of a shadowy shape like a transparent balloon", which
travelled very quickly and silently at about 400 mph at some 1,500 feet
altitude. Sir George was certain it was not a meteor or reflected
light. He described it as travelling in "a purposeful way." He added,
"Nothing could shake me from my belief in what I saw. But I wished I
had 4 or 5 witnesses. I have reported it, but have been loath to talk
of it publically lest people should think I was either an incompetent
witness or getting a little screwy in the head".
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sir George about his UFO
reminiscences in 1988 when he was 92. I found him to be remarkably
lucid in his recollections and certainly would not attribute to him any
thoughts of being "a little screwy in the head". One only has to read
his autobiography, From Private to Air Marshall, published in 1988,
to realise just how remarkable and impressively credentialed a witness
During September and October, 1957, nuclear weapons test series,
codenamed ANTLER, were undertaken at Maralinga, South Australia, with
kilotonne range nuclear explosions being detonated on September 25th
and October 9th. The site was subject to intense security. During that
period the integrity of the facility was challenged in an extraordinary
Just before dusk one evening Royal Air Force Corporal Derek Murray
and some colleagues were called out of the Maralinga village canteen to
witness a UFO hovering apparently silently over the airfield. The UFO
was described as a "magnificent sight", being silver/blue in colour, of
a metallic lustre, with a line of "windows" or "portholes" along its
edge. Corporal Murray states that the object could be seen so clearly
that they could make out what appeared to be plating on the objects
surface. The duty air traffic controller also ostensibly witnessed the
spectacle. He allegedly checked Alice Springs and Edinburgh airfields
who reported they did not have anything over their areas. No
photographs were taken as the top security status of the area required
that all cameras be locked away. These had to be signed in and out
when used. After about 15 minutes (as dusk began to fall) the aerial
object left swiftly and silently. In a statement to UK researcher
Jenny Randles, which he also sent to me, Murray stated, "I swear to you
as a practising Christian this was no dream, no illusion, no fairy
story but a solid craft of metallic construction".
In 1959 Papua New Guinea was still a territory of Australia. June
of that year saw the spectacular "entity" sightings of Reverend Gill
and members of his Boainai mission.
As indicated by his notes made at the time and in numerous
interviews, Rev. Gill saw a bright white light in the north western
sky. It appeared to be approaching the mission. The object appeared
to be hovering between three and four hundred feet up. Eventually 38
people, including Rev. Gill, Steven Gill Moi (a teacher), Ananias
Rarata (a teacher) and Mrs. Nessie Moi, gathered to watch the main
UFO, which looked like a large ,disc-shaped object. It was apparently
solid and circular with a wide base and narrower upper deck. The
object appeared to have 4 "legs" underneath it. There also appeared to
be about 4 "panels" or "portholes" on the side of the object, which
seemed to glow a little brighter than the rest. At a number of
intervals the object produced a shaft of blue light which shone upwards
into the sky at an angle of about 45 degrees.
What looked like "men" came out of the object, onto what seemed
to be a deck on top of the object. There were 4 men in all,
occassionally 2, then one, then 3, then 4. The shaft of blue light and
the "men" disappeared. The object then moved through some clouds.
There were other UFO sightings during the night.
The major civilian groups of the day, in a spirit of new found
cooperation inspired by the significance of the Boianai observations,
distributed copies of Reverend Gill's own sighting report to all
members of the House of Representatives of Australia's federal
parliament. A circular letter accompanied the report, signed by the
presidents of the participating civilian UFO groups, urging members of
parliament to press the Minister for Air for a statement about the
attitude Air Force Intelligence had of the New Guinea reports.
On November 24th, 1959, in federal parliament, Mr. E.D. Cash, a
Liberal politician from Western Australia asked the Minister for Air,
Mr. F.M. Osborne, whether his department (specifically Air Force
Intelligence) had investigated "reports of recent sightings of
mysterious objects in the skies over Papua and New Guinea." The
Minister's reply did not address this question, but instead he focused
on the general situation indicating that most sightings were explained
and "that only a very small percentage -- something like 3 percent -- of
reported sightings of flying objects cannot be explained".
Peter Norris, VFSRS president, was advised by the Directorate of
Air Force Intellience that the Department was awaiting "depth of
evidence" on the New Guinea sightings. However the department hadn't
even interviewed Father Gill. Given the growing political fallout, the
Minister for Defence requested a report on "the alleged sightings of
UFOs in the Boianai area of NG by Rev. W.B. Gill." The RAAF finally
visited Rev. Gill on December 29th , 1959. Rev. Gill's recollections
of the visit were that the 2 RAAF officers from Canberra talked about
stars and planets and then left. He indicates that he heard no more
from them. The interviewing officer, Squadron Leader F.A. Lang, AI1
DAFI, concluded after what could have only been best described as a
cursory investigation that:
Although the Reverend Gill could be regarded as a reliable
observer, it is felt that the June/July incidents could have
been nothing more than natural phenomena coloured by
past events and subconscious influences of UFO
enthusiasts. During the period of the report the
weather was cloudy and unsettled with light thunder
storm. Although it is not possible to draw firm
conclusions, an analysis of rough bearings and angles
above the horizon does suggest that at least some of
the lights observed were the planets Jupiter, Saturn
and Mars. Light refraction, the changing position
of the planet relative to the observer and cloud
movement would give the impression of size and rapid
movement. In addition varying cloud densities could
account for the human shapes and their sudden
appearance and disappearance".
A close analysis of the reports argues powerfully that the RAAF
"explanation" of "either known planets seen through fast moving cloud,
or natural phenomena" was unsatisfactory.
The Boianai "visitants" still stand as remarkable evidence for an
impressive aerial anomaly and are regarded as some of the best entity
reports on record.
The following bizarre story immerses us in the shadowy world of
alleged clandestine UFO tales of UFO cover-up. It does not constitute
proof of anything, but is an intriguing example of the "rumours" that
Late in 1959, Fred Stone ran a story in his publication, the
Australian Saucer Record, that brought an immediate response from
Generally the stories that populated the pages of the civilian UFO
publications were largely ignored. This one, however, appeared to have
stepped on officialdom's sensitivities. The story's headline was less
AIR FORCE MEN? Seize Cameras and Films!!!
Fred Stone's story purported to be based on testimony given to him
by one of the men involved. Allegedly during Easter, 1954, near the
border of South Australia and West Australia, 3 men in a car were
followed by a flying saucer for up to 50 miles. They reported that the
saucer was low enough for them to see portholes. At its closest point,
about 100 yards, and at some 50 feet altitude, the young men were able
to take 92 photos with 5 cameras. Some of the closeups would show "the
undersides with a three ball landing type gear." The men reported the
incident to the police at the next town. The police reportedly rang
Air Control at Salisbury. The men were detained and a helicopter
allegedly turned up from Edinburgh field. Two Air Force officers
disembarked from the helicopter. They interrogated the young men and
confiscated the cameras and film. The men were warned not to discuss
the matter with anyone. Stone writes that two weeks later their
cameras were returned to them via registered post, with letters warning
them not to tell anyone of their experience. According to Stone's
account, one of the men was able to secure one of the photos, but it
was "the worst of the series taken."
There were many problems with the article as published which makes
one question its legitimacy. However the RAAF contacted Stone and as a
result he declined to mention the incident any further. Two estranged
Stone coworkers, Colin McCarthy and Peter Thomas, attempted to find out
more from Stone without success.
McCarthy and Thomas enlisted a contact with RAAF connections who,
on their behalf, interviewed Stone and the alleged helicopter pilot.
Stone would not supply any further information, but the pilot, Flt. Lt.
Jack Epsy, may have supplied indirect confirmation of the event. He
refused to supply any direct confirmation of the event, but showed the
contact the flight log of the helicopter. Without comment he revealed
that the log pages for the day in question had been removed! The
contact took this as being Epsy's way of confirming the event, without
compromising his security oaths. He indicated that he was operating out
of Lake Hart near Woomera and that the helicopter was operational at
the time. This completely contradicts the statements of the RAAF
officer who interviewed Thomas.
Peter Thomas was interviewed by RAAF officers on December 15th,
1959, about his knowledge of the incident. The interview with Flight
Lieutenant L. Longland went as follows:
Thomas (T): "Only what I have read in the magazine I have no
personal knowledge of it. I'm interested in it, of course, because
it looked to me like a first-class hoax. If it's a hoax, of
course, it should be suppressed... but I gather that Fred (Stone)
has been allowed to publish it, so I suppose it must be genuine."
L: "Not necessarily."
T: "Well, if it weren't genuine, surely an official denial would
have been issued."
L: "No, it's not policy to deny these things. It doesn't say RAAF
T: "But still, there's only one Air Force in Australia."
L: "Well, I don't know: there's RAF, and there are experimental
things: it could be American - it could be civilian force ....it
doesn't identify itself."
T: "I was flabbergasted when I saw it published like that, because
I couldn't understand how he could get away with publishing a thing
like that unless it were true, and if it were true, he's got no
L: "It couldn't possibly be true: there are so many inaccuracies in
T: "You mean the story as it is printed couldn't be true, but it
could be founded on fact?"
L: "No....they say here...."inform the police at the next
town"...."Immediately rang air control at Salisbury" ....presumably
Edinburgh - there's no such thing as Air Control at Salisbury ....
distance approximately 200 miles. 17 miles from the W.A. border is
627 miles from Edinburgh ... helicopter couldn't do it in under a
day's travel no Air Force personnel in their right mind would
send a helicopter that far on a mission such as that....the
only helicopter in the RAAF at that time was on the ground and in
pieces. That wouldn't be known generally - that's known to us."
Upon further discussion Flt.Lt. Longland indicated:
"...You should be very well aware that ("flying saucer sightings")
are not disregarded.... The Government of Australia has set up a
perfectly efficient organisation for investigating UFOs .... and
they have vested the
authority in the Department of Civilian Aviation ....
"There isn't any such thing as an official Air Force position; as
far as U.F.O.s are concerned we are not interested We don't
refer to flying saucers - there is no such thing as far as we are
concerned. They are UFOs ... the Department of Civil Aviation has
the central authority to analyse them."
Contrary to Flt. Lt. Longland's statements the Directorate of Air
Force Intelligence, RAAF, was the central authority not the DCA, the
RAAF did referred to "flying saucers", and there was a statement of
RAAF policy, originally formulated in 1954 but was reproduced in policy
file statements as late as 1959.
Colin McCarthy claimed he was eventually able to track down one
of the witnesses. From what he established, a helicopter was
despatched from Woomera, not Edinburgh, to rendevous with the witnesses
near Eucla. According to the alleged witness, several uniformed
officers, and a plain clothed person, demanded the cameras and the
exposed film, saying that the property would be returned in due course.
Colin McCarthy advised me that, "Some weeks later our witness had a
visit from ASIO at his home in Elizabeth. The cameras were returned,
minus all the film except for one very blurred shot, which I saw, and
need I say, it was next door to useless. The witness said the ASIO
agent frightened quote 'the living shit out of me' unquote!.... When I
first heard his story, I was a little sceptical, however his fear was
genuine, and with the one remaining blurred photo, lent some degree of
authenticity to the story."
Both McCarthy and Thomas link the Eucla helicopter saga to a
bizarre story carried in a Sydney newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, of
August 2nd, 1955. McCarthy feels that this story refers to the Eucla
event, even though the basic story accounts in each are different in
many respects. McCarthy kept no record of the original interview he
secured with one of the alleged witnesses, but he feels he was Peter
Johnson, one of the witnesses cited in the story in the Daily
The newspaper account did not talk about photographing a flying
saucer, being intercepted by the military, or film being confiscated.
Indeed we have a rather queer and absurd story, which has not been
substantiated. What we have is a fragmentary story accompanying a
rather poor photo that is presented as the "THING FROM OUTER SPACE".
The story was as follows:
Three young men returned to Melbourne with the picture of what
they said was a flying saucer pilot. One of them took the
photograph about 14 miles from Eucla, on the South Australian
This is the story that Max Clow, 23, Alex Rose, 29, and Peter
Johnson, 25, told -:
They were driving through flat country covered by scrub and tall
trees when they heard what they thought was a blowout and stopped
to look at the tyres. Then Johnson pointed out a shiny object
falling to the ground about three miles away.
After an hour's search they found jagged pieces of shining metal
and then saw a moving figure 50 yards away. They went closer and
watched the figure for about 25 minutes.
Clow said: "It was like a frog from the back and a semi-human
from the front, with a green cloak hanging to just abve its knees.
The two curved horns on each side of its head gave it a devilish
appearance. Its feet and hands were armour-plated and, to make it
worse, it was wriggling and swaying like a fish out of water."
Rose then plucked up his courage, moved nearer, and took
"Then to our amazement, it began to disintegrate before our
eyes," said Clow.
The photo reproduced in the newspaper gives what appears to be an
out of focus image of something vaguely "humanoid" is shape. Only the
back ground (trees?) is in focus. The foreground and figure (?) are
not. In fact one is given the impression of some sort of doll, perhaps
on a dashboard, photographed with the the camera focused on the
background. The photo is far from impressive and certainly does not
add to the credibility of a fantastic story. Depending on your
objectivity, beliefs and gullibility it is possible to interprete the
photo and story in numerous ways. In the end the Eucla story and photo
only serve to confuse an already confused story. We may never known if
anything concrete happened to three young men near the South Australian
border, ostensibly back during Easter, 1954.
The end of the decade also saw the intrusion of the espionage
milieu -- UFO style.
Stan Seers was President of the Queensland Flying Saucer Research
Bureau. In 1959, after a clandestine car park rendezvous, to initiate
a covert relationship, the agent, D_____ D_______, got down to the
nitty gritty. He wanted Seers to "play ball" with ASIO, on a strictly
The agent stated that in the event of any really "hot" UFO
information - landings, contacts, etc., he would if necessary put Seers
in direct telephone communication with Prime Minister Bob Menzies.
Stan Seers reflected, "I recall thinking how hilariously stupid
the whole affair sounded, and remember having some trouble for a minute
or so keeping a straight face?"
When Seers subsequently told D______ that he had discussed the
covert "offer" with the rest of the QFSRB committee, the ASIO man was
furious. The upshot of this was that it appeared the agent virtually
successfully destabilised the group. Within a year Seers resigned,
only to be coached back two years later. But still the group "found it
impossible to completely shake off the attentions of the man from
ASIO." He remained in close contact with the group for eleven years,
until his death in 1970.
The abiding theme was that the ASIO man was only interested in
data acquired by covert means. The intelligence ethic demands that
quality intelligence is only acquired by clandestine means.
Unfortunately this is not always the case and often such information
serves the purpose of placing upon previously innocuous events a
sinister aura and consequently sometimes leading to an incorrect
interpretation by the intelligence analyst. The whole thing snowballs
until the clandestine version bares little resemblance to the reality
of the original event.
As Seers cogently states in his book:
"The one surprising feature of all this rank stupidity on the part
of the powers that be is the proven fact that all research groups
have always been more than happy to pass on to them any material,
or information, that came their way. On one occassion ASIO
requested from the Queensland group the loan of all 37 pages of
their copy of the Boianai sighting reports for microfilming. When
the loaned material was returned, a free microfilmed copy (still in
my possession) came with it"
The civilian groups stood at the end of the fifties in a position
of strength, unified, strengthened, and galvanised into action, by the
quality of the Gill reports. The extraordinary reports of UFO
"visitants" over Boianai, Papua New Guinea, during 1959, were
remarkable testimony from "credible observers of relatively incredible
things" (as the director of USAF intelligence, Major General John
Samford referred to the witnesses of the minority of "unknown" and
"unidentified" reports, back in 1952). The Anglican church missionary,
Reverend William Gill, provided civilian groups with remarkable
testimony of unknown "interlopers". They were in stark contrast to the
hoary silliness that punctuated the flirtation of enthusiasts with the
contactee absurdities during much of the fifties. Buoyed by
substantial data, the civilian groups were ready to face what would
prove to be the turbulent sixties.
In contrast, from 1955 and particularly in the wake of the
striking Gill testimony, the RAAF began a retreat from their original
open minded position. By then the growing number of sightings had
turned into "the UFO problem" -- a problem with uncertain and
controversial public relation, military and political dimensions. To
them the situation was embodied in the determination that they were
dealing with "the UFO problem" - a problem with uncertain and
controversial public relations and political dimensions. Controversy
about possible unknown interlopers in our airspace could not be
tolerated, and officialdom was moving towards effectively managing "the
problem". The scientific ethic never really got off the ground. It
had been effectively scuttled and was in retreat. The scientific
approach had been pushed aside with the rejection of nuclear physicist
Harry Turner's secret study of the Directorate of Air Force
Intelligence (DAFI) UFO files. The military and political ethic had
begun its long march of dominating the official approach to the UFO
controversy. The decades to follow would prove to be controversial and
exciting as the Australian UFO controversy continued its evolution.
The 1960s and the 1970s were periods steeped in UFO accounts of
high strangeness that emerged in a climate of gradually increasing
maturity in the manner in which the phenomenon was investigated.
Considerable intrigue and energetic debate marked the search for
answers from both the perspective of the civilian researcher and that
of the clandestine world of official investigations. Occasionally such
activities came together in curious ways but generally official
investigations remained the stuff of secrecy, at least to the general
public. Civilian researchers themselves were caught up in fundamental
and evolutionary steps towards understanding the nature and extent of
the UFO phenomenon.
The Cressy area of Tasmania became the centre of a spectacular
wave of sightings in October and November, 1960. An entirely
crediblewitness was at the centre of the milieu. Once again, an
Anglican priest reported that he had seen a UFO. The Reverend Lionel
Browning and his wife witnessed a fantastic sight from the dining room
of the Cressy Anglican rectory on 4th October, 1960. A detailed
account appeared in the Launceston Mercury of October 10th
headlined "FLYING SAUCER" SEEN AT CRESSY. Mysterious ships in the sky. A succession of media stories followed elevating the
sighting in to national prominence.
Again, because of the undeniable credibility of the witness, the
RAAF were in a difficult position in their efforts to contain the
rapidly escalating public clamour.
Wing Commander Waller interviewed Rev. Browning and his wife on
November 11th, at their Cressy home. Waller concluded that the couple
were "stable, responsible and unexcitable individuals who would not
perpetrate a hoax", and were "genuinely and firmly convinced that they
saw actual objects." He confirmed this assessment in a letter to Dr.
James McDonald, who undertook a retrospective investigation into the
sighting during his 1967 Australian visit.
The RAAF's attempts to explain the Cressy sighting away were
rather hollow, particularly given an intriguing sighting report I found
buried in the DAFI UFO files. On November 15, 1960, some 50 kilometres
north of Cressy, a United States Air Force JB57 aircraft, operating out
of East Sale RAAF base, encountered a UFO.
The Cressy affair even had a sequel in Australia's federal
parliament. Rev. Browning's federal member, Mr. Duthie, asked the
following question on October 20th, 1960:
Mr. Duthie: "Has the Minister for Air read the reports of
unidentified flying objects sighted in Australia in the last two
years, especially the detailed description of such an object at
Cressy in my electorate by the Reverend Lionel Browning and his
wife two weeks ago, and twice last weekend? Inc idently, the
reverend gentleman was my Liberal opponent at the 1951 and 1954
elections. Does the Minister accept responsibility for
investigating these sightings? Has the Minister any information
about them that may be of interest to the people of Australia?"
The Minister for Air, Mr. Osborne, responded with an answer that
would form the basis of RAAF policy for more than a decade to come.
Mr. Osborne: "I have read the press reports of these sightings in
Tasmania, and in accordance with the usual practice, all the
information that is available concerning them has been furnished
to my department and is now being examined. The Department of Air
does obtain information about all well reported cases of
unidentified flying objects. The department not only receives
information about them but also exchanges it with the Royal Air
Force and the United States Air Force. There is a regular
exchange of information on these matters. I can tell the
honourable member for Wilmont that although reports of this sort
have been investigated very carefully for years, nearly all of
them are explainable on a perfectly normal basis. Sometimes they
are found to be weather balloons, high-flying aircraft or even
On one occasion, it was established that a reported spaceship was
the moon. Of all these reports, only 3 per cent. or 4 per cent.
cannot be explained on the basis of some natural phenomenon, and
nothing that has arisen from that 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. of
unexplained cases gives any firm support for the belief that
interlopers from other places in this world, or outside it, have
been visiting us."
The Gill "entity" reports of 1959 and the Browning "mothership"
report at Cressy in 1960, provided substantial dilemmas for official
UFO investigations. In both cases Anglican ministers were the primary
witnesses and press coverage was extensive and positive. A confidential
briefing paper prepared by DAFI to the RAAF Staff Officer to the
Minister of Air concluded after cursory investigations:
A preliminary analysis of the available information indicates that
(the Cressy) sighting was some form of natural phenomena associated
with the unsettled weather condition. You will recall that the
sighting by Reverend William Gill in the Boianai area of New
Guinea, which also received wide publicity, was very similar and
occurred under almost identical weather conditions. On that
occasion, after investigation, we concluded that the sightings were
either known planets seen through fast moving cloud, or natural
phenomena. The notable difference between the reports is that
objects observed by the Reverend Browning were dull grey in colour,
while those seen by the Reverend Gill were brightly lit and, in one
case, allegedly contained humanoid beings.
The Brownings in the case of Cressy impressed the investigating
RAAF officer as "mentally alert individuals who had no cause or desire
to see objects in the sky other than objects of definite form and
substance." In the case of the Gill reports the investigating
officers' opinions on the main witness's character were also most
favourable. Despite the impact of the Boianai and Cressy reports and
the apparent incongruity of the official "explanations", the prevailing
controversy failed to shift the official stance on UFOs that "nothing
that has arisen from the 3 or 4 per cent of unexplained cases gives any
firm support for the belief that interlopers from other places in this
world or outside it have been visiting us." A close analysis of both
cases (Boianai and Cressy) argues powerfully that the RAAF
"explanations" are unsatisfactory.
A RAAF radar unit at Lee Point, near Darwin, in the Northern
Territory, allegedly monitored a UFO sighting during 1962. At about 8
p.m. one evening, service men observed what appeared, at first, to be
"a strange kind of star." It kept changing colour, dropping in
altitude and then rising again. The Met office indicated that no
planes or balloons were aloft at the time. They estimated the altitude
of the object was about 5 to 6,000 feet. Service men watched the UFO's
movement on their own radar. Their sergeant estimated that the UFO was
the size of a house. Soon after it started to move slowly in a
clockwise arc finally disappearing near dawn!
THE 1965 BALLARAT UFO CONVENTION
A major turning point in civilian UFO research in Australia
occurred on February 27th, 1965, at Ballarat, Victoria. What was
billed as Australia's first convention of UFO groups provided a focus
for elevating the respectability of the UFO subject. Unfortunately, in
hindsight it also started a process that, while initially encouraging,
would eventually divide some UFO groups and lay the seeds of group
political warfare which would resound for years to come.
The occasion was one of great euphoria for those researchers,
investigators and enthusiasts who attended. The conference had been
arranged by W.Howard Sloane, of the Ballarat Astronomical Society, with
the aim of removing "the stigma of ridicule from research into UFOs."
Not only did representatives of most existing Australian groups attend,
but there were also several witnesses to some of Australia's most
famous cases, including the Rev. William Gill and Charles Brew, who
spoke about their experiences. Former Air Marshall Sir George Jones
attended and was outspoken in his support for serious UFO research.
The RAAF was represented by Mr. B. G. Roberts, Senior Research
Scientist, of the Operational Research Office, Department of Air,
Canberra. The presence of a scientific consultant of the RAAF, along
with 2 RAAF officers, manning a hardware display, was an unprecedented
step for the Australian government.
The civilian researcher presentations indicated the thrust of
group investigations at the time. Leslie Locke, President of the Perth
UFO Research Group, spoke on the theme of "Preparing for contact".
Pioneer researcher, Fred Stone, from South Australia, reviewed activity
in New Zealand and emphasised the desirability of unity amongst UFO
groups. Colin Norris, of the South Australian group, Australian Flying
Saucer Research Society, gave a slide presentation on the "History of
UFOs", and also represented the Queensland Flying Saucer Research
Bureau, who were unable to send a delegate. A tape of QFSRB member
Carl Lehmann on "Origin of UFO" reviewed all the possible planetary
origins of "spacecraft coming to earth." Peter Norris, President of
the Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society, gave a detailed
presentation on "Occupants of UFOs." Andrew Tomas, another pioneer
researcher, represented the Sydney based UFO Investigation Centre
(UFOIC), and delivered a lecture on "Purpose of coming to Earth". His
lecture canvased such ideas as "global exploration" and "the world
crisis theories", highlighting that "a contact between planetary
civilisations could become the greatest challenge of all times." Paul
Norman, of VFSRS, lectured on "Electric Effects of UFOs."
The Department of Air (Air Force) scientific representative, B. G.
Roberts gave a presentation which addressed the term UFO and some
objections to it, official assessments of aerial sightings, and the
identification of sightings. Roberts argued the term "unidentified
aerial sightings" (UAS) was a more appropriate one than UFO, the latter
term having long since been regarded as just another term for "flying
saucers". He indicated that "the assessment of reports of unidentified
aerial sightings in Australia and the territories is the responsibility
of the Department of Air at Canberra. There is no hidden implication
in this allocation of responsibility. The Department is simply the most
appropriate authority for the task, which is performed to determine
whether or not a threat to the security of the nation is involved."
Roberts highlighted that 9 out of 10 sightings are explanable.
In terms of "unidentified sightings" Roberts stated,
"the number of sightings which the Department is unable to identify from the
information available has remained fairly consistent at around two a
year. Indeed, given sufficient time and effort, the number of
unidentified sightings probably could be reduced further. One has to
assess, however, whether the required additional time and effort is
warranted. The Department of Air believes that there is, and always
will be, a small number of sightings (due to high altitude phenomena,
which are strange to the untrained eye) for which the available
information will never be sufficient to enable an identification to be
made. In other words it is just not possible to achieve a 100% record
of successful identification. The ideal can be approached but not
achieved, simply because the inaccuracies inherent in this type of work
militate against its achievement."
"The number of unidentified sightings each
year in Australia does not warrant such great effort or expense. Only
where there is evidence that a threat to the security of the nation is
involved (e.g. the possibility of foreign aircraft infringing our air
space) would this attitude be reversed. The Department of Air believes
that there always will be aerial sightings of high altitude phenomena
which are strange to the untrained eye and that of these some will not
"Finally, I would like to make it clear that the
Department of Air never has denied the possibility that some form of
life may exist on other planets in the universe.... However, the
Department has, so far, neither received nor discovered in Australia
any evidence to support the belief that the earth is being observed,
visited or threatened by machines from other planets. Furthermore,
there are no documents, files or dossiers held by the Department which
prove the existence of 'flying saucers'."
The civilian UFO researcher audience, at the Ballarat convention,
sceptical of the claimed lack of compelling UFO photos in the RAAF
files, were interested in Mr. Roberts knowledge on "the holy grail of
Australian ufology", namely the photographic evidence secured by Papua
New Guinea DCA Deputy Director, Tom Drury, back in August, 1953. Peter
Norris, President of VFSRS, asked Roberts if he was aware of the film.
Roberts said he was not. Fred Stone indicated that 4 stills from the
Drury film had been supplied to him by the RAAF in 1954. Roberts
clearly was uninformed about this famous case and even remarked, "I
feel a bit like Daniel in a lions' den!" Andrew Tomas indicated he had
seen the film in the hands of Edgar Jarrold, the pioneer Australian
researcher and director of the Australian Flying Saucer Bureau. There
is evidence that Jarrold did eventually receive prints of individual
frames, some 94 prints, but not the actual film. Tomas told the
convention that the RAAF sent the film to Dayton, Ohio, and then
researchers lost track of it.
Former RAAF Air Marshall Sir George Jones also challenged Mr.
Roberts. While questioning the value of photographs as evidence of the
reality of UFOs, he never-the-less insisted on keeping an open mind
towards reports such as those of Charles Brew at Willow Grove,
Victoria, and Rev. William Gill and others in Papua New Guinea. Sir
George said to Mr. Roberts, "You leave me with an impression that
everything can be explained away given sufficient time and effort. I
don't know how they (RAAF) get on with those things (meaning reports
like those of Charles Brew and Rev. Gill)."
What seemed to have been a very good idea emerged at the
conference. It was suggested apparently by RAAF representatives that
the RAAF would deal with civilian UFO organisations only if they were
organised on a federal level. It was resolved at the convention to
form such a national organisation -- "a centralised body all the groups
in Australia in order to deal with the government and public on top
level." The name of this organisation was agreed as C.A.P.I.O.
(Commonweath Aerial Phenomena Investigation Organisation). Office
bearers were elected at the convention. Peter Norris, VFSRS president,
was made CAPIO president. Leslie Locke (Western Australia) and Andrew
Tomas (NSW) were elected vice presidents. Sylvia Suttton and Judy
Magee, both from VFSRS, took the positions of secretary and assistant
secretary respectively. The CAPIO organisation had begun with great