theozfiles: The early days of the public UFO drama in Australia

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The contemporary and widespread public flirtation with “flying saucers” in Australia was slow to begin with. Intermittent reports occurred, but media prominence really only got under way in 1950 with reports from Geelong and Avoca, Victoria, during June and July.  The earliest still extant sighting report in the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) files was a nocturnal light account at Bass Point, NSW, on July 16, 1950. The growing number of reports that involved official agencies and highly regarded sources served to heightened official interest, initially from two quarters, namely the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA). 

For Australia at least it would take a rash of sightings in 1950 to give a more substantial public launch for the UFO mystery down under. These included the sightings of Fred Bepps in Geelong Victoria during June 1950 and Alex Holland near Avoca Victoria in July 1950.  

It is ironic that the reporting of a less compelling sighting (a parachute or flare?) in New South Wales in April 1950 on the front page of the “Sunday Sun” of April 23 (THEY CALL THESE FLYING SAUCERS Strange sight scares women) may have registered prominently in the consciousness of the “father of Australian ufology” Edgar Jarrold. Inside the same issue Jarrold was “profiled” in the Sun’s “People: Human Stories” but not for any UFO or flying saucer angle. That would come with his own sighting in the following year (1951), which led to him to form his Sydney based UFO group – the Australian Flying Saucer Bureau – in July 1952.

The Sun’s 1950 “profile” described Jarrold as “a man with a secret” – “a book with such a weird plot that it frightens him whenever he thinks about it”, a mystery novel called “Death’s Darkness”. Interviewed at the plaster factory where he worked Jarrold lamented the lot of a struggling writer. He indicated, “I received no encouragement from my parents, who simply bought me expensive accountancy courses which I never finished.” The piece is accompanied with a photo of the 31 year old Edgar Ruce Jarrold.  The same column reported that E. Stanley Brookes of the Melbourne Society of Psychic and Occult Scientific Research had psychic circle “insights” into the nature of “flying saucers” – “radar-controlled war weapons … being experimented with by at least two nations”. Stanley Brookes, indicated he was also known as “the Graveyard Man” and “the only Australian Red Indian Chief”. I think I get his “grave” drift …. lets put it down to the era and a bit of eccentricity. 

Edgar Jarrold’s son Karl supplied me with a copy of the original photo of his father and the dusk jacket of Edgar Jarrold’s own copy of “they Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers.” The latter is wrapped in a clear plastic protective cover of my own copy of Gary Barker’s notorious book, which includes his take on Edgar Jarrold’s “disappearance” from the “flying saucer” scene.

In July, 1952, in response to a huge wave of sightings at the time, and one of his own, during May, 1951, Edgar Jarrold, 33 year-old foundry office worker, husband, and father of 2 young children, began Australia’s first civilian flying saucer organisation. Initially a one man affair, the Australia Flying Saucer Bureau (AFSB) headquartered in Sydney, was by May, 1953, publishing Australia’s first UFO publication, the Australian Flying Saucer Magazine. On February 6, 1953, 5 Victorians founded the Australian Flying Saucer Investigation Committee (AFSIC). The organisation’s chairman was journalist Donald Thomson. In South Australia, during 1953, the Australian Flying Saucer Club (AFSC) was started by Fred Stone. 

July 1952 was a huge time for flying saucers particularly in the United States when they appeared over the capitol Washington DC on two consecutive weekends and were tracked on radar. The events caused a sensation.  See for example “Invasion Washington – UFOs over the capitol” by Kevin Randle, Ph.D., Captain, USAFR (2001) and “Captain Edward J. Ruppelt – Summer of the Saucers – 1952” by Michael Hall and Wendy Connors (2000). Another take on the same period is provided in Frank Feschino Jr.’s eccentric and overreaching book “Shoot Them Down! The Flying Saucer Air Wars of 1952.” (2007), which was a reworking of his strange celebration and investigation of “The Braxton County Monster – The cover-up of the Flatwoods Monster revealed” (2004). The Flatwoods “monster” was a rather intriguing UFO “monster” story from September 1952.

One the more striking Australian cases from the July 1952 period appeared to have been an aerial encounter belatedly reported 18 months later by Australian National Airways (ANA) pilot Captain Bob Jackson near Sydney, New South Wales. He delayed revealing his experience for fear of ridicule, and only did so when other experience pilots started describing their own encounters. He stated, “I was flying towards Mascot, near Worinora Dam, about 11 p.m., when suddenly I saw a flash of light. I watched the thing with an orange coloured light at the tail flash past toward the coast, near Wollongong. Naturally the first thing I did was call Mascot control to ask if any other planes were in the vicinity. They replied that their radar proved negative. About two minutes later the thing appeared again. It made a complete circle around us and vanished again towards the coast at a terrific speed. I can’t explain it. All I know is it was nerve wracking. I mentioned to control that if their radar failed to pick up an object – and it was a definite object – then it must be a flying saucer. They laughed, so I’ve kept quiet about it,” The account came from the Melbourne Sun, January 5, 1954, “Senior pilots saw “saucers” too: “was nerve-wracking”.” 

The following report is striking not only because of the contents and the calibre of the witness. Just one day earlier, the Minister for Air, William McMahon (a future Australian Prime Minister) had stated in parliament that the “flying saucer” reports were “probably based on flights of imagination”. 

The chief test pilot for the Government Aircraft Factories was not given to “flights of imagination” and yet at approximately 1200 hours on August 14th, 1952, while flying in a Vampire aircraft, between 35,000 and 36,000 feet, near Rockhampton, Queensland, he observed something he could not explain. Looking east, towards the coast, the pilot saw a large circular light at a lower elevation which could not be estimated due to bad ground haze. The light was the colour of an ordinary incandescent light globe. After approximately one minute a number of small lights (6 to 10) appeared to come from the main light. The smaller lights appeared to surround the bright light for about 2 minutes before disappearing. After a further 2 minutes the big light also disappeared. That report did not become public knowledge. It may have been embarrassing for the Minister if it had. The report remained classified until I found it in DCA UFO files I was permitted to examine at the offices of the Bureau of Air Safety Investigations during November, 1982. 

Clipping supplied by Keith Basterfield; handwritten annotation by Bill Chalker

Fred Stone, an early “flying saucer” pioneer based in South Australia, described his own UFO sighting, which he dated to a week before the first atomic bomb explosion in Australia. Keith Basterfield sighted an unpublished manuscript by Stone which suggested the year might have been 1953, but the first British atomic bomb test was in the Montebello Islands off the coast of Western Australia on Friday 3 October, 1952.  Perhaps Stone was thinking of the first mainland tests which took place at Emu Field, South Australia. In a newspaper article from 1959 Stone stated, “I was a pig-headed unbeliever a few years ago and thought these flying saucer reports were a lot of hot air. Then, a week before the first atomic bomb explosion in Australia, I was walking along a city street when I saw five cigar –shaped objects apparently hiding in a dark cloud above the city (of Adelaide). Suddenly one of the objects shot out of the cloud and sped away.  Another followed it soon afterwards.  I could see figures in the objects.”  The newspaper article does not elaborate further, but in Keith Basterfield’s account of what he read of the sighting in Stone’s unpublished manuscript, “Stone tells us that “I did not believe in them and considered them a lot of “hooey.” (P.8.) However, in 1953 at about 6.30pm in an Adelaide suburb, he noted “… a very long strange dark cloud in the west, in an otherwise cloudless sky…within this dark cigar shaped cloud, there was a squat shaped saucer-like object.” “To his amazement he could “…see four more of these objects running from the south to the north quite stationary…” After a while “…the southernmost object suddenly shot away at an angle of ninety degrees from the cloud into the west and disappeared at an amazing speed.” Sometime later, “…the second one shot away as did the first…” Stone then boarded a bus and lost sight of the remaining objects.” No reference to the “figures”, and in both versions no mention of what happened to the other 3 objects. Keith summed up the manuscript, “… this unpublished manuscript by one of the main drivers of early UAP research in this state … are a product of that era (the 1950s). There was great concern about the future of humanity, due to the atomic bomb and other social and physical factors. This was the message of many a contactee from that era.”

Flying saucers, UFOs, UAP, atomic connections – in the eye of the beholder.

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