In 1930, a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) officer, Squadron Leader George Jones, was sent to Warrnambool, Victoria, to investigate reports of mystery aircraft flying over the coast. No explanation was found in this early official RAAF UFO investigation. Further "mystery aircraft" reports were made in the near Pacific and Papua New Guinea area in 1930, and in 1931 the RAAF was denying any of her planes were the explanation for "mystery planes "reported widely in Tasmania."
Jones was to become RAAF Chief of the Air Staff during World War Two, and subsequently Air Marshall Sir George Jones. He was himself to become a UFO witness in 1957. He also became a valuable advocate of serious UFO research, being a patron of the short lived national civilian UFO research organisation CAPIO - Commonwealth Aerial Phenomena Investigation Organisation, and a member of VUFORS - the Victorian UFO Research Society.
In 1965, the former Air Marshall, Sir George Jones, recollected the 1930 affair, in an interview published in the Australian Flying Saucer Review (UFOIC, Sydney edition, No.8, June, 1965, pg.18):
"My first introduction to UFOs was in 1930. At the time I was a squadron - leader in the air force and was sent to Warrnambool because some people down there had seen a formation of what they took to be aircraft flying over the coast."
"I went there but could not establish what they were. They were not aircraft belonging to us and, as far as I could find out, they were not aircraft belonging to any other powers. The possibility that they might have been a formation of swans or other birds was always there. But the thing was left open - I could not establish what it was."
George Jones also described his own UFO sighting which occurred on October 16th, 1957. He saw "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 about it publicly lest people should think I was either an incompetent witness or getting a little screwy in the head." (quoted in a statement George Jones made on January 3rd, 1958, at Warburton, Victoria).
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 he was!
Jones was not alone during 1957. It was a major year of activity both in Australia and overseas.
THE WAVE OF 1957
Coincident with a spectacular UFO wave in the United States, which featured the extraordinary Levelland "electromagnetic" milieu, in which several independent drivers had their cars immobilised during UFO encounters, Australia experienced a wave of impressive reports.
At about 7.46 pm (local time), on September 27th, 1957, the Air Traffic Controller at Launceston airport, Tasmania, observed a strong white light to the east proceeding at DC3 speed towards Hobart. Met radar and Tower control at Hobart were alerted. At 8.23 pm, the Met radar picked up a strong echo at 9 to 10 thousand feet heading towards Hobart. The trace was held for approximately 15 seconds, where upon the source appeared to accelerate with "a terrific burst of speed" and disappear.
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 fashion.
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".
On November 8th, 1957, astronomers at the Commonwealth Observatory at Mount Stromlo, near Canberra, the nation's capital, became reluctant but prestigious witnesses to the Australian UFO mystery. They observed a bright, pink object moving across the western horizon for about 8 minutes after 3.03 a.m., before it disappeared. One of the astronomers who saw the UFO, Dr. A. Przybylski, said it had a bright pink luminosity which was brighter than anything else in the sky at the time except the moon.
It appeared to be brighter than Venus. The object travelled slowly across the horizon, in a southerly direction, rose and passed beneath the moon before sinking again and eventually disappearing. Dr. Przybylski's observation had lasted for about 2 minutes. He was quoted as saying that the object was completely unlike anything he had hitherto seen. Two of his colleagues also saw the object. Rough computations suggested the object was not more than 1,600 miles above the earth.
Its velocity was too slow for it to be a meteorite, even slower than the slow moving Taurid meteorites, and the two Soviet Sputnik satellites had already made their passage. A check with aviation authorities indicated that there were no aircraft in the sky after 2 a.m. No scientist at the Observatory had ever previously observed such an object. The assistant director of the observatory, Dr. A. R. Hogg, indicated "that it was the first time the observatory had sighted what might be called an unidentified flying object. What it was remains an open question."
SIR GEORGE JONES AND THE 1965 UFO CONVENTION
Sir George Jones was a prominent guest at a major turning point in civilian UFO research in Australia. It 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 out spoken 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 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 explainable.
"Finally," Roberts added, "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)."
Because of his significant role in the Australian UFO story, I approached Sir George during 1988 for an interview. He kindly consented and on December 9th, 1988 I sat down with him in his Beaumuris home. While he was of failing eye sight, at the age of 92, he was very sharp and articulate with surprisingly interesting recollections from so long ago.
B.C: I think the earliest involvement you had was back in 1930 when you were a squadron leader and you were asked to do an investigation of what was thought to be planes or birds off the coast of Warrnambool.
Sir George: Yes, that was my earliest experience with that sort of thing. I was senior staff officer at the time and I was ordered to go down to Warrnambool and investigate the report of some strange things that had been seen flying over the district. I went down there and interrogated the people who had been seeing things. They couldn't tell anything to clear up the mystery. One elderly man said, Oh, I think it must have been some of these Germans coming here. It was before the war - the second war - some of these Germans coming in formation. We knew darn well that wasn't so. Anyhow, I reported what they had said, that sort of thing, but it didn't clear up anything.
B.C: What that a formation of lights?
Sir George: Well it was just a formation. It might have been a flock of birds, large birds, I don't know.
B.C: Was it during the day or during the night?
Sir George: During the evening, I think it was. So we had to let that go.
Sir George described recollections of the 1959 Papuan Father Gill case, having met him, and that officialdom knew that it was not one of ours and more likely not from earth.
Sir George: So there was something there alright. And we knew very well that it wasn't human craft as we understand it and that nobody could possibly have flown there from any established base or anything like that.
He recollected the 1965 Ballarat meeting and how the RAAF technical representative had tried to ridicule and explain the more unusual reports.
Sir George: I rather resented that
I got up after he had spoken and said, do you contend then that you understand all possible physical phenomena in the universe. Oh no, no we don't contend that. Might this have been some phenomena, rather a new thing we don't understand. Oh, I suppose so, that sort of thing.
Sir George also recollected the 1963 Willow Grove Moe close encounter of dairy farmer Charles Brew. Considering he was recollecting this after nearly 30 years he was surprisingly accurate in his recall.
Presumably in October 1957, 3 days after Tommy White, a minister of Air over Jones, had died at Barwon Heads, Sir George and his wife were driving.
Sir George told me that they saw "a brilliant white light came in from over the bay. As far as my memory goes it looked as though it was 500 feet, flying fairly fast, 300 or 400 miles an hour, very fast
.The extraordinary part about it was that it made no noise what ever
it disappeared right over in the direction of Melbourne. I was very mystified what it could be. I rather jokingly said to a lot of the air force people a little bit later, that might have been the next day,
Oh I saw Tommy White last night returning in his celestial chariot! I remember them saying, poor old Jones he has seen some flying saucers, ha, ha
made a joke of it you see. It was no joke as far as I was concerned.
I asked Sir George given his position in the Defence hierarchy what the official attitude was.
Sir George: Oh, the official attitude was one of scepticism, there was doubt whether they existed. There was no confirmation. You couldn't prove it
Sir George was aware of the Nullarbor sighting of the Knowles made early in the year of our interview - 1988 - and mentioned he had heard of drivers who refused to take that road because of the sightings.
B.C: When you look into that thing at Warrnambool back in 1930 was that just part - were you asked to do that as part of your normal job? Was that an unusual thing to be asked at that time?
Sir George: Oh, very unusual to be asked to do. You could well imagine nobody felt convinced that there was anything very mysterious at that stage.
B.C: Why did they pick you at the time?
Sir George: Well I was the chief flying instructor at Point Cook, so I suppose they reckon not only could I fly to the right place, but I could form a reasonable conclusion as to its authenticity. I reported what they had said
there was nothing much you could do about it.
I came away from the interview deeply impressed with Sir George. His biography "From Private to Air Marshall - The Autobiography of Air Marshal Sir George Jones" (1988), paints a picture of an outstanding Australian. I was honoured that he had granted me the interview and had autographed my copy of his book.
"The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History" by P. Dennis, J. Grey, E. Morris & R. Prior, 1995, records that Sir George Jones died on 24th August, 1992.
I had thought that the earliest evidence for official investigations in UFO like situations may have occurred in 1920.
STRANGE LIGHTS AND VANISHINGS
The official files do not confirm significant military activity before 1950, however research has confirmed involvement by the military, albeit in some cases, cursory in nature, back as far as 1920. The Navy submarine depot ship, the Platypus, was involved in the search for a missing schooner, the Amelia J, in Bass Strait. Mystery lights, thought at the time to be "evidently rockets", were observed. Two aircraft left the flying training school and aircraft depot at Point Cook to join in the investigation. One was piloted by a Major Anderson and the other by Captain W.J. Stutt - an instructor for the NSW Government Aviation school at Richmond (a forerunner to the Richmond RAAF base, established soon after the birth of the RAAF in 1921).
Stutt and his mechanic, Sergeant Dalzell were last seen by Major Anderson flying into a large cloud. Their plane and the schooner were never found. Fifty eight years later the Bass Strait became the centre of another extraordinary plane/pilot disappearance, namely the Valentich affair of 1978.
(Reproduced from "The Devils Meridian" by Kevin Killey & Gary Lester (1980)
Recently I uncovered even earlier evidence of official Australian investigations of possible UFO phenomena near Queenscliff in Victoria during 1914. Was this something to do with the interment of German immigrants during the early months of the war - a product of the paranoia of the period. Ultimately 3986 German-born Australians were interned in various locations in each state (see Frank Cain's 1983 book "The origins of political surveillance in Australia", pgs 4-5). A Department of Defence minute paper (file series A38/7/80) dated 2nd November, 1914 and entitled "Report on investigation into reports of strange aircraft at Queenscliff". Lieut. Henry Petre (sic?) A.I.S., wrote the following report:
"I visited Queenscliff on the 19th October and reported to the O.C.D.P. at 7.30 pm. At 8.25 pm I proceeded to the Out-post in charge of A Infantry Sub command stationed on a hill a mile from Queenscliff and commanding an unobstructed view on all sides. I remained till 9.30 and then proceeded to Queenscliff Port but, finding the out-post more suitable for observation, I returned there at 10.15 pm. Sentries were on duty all night and were instructed to report to me if any lights were seen. I received a report at 10.30 that a moving light was visible in the West, but on inspecting it I found it to be a star seen through the haze and mirage above the horizon
"Nothing further was seen that night.
"On the following day (20th October), I interviewed various persons who stated that they had seen lights moving through the sky, though the only account that seemed to me to be entitled to full credence, was that of Capt. Instone, a Pilot and, therefore, a man who should be able to distinguish between a star and an artificial light.
"The wife of one of the gunners informed me that she had seen a light moving across the sky from Point Lonsdale to South Channel and back again on the previous evening at 8.30. If there had been such a light I should have almost certainly seen it while driving to the outpost as I was sitting at the back of the cart and facing in the direction in which it was supposed to be.
"No sound was heard by any of the persons interviewed though some of them stated that the light had been within a mile of them. "I spent the night 20th-21st October at the Outpost in charge of A Infantry sub command, but again saw nothing.
"On the 21st October I returned to the Central Flying School by the train leaving Queenscliff at 6.20 am.
"On the 22nd October I made a flight to Germantown and reconnoitred. I had intended to proceed from there to Bonnie Vale and meet Colonel Sandford, but was prevented from going further by the failure of my engine.
"I carried with me as observer Lieut. Williams, and we made a careful inspection of the country from a height of 1000 feet. There were no indications of the presence of Air craft, there being no buildings large enough to house them and nearly all the fields being under corn. In my opinion, it would be impossible for any Air craft to leave Germantown without its presence being known to practically all the inhabitants. This of course only applies to the immediate vicinity of the Township as further reconnaisance was cut short by the rapid loss of power of the engine.
"I landed at Geelong at 4.5 and reported to the O.C.D.P. Queenscliff by telephone and, though, after allowing the engine to cool, it was possible to again ascend and return to Werribee, I did not think it wise to proceed further as overheating prevented the engine from running for any length of time.
"I have not seen or heard anything to convince me of the presence of hostile air craft in the neighbourhood."
It seems the inteprid lieutenant was an early airborne UFO investigator back in 1914. It seems that his flight was designed to check out possible enemy activity emanating from Germantown. Such activity does not seem likely under the circumstances. Other areas seem to have usual activity. The town of Kempsey situated on the Macleay River in northern New South Wales has had a long history of UFO sightings. During September, 1913, "a fireball or will-o'-the-wisp" sighted up the Macleay River was reported as "making the curious speculate".
During November, 1914, the sky over the Macleay and Maria rivers played host to a nocturnal mystery, complete with mystery planes, "machinery hums", flashing "signalling" lights, and an aerial searchlight which "was visible for ten minutes when it coursed south and disappeared." There were reports through the fifties and sixties, but UFO activity was the most intense during 1971. Like a small number of other areas throughout the rest of Australia, sightings have continued, suggesting that factors common to the area are of significance to the manifestation of the UFO phenomenon. Enquiries into these areas may eventually lead to the elucidation of the nature and motive of this elusive phenomenon.
There were indications of official military involvement in investigating UFO events as early as 1914 in Australia. All such involvement up until the modern era of UFO reports, beginning in 1947, were driven by contemporary issues and concerns, such as alarm about possible foreign military activity. To have such a highly regarded figure as George Jones involved as an investigator in 1930, as a witness in 1957 and as a very well credentialed advocate in 1965, is a remarkable testament of the evolution of one unique Australian's participation in a premier mystery of our times.