THE COMMONWEALTH SCIENTIFIC AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH ORGANISATION (CSIRO) AND UFOS: 1952 to 1972
What is the CSIRIO?
The Science and Industry Research Act 1949 established the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Included in its powers and functions:
· The initiation and carrying out of scientific researches and investigations in connection with, or for the promotion of, primary or secondary industries
· The training of scientific research workers
· The collection and dissemination of information relating to scientific and technical matters.
The early days
In a previous Newsletter, we reported that in May 1952, the Department of Civil Aviation was thinking of setting up its own investigation unit into “flying saucers,” but that Security agencies were said to have told them that they could not do so:
“Shortly afterwards a security spokesman confirmed they had investigators working on the reports with the aid of scientists from the radio-physics division of the CSIRO.”(1)
It was therefore with some interest that we located a CSIRO file dealing with “Flying saucers” in the NAA. This CSIRO file was from file series A9778 control symbol M1/F/31, date range 1952-1957, and was simply titled “Flying saucers.”
The initial piece of correspondence was dated 26 Aug 1952 and was from a Mr May of Grenfell NSW, who at 3.40am on the 22 Aug 1952 was awoken by his son to “come and see the flying saucer.” Looking into the sky they saw a “misty phosphorescent phenomenon” moving from the NW to NE, which disappeared after several minutes. It then re-appeared in the NW, moving again to the NE. It was last seen about 4am. It transpired that the son had been watching since 3am and the light travelled along the same course each time.
The Secretary of the Industrial and Physical Sciences area of the CSIRO replied on the 10 Sep 1952. “It is difficult, on the basis of the information you have given, for us to make any attempt at a detailed explanation of your observations.” (2) He went on to advise that searchlights can illuminate clouds without the beam being visible from the ground.
In a letter dated 9 Sep 1952 the Australian representative of The Chicago Daily News Foreign Service advised that the paper was doing a piece on “flying saucers” and asked a number of questions of the CSIRO. These were:
“1. Do you know of any evidence in Australian tending to prove or disprove ‘flying saucers’ as mysterious aircraft?
2. Do you know of any cases which defy scientific explanation of the phenomena Australians have reported seeing in their skies?
3. Have you made any discoveries or formed any theories about these phenomena?” (3)
The Chairman of the CSIRO, Dr Clunies-Ross, responded on 18 Sep 1952:
“I am afraid it is not possible for this organisation to make any useful contributions to the survey, since we know of few, if any, reports of the observations of ‘flying saucers’ in this country and certainly none which deserve serious consideration.” (4)
Government Minister R G Casey wrote a letter to the Editor of a number of Australian newspapers and on 5 Feb 1954 sent a copy of a press clipping to Dr Clunies-Ross. The clipping included:
“I have lists of the dates over the last several years on which people have reported having seen ‘flying saucers’ in Australia and have compared them with the dates on which the earth passes through the principal (sic) meteoric showers. There appears to be a noticeable relationship between these two sets of dates.” (5)
Minister Casey, as then Minister in charge of the CSIRO, wrote to Dr Clunies-Ross on 22 Feb 1954 advising that he (Casey) had sent a copy of his meteor article to Dr Bowen, Chief of the Division of Radio physics, who said “This is the first time such a relationship has been suggested and it might well be the complete answer.” (6)
On another Government file there is an exchange of correspondence between Casey and Bowen. At one point Casey asked Bowen for his views on a book by Keyhoe “Flying Saucers from Outer Space.” Bowen responded “I must say, however, that I am far from convinced by any of the anecdotes or arguments. “ (7) The earlier reporting that security agencies were “…working on the reports with the aid of scientists from the radio-physics division of the CSIRO” must be seen in the light of this statement by the Chief of the Division of Radio physics.
Finally, the file contains a letter from a person in Esperance WA to the CSIRO asking for the identity of a “luminous egg” shaped object seen travelling from SW to E at 8.15pm on 16 Aug 1957. Dr Clunies-Ross wrote back on 17 Oct 1957 “I am afraid I can offer no explanation of this object…I shall, however, refer your letter to others more competent in this field…” (8)
Comments from elsewhere than this file
In Feb 1958 at Tarcutta NSW a witness reported hearing an unusual noise and observing the tops of trees unnaturally waving around. Chunks of a clinker type of material were discovered. “Specimens of the material were sent to the CSIRO in Sydney but no analysis was forthcoming.” (9)
Also, in 1958, on the 2nd a CSIRO physicist, Mr R Taylor of Adelaide reported observing an object in the sky with a cone shaped rear flame. This object, which travelled SW to NE was associated with a low pitched droning sound. (10)
Another CSIRO file
A second CSIRO file located was from file series A8520, control symbol HM1/30 titled “Miscellaneous Enquiries-General-UFO’s Unidentified Flying Objects.” with a date range of 1959-1989. The NAA have a digital copy of this file which is currently open between 1959 and 1969.
In the 1959 to 1961 period there are a number of pieces of correspondence from the Department of Territories on file, concerning reports from Papua New Guinea. The originals were forwarded to the Department of Defence, with copies to the CSIRO. The CSIRO appeared to have simply filed the papers on this miscellaneous file.
Readers may recall that in an earlier Newsletter we reported that in the early 1960’s USAF U-2 aircraft flew missions out of RAAF East Sale. We suggested that some UFO reports were due to these aircraft. Details of these missions under the High Altitude Sampling Program, Operation “Crowflight,” are only just now being released in Government files under the Archives Act. Reading one recently available “Crowflight” file revealed that CSIRO equipment was flown on USAF U-2 aircraft. The CSIRO used these flights “…for observations connected with its experimental programme in cloud physics and rain making.” (11) An irony of this situation is that the CSIRO may have been involved in U-2 flights which ended up being reported as UFOs!
Back to the second file -Did the CSIRO actually actively investigate UFO reports?
In May 1963, a letter came in from a Phillip Mayall, of the “UFO Research Centre” in Blackwood, South Australia. In part it read:
“It has recently been drawn to my attention that in recent months certain members of your organisation have been in attendance at places where Unidentified Flying Objects had been recently observed.” (12)
Myall offered his assistance to the CSIRIO in investigations. In a response dated 10 May 1963 the CSIRO replied “CSIRIO has not carried out any work in this field although, of course, some of its officers may have a private interest in it.” (13) The letter continued that it was possible one CSIRO member may have been involved, and on the same day a letter went from the CSIRO to a Dr G F Bornsmissza of Boolara, Vic:
“I do not know whether you have been interrogating anyone in Moe lately, concerning flying saucers, but if you have, and your interest in them is more than a casual one, you might care to write to Mayall.” (14)
This reference to Moe, concerns the Willow Grove, via Moe, Victoria CE1 case of 15 Feb 1963 where a Mr Brew reported seeing an extraordinary object at close range. The RAAF sent two officers to interview Brew. These officers also interviewed a Dr Berson and a Mr Clark of the CSIRO about the possibility of the Moe object being a meteorological phenomenon, possibly a tornado. The RAAF report does not say that any CSIRO staff members interviewed Brew. (15) However, Bill Chalker states:
“Dr Berson and an associate visited Charles Brew at the Willow Grove property. According to Brew, Dr Berson was interested in the headache that he had, and indicated that Berson had said that it tied in with their theory of a possible electromagnetic nature of the incident. The CSIRO’s field investigation had in fact preceded the RAAF by about a week.” (16)
Clyde Cameron MHR for Hindmarsh in South Australia wrote to Senator the Hon J G Gorton, then Minister in charge of the CSIRO on 13 Jul 1964 regarding one Colin Norris of Adelaide asking “… whether you could give him a job watching for flying saucers…” (17)
Answering a 1964 query from a Mr Hennessey of London in the United Kingdom, the CSIRO advised “…it [the CSIRO] has not been specifically concerned with unidentified flying objects.” (18) Interestingly, the CSIRO made no mention of the fact that the Department of Air was the central Australian agency collating UFO reports on behalf of the Government. It turns out that Julian Hennessey was a British UFO researcher who was behind the later (1967) attempt at lobbying the British Government to release copies of the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) most impressive cases. However, this request for access was rejected. (19)
During 1965, more Department of Territories’ reports were copied to the CSIRO. Internally, copies were forwarded to both the Radio physics and the Upper Atmosphere sections. No analysis appears on the file.
Sylvia Sutton of the Commonwealth Aerial Phenomena Investigation Organisation (CAPIO), the national level UFO organisation, forwarded a list of CAPIO officers to the CSIRO in October 1966. A hand written note on the file read “Records. UFOs are Mr Wilson’s worry-as from Exec meeting today.”(20) Other papers on the file revealed Mr L G Wilson was the Secretary, Administration, CSIRO.
Co-operation sought between Government Departments
The Department of Air wrote to the CSIRO on 12 Oct 1966 advising that “…Sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects have during recent months been receiving considerable publicity.” (21) The DOA invited the CSIRO to comment on specific UFO cases to be sent to them by the RAAF. The minutes of the 92nd meeting of the CSIRO executive committee on 25 Oct 1966 para 10, on file, revealed that the CSIRO agreed to the DOA’s request. They responded on 7 Nov 1966 when Mr L G Wilson replied “The organisation is quite happy to assist in this way...” (22) Exactly who within the organisation would take on this role does not appear on the file.
As in 1963, a piece of 1968 correspondence suggested that the CSIRO was in fact interested enough in UFOs to investigate a case. A memo dated 28 Nov 1968 from the DOA said in part:
“During the course of an investigation into the unusual sightings made by Mr A S Ricketts of Bacchus marsh, Victoria, it was learned that a ‘team of CSIRO scientists’ had visited him on 7th July 1966.” (23)
It then asked the CSIRO for any information on this matter. By way of reply on 5 Dec 1968 the CSIRO commented “I have made enquiries…but with negative results.” (24) An inspection of the report of the RAAF interviewing officer located a paragraph:
“Mr Ricketts had a visit from a team of CSIRO scientists who saw something but would not confirm that this was a UFO. Mr Ricketts would not divulge the names of the CSIRO scientists.”(25)
Enter Dr Michael J Duggin
As foreshadowed in a comment in 1963 that some CSIRO staff members might have a private interest in UFOs, in came a memo from the DOA dated 5 Jan 1967. It provided a copy of a letter from one Dr M J Duggin on CSIRO letterhead (National Standards Laboratory) to the DOA. Duggin referred to a previous telephone call, then described work on the UFO phenomenon being undertaken by Vallee and Hynek in the USA. Advising that several scientists in different countries were gathering UFO data he wrote “I would like to investigate cases myself where possible and would be very willing to be of any help which I can.” (26) Also attached was a “To whom in may concern” letter from J Allen Hynek introducing Duggin. Duggin had met Hynek and Vallee when Duggin visited Chicago in Nov 1966. (27)
The DOA memo stated, re Duggin’s letter:
“It is understood that this scientific investigation is quite unofficial…This department has no objection additionally to passing reports of all ufo sightings to Dr Duggin provided that this would not cause you any embarrassment.” (28)
A hand written CSIRO note on the file read “Discussions with Colin Harper (at Chippendale)-has no objections to Duggin’s extra-curricular activity.”
An examination of RAAF file 554/1/30 (their policy file at this stage) reveals the original of Duggin’s letter to Squadron Leader Baxter in DAFI. Folio 115 of 554/1/30 dated 29 Dec 1966 is an internal memo from D/DAFI (Ops) to DAFI which included:
“You will note that these scientists are mainly interested in the unexplained UFO’s, but as far as I can make out they would like information on all sightings…These scientists, with all the documents and facilities available to them, are obviously in a position to assist us in this matter, and though I am not too keen on releasing the details of the RAAF investigations or anything which may increase the interest of the general public in this field, I think we should give these scientists the information they require.”
On file, DAFI do not discuss what assistance it was felt Duggin et al could provide.
Dr Duggin conducted an investigation of a report from Sydney on 8 Mar 1967 where a dull grey-black object emitting a low humming sound was observed. Duggin forwarded the details of the case to Hynek in the USA. A copy of the report appears on a RAAF file (29)
When the Project interviewed former Government employee Harry Turner (see Newsletter sixteen) we asked Harry about a proposal for a rapid investigation team within the DSTI area of the Joint Intelligence Bureau, Department of Defence. Turner told us he was the instigator of the idea. A request was made to the Secretary of Defence, who referred it on to DAFI. DAFI reacted badly against it and it was rejected. Mike Duggin was the other main player with Turner. Together they had investigated a reported UFO landing on a Sydney golf course. They took samples and looked at what temperature would have been required to make the marks/holes. From memory Turner thought that a temperature hotter than an oxy-acetylene torch would have been needed. Turner and Duggin went there privately to investigate and interviewed the green keeper who had found the marks. Turner thought it was quite a convincing case.
In 1970 Duggin investigated a trace case at Boggabri NSW. A year later he presented a paper titled “The analysis of UFO Reports” at a symposium held on 30 Oct 1971, in Adelaide. The symposium, on UFOs, was organised by the SA Division of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science.
In Aug 1973 Hynek was out here in Australia and together with Duggin and Harry Turner, Hynek attended a Department of Defence DAFI meeting on the 24th. A DAFI file note (30) called it “An unofficial meeting…in an endeavour to expand the scientific relationship to the problem.” In the meeting, Duggin was described as “…a member of the CSIRO and is currently based in Sydney (North Ryde) and heading the Australian research aspects of ERSAT.” Paragraph 5 of the note read:
“DAFI suggested that CSIRO or the Dept of Science ( but preferably the former) seemed to be logical agencies to conduct greater in depth investigation in Australia. DAFI agreed that a selection of reports (mainly those which were unanswerable and scientific in context) could possibly be made available to CSIRO for further study and computerization.”
A biography located on a United States Air Force web site indicates Duggin left Australia in 1979 and became an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Resources and Forest Engineering, Division of Engineering, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York, Syracuse, USA. The biography goes on to say that in 2002 Duggin left that position and became Senior Scientist, Space Vehicles Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, USA. We have written to Dr Duggin to ask if he is willing to respond to a series of questions about his interest over those years.
Back to the second CSIRO UFO files
The Journal “Science” in its 14 Oct 1966 issue wrote on the establishment of the Condon investigation in the USA. Someone at CSIRO was interested enough in it to forward a copy of the article to the DOA. (31)
A 19 Apr 1967 letter from Peter Norris of CAPIO referred to the University of Colorado’s USA UFO study and stated “The purpose of my letter is to enquire whether the CSIRO would consider establishing a similar investigation in Australia…” (32) There is no evidence on file that this request received any in-depth attention. The CSIRO’s reply went out five days later, on 24 Apr 1967-“I am sorry to tell you that it is felt it would not be appropriate in Australia at this time for CSIRO to embark on such an investigation…” (33) CSIRO then referred Norris to the DOA, and forwarded a copy of Norris’s letter and their reply to the DOA (copy sighted on RAAF file 554/1/30.)
The CSIRO Division of Fisheries and Oceanography referred a UFO report to the Royal Australian Navy from the M S Seaway on 27 Apr 1967. The report referred to an observation of three comet-like objects seen at 2130hrs EST on 5 Apr, travelling to the NNE over a 25 second period. (34)
It wasn’t until late 1967 that the DOA/RAAF took up the CSIRO’s offer to look at an individual UFO case. On 20 Dec 1967 RAAF Pearce forwarded a report from Derby WA for comment. It was an unusual report involving a strange vehicle and a human-like figure. CSIRO despatched a reply on 4 Jan 1968 “The nature of the report attached to your letter is such that CSIRO cannot usefully comment on it.” (35)
June 1968 brought in two more reports from RAAF Pearce to the CSIRO for comment. They were referred internally to Dr E G Bowen, Chief of the Division of Radio physics and to Dr D F Martyn, Chief of the Upper Atmosphere area. Martyn responded that there was too little data. Bowen wrote “…We are not very good at UFO’s and I find it difficult to comment…” (36)
June 1968 also saw a copy of a letter on file from the Department of External Affairs to the Secretary Prime Minister’s Department concerning another letter from UK Ufologist Hennessey. In part it read: “…the history of this subject reveals that the more time and effort that is spent by experienced scientists in investigating the smaller becomes the residue of unexplained phenomena…in spite of these difficulties the Australian Government continue to keep records of all “sightings” and associated phenomena reported within Australian and associated territories.” (37)
As we have previously seen, raw reports were made to the CSIRO from time to time. In Mar 1969 a Mrs Gibbs of Kyogle NSW reported finding a twenty foot diameter “scorched grass” area with toadstools. The CSIRO sent a toadstool to the Government botanist who identified it and suggested the cause of the “scorched grass” was in fact a “fairy ring” fungus. The CSIRO forwarded a copy of this correspondence to the DOA. (38)
The last relevant item concerning the CSIRO is from 1972 where the main RAAF DAFI policy file contains a cryptic file note dated 14 Sep 1972. “CSIRO has a very high resolution radar which is mobile and which we could possibly utilise at some future date.” (39) Looking at DAFI files to see what was occurring at that time, we found that a number of UFO reports were generated in Victoria near Maffra, Morwell, Stratfield and Sale around 14 Sep 72. (40)
(1) Holledge, S 1965 Flying Saucers Over Australia Sydney Horwitz p 31.
(2) National Archives of Australia: A9778, M1/F/31, digital image p13.
(3) National Archives of Australia: A9778, M1/F/31, digital image p12.
(4) National Archives of Australia: A9778, M1/F/31, digital image p11.
(5) National Archives of Australia: A9778, M1/F/31, digital image p10.
(6) National Archives of Australia: A9778, M1/F/31, digital image p8.
(7) National Archives of Australia: M1148, Flying saucers 1954 to 1955, pp19-23.
(8) National Archives of Australia: A9778, M1/F/31, digital image p2.
(9) Hervey, M 1969 UFOs over the Southern Hemisphere Sydney Horwitz p 39.
(10) Hervey, M 1969 UFOs over the Southern Hemisphere Sydney Horwitz p133.
(11) National Archives of Australia: A1838, 694/7/22 Part 1 p168.
(12) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p79.
(13) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p78.
(14) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, p77.
(15) National Archives of Australia: A703, 580/1/1 part 4 pp 315-319.
(17) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p71.
(18) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p67.
(19) Clarke D and Roberts A 2002 Out of the Shadows Judy Piatkus London p247
(20) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p50.
(21) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p49.
(22) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p47.
(23) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p43.
(24) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p42.
(25) National Archives of Australia A703, 580/1/1 part 6 p27.
(26) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image pp39-40.
(27) Vallee, J 1992 Forbidden Science North Atlantic Books Chicago p226.
(28) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p37.
(29) National Archives of Australia: A703, 580/1/1 part 7 p 173.
(30) National Archives of Australia: A703, 554/1/30 part 3 folio 16.
(31) National Archives of Australia: A703, 554/1/30 folio 104..
(32) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p36.
(33) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p25.
(34) National Archives of Australia: A703, 580/1/1 part 7 p 137.
(35) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p22.
(36) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p6.
(37) National Archives of Australia:A8520, HM1/30, digital image p6.
(38) National Archives of Australia: A703, 580/1/1 part 11 pp78-82.
(39) National Archives of Australia: A703, 554/1/30 part 3.
(40) National Archives of Australia: A703, 580/1/1 part 18 p48.