Australian UFO Researcher
Bill Chalker


Bill Chalker
Copyright © B. Chalker 1997

The Tully "saucer nest" has a very special place in UFO lore. The famous Tully "UFO nest" affair of 1966 is one of the best known accounts of an apparent UFO landing report. It is the focus of a very important nexus in the pivotal question of UFO reality. 1966 was a major year for UFO activity in Australia.

The classic UFO landing at Horseshoe Lagoon near Tully, far north Queensland, and witnessed by 28 year old banana farmer George Pedley, entered the term UFO "nest" into popular UFO parlance. The locality was the centre of an extended UFO milieu that continued for many years, particularly in 1969, 1972 and 1975. The area was also the site of controversial experiments in UFO detection through remote sensing and filming.

The Tully incident has been mentioned extensively in the UFO literature over the years, and yet surprisingly many inaccuracies and misconceptions have developed. These problems became more critical when the famous incident once again became the focus of attention, this time due to the English "crop circle" controversy.

The prominent schools of thought on the crop circle formations adopted the 1966 Tully incident as a classic example of their perceived explanations for the circle complexes. Their claims about the relevance of the Tully incident as the progenitor or a classic example of the currently perceived crop circle phenomenon were flawed and generally unfounded. Doug and Dave, the notorious "circle" hoaxers, also cited the Tully incident as the inspiration of their crop circle creation escapades.

Instead of being an example of a wind vortex effect, "spaceship" landing site, the result of occult paranormal forces, "plasma vortex" evidence or hoaxed "saucer nest", the Pedley "nest" is a remarkable example of a UFO physical trace case. The choice of "UFO" is deliberate in that an unidentified phenomenon was apparently involved and a definitive explanation currently eludes us.


The actual site of the 1966 "nest" was in a locality called Horseshoe Lagoon. The lagoon is approximately 40 feet wide and about 90 feet across in an approximately east to west direction. The locality gains its name from the horseshoe shape of the site. The water in the lagoon at the time of the incident was approximately 6 feet deep, but was largely obscured by dense swamp (sword grass) reed growth. These reeds were about half an inch thick and extended about 2 feet above the lagoon surface. The floor of the lagoon was a clay base soil.

In terms of access and view, Horseshoe Lagoon is open on its eastern side -- the base of the U shape. This shape wraps around an area of trees and scrub. The lagoon is surrounded in all directions for some 6 kilometres by flat lowland country. Some heavily forested areas are located some 2 kilometres to the south - south east and to the south. Further isolated patches of trees are found amongst the sugar cane fields that dominate the area.

The lagoon is situated on property owned by Albert Pennisi. The Pennisi family have lived there since 1947. His residence is approximately 1.6 kilometres to the north. A line of trees about a kilometre north of the lagoon obstructs the view from the house.


At about 9 am, on January 19th, 1966, George Pedley was driving a tractor heading south along a narrow track on Albert Pennisi's sugar cane farm. The weather that morning was calm, with the sun shining at approximately 30 to 40 degrees east. When he was approximately 25 yards from Horseshoe Lagoon, Pedley heard above the noise of the tractor, a loud hissing sound, "like air escaping from a tyre."

"The tractor tyres seemed O.K. to me, so I drove on," Pedley said. "Suddenly, an object rose out of the swamp. When I glanced at it, it was already 30 feet above the ground, and at about tree-top level. It was a large, grey, saucer-shaped object, convex on the top and bottom and measured some 25 feet across and 9 feet high. While I watched, it rose another 30 feet, spinning very fast, then it made a shallow dive and took off with tremendous speed. Climbing at an angle of 45 degrees it disappeared within seconds in a south-westerly direction ...". He added, "I saw no portholes or antennas, and there was no sign of life either in or about the ship."


When Pedley drove around the bend of the track to the lagoon, there, at the spot beneath where the object had risen, was a huge, round cleared area in the swamp grass. The water in this circular area was slowly rotating and appeared to be completely cleared of reeds. With this evidence of what he had observed, Pedley concluded, "I have really seen something!" He had passed the same spot some three hours earlier, as close as 12 feet, and had not seen anything unusual.

Within a few minutes he returned to his tractor which he found he had to restart. He had noted just immediately prior to hearing the hissing sound a sound like a misfire in the tractor motor. He was sure it had not stopped. As with most farmers it was not his habit to switch off the tractor motor until finished with it.

Later in the day, apparently about noon, George returned along the track and stopped for another inspection. The cleared area of the lagoon surface was no longer visible. What was clearly evident was a floating mass of reeds, approximately 30 feet in diameter, that had apparently come to the surface of the lagoon during the time Pedley was absent. The floating mass of reeds and grass was noticeably distributed in a radial pattern, in a clear clockwise manner. Pedley was certain the reeds were quite green in this mass, as they were in all the surrounding reeds in the lagoon.

Unable to keep this experience to himself, by about mid-afternoon George Pedley had told a friend, and also Albert Pennisi, the property owner. He led them both to the spot where the extraordinary evidence lay. Both were astounded. Neither had ever seen anything like this before, despite being experienced bushmen. Pennisi "knew" his lagoon and a circular effect like this was totally unprecedented in his experience.

Pennisi and Pedley waded out to the floating mass and found that it was possible to swim from either side under the mass. The water was clear of any obstructions and the lagoon floor beneath it was smooth and clear of any roots. Pedley and Pennisi were most struck by a particular feature of the surface of the floating reed bed - what seemed to be a clear "print" or impression of the UFO.

The outer perimeter of the floating mass was thrust down markedly as if indented by a massive inverted saucer shape, with a circular centre about 6 to 8 feet in diameter. Pennisi rushed to his house and returned with a camera to take a series of photos. By then the upper surfaces of the reeds on top of the "nest" had turned brown. The underside of the reeds remained green. This browning had occurred by late afternoon, some 8 hours after the sighting by Pedley.


About 6 feet to the north of the "nest" a rectangular patch of the swamp couch grass, approximately 5 by 6 feet had been clipped at water level and pulled out completely. Pedley apparently noticed this initially with his original observation of the circular area. A further interesting anomaly was found by Christine Rounland, whose husband helped Pedley with crop fertilising.

She came across some ground markings that resembled curious tracks in loose ploughed soil of an adjoining paddock between Pedley's banana palms. They led from the direction of the lagoon area and extended a short distance into the ploughed field. They were shaped like a tear drop, pointed on one end and rounded at the other. Each were about 3 to 4 inches in length and about 2 inches across at their widest point. They were spaced out at about 12 inch intervals and in a straight line.

Subsequent underwater checks indicated 3 large holes in the muddy floor of the lagoon beneath the Pedley nest. Whether these were there at the time of the sighting could not be absolutely proven, but to some they suggested the possibility of tripod landing indentations. Pedley also reported later that he noticed the presence of a "sulphur" smell in the area around the nest, just after the UFO had departed.


While only the "nest" associated with George Pedley's sighting had an explicit connection with a UFO close encounter, other "nests" were found in quick succession in Horseshoe Lagoon. While intriguing none of the subsequent finds were as compelling as the original "nest". The area became the focus of ongoing "nest" phenomena and indeed Tully became known as the UFO capital of Australia. Tully had long been known as the locality with one of the highest regular rain falls in Australia.

The period of Pedley's encounter fell within the "wet" season, namely January to February. Usually this takes the form of heavy to drizzling rain. Hence it is easy to see why weather phenomena was deemed a possible explanation. However the facts do not lend themselves to this convenient answer. Strong winds during this "wet season" usually occur when cyclones are present. Pedley's encounter occurred during calm fine weather. The prevailing weather for the area in the 24 hours proceding the incident were not conducive for the formation of local windstorms.

Locals are familar with wind damage, even those involving small scale vortices. These usually feature rougher and messy grass coverage disturbance and evidence of debri and trails in the immediate locality. None of this was evident. When the news of George Pedley's encounter and the "nest" started to spread, coverage through the media proliferated. It was front page news. All sorts of theories abounded for the "nest". Helicopters, nesting birds ("Big Bird"?), crocodiles, dogs, secret military devices, "spaceships", reed eating grubs, willy willy and whirlwinds were amongst the many ideas trotted out.

There was some confusion with regard to the direction of the nest spiral which persisted in various accounts over the years. The Pedley "nest" had a clockwise swirl. This aspect at least ruled out one explanation. The Brisbane paper, The Courier Mail, of January 25th, 1966, stated, "RAAF officials discounted the theory that 'nests' have been made by helicopters. The RAAF said that in depressions left by helicopters the grass usually ran in an anti-clockwise direction - the main nest found at Tully ran in a clockwise direction."

Alf Macdonald, the Stock Routes Inspector for Northern Queensland, who had lived in the area since 1933, thought the wind vortex theory was unlikely. He said that the district had not had a strong whirlwind, and indicated that they left a path anyway. George Pedley also commented, "I've seen wet whirlwinds and dust whirlwinds. If the police believe this, let them. I know what I saw. It wasn't a whirlwind."

The Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society (now VUFORS) published an excellent item, "The Tully 'nests': How freakish can whirlwinds be?" which concluded that "the atmospheric vortex hypothesis" was untenable, despite cyclonic rotation in the southern hemisphere being clockwise. Large scale vortex weather systems such as cyclones and whirlwinds largely have their rotation determined by the Coriolis Effect, but local factors can negate these tendencies, particularly in smaller vortex systems such as "willy willies".

Stan Seers of the Queensland Flying Saucer Research Bureau (QFSRB) arranged for samples to be taken by Albert Pennisi, namely reeds, mud and water from the "nest" area and also from nearby grass. These were received in Brisbane on January 24th, and submitted for examination by the Queensland University Botany and Physics departments. Results for radioactivity were minimal. All samples bar one were negative. The sample taken from the centre of the nest showed a small increase in beta activity, much less than from a luminous wristwatch dial.

Mr. G. Taylor, the staff physicist confirmed that this was an insignificant result and was probably within background readings. Dr. Langdon of the botany department reported that the grass apparently died from submersion in swamp water. No evidence for parasitic infestation or burning was found. The submersion theory was not supported by the facts or local tests conducted by Albert Pennisi at the suggestion of QFSRB. It seemed the reeds in the nest had turned brown in about 8 hours. Reeds that were uprooted and submerged in swamp water turned brown after about 3 days.

Aerial and ground searches of the area were conducted in the wake of the Pedley find. Another two nests were found on January 20th by local farmer Tom Warren and school teacher Hank Penning, only 25 yards from the original "nest". They were a few feet apart and only about a third of the diameter of the original. The reeds were flattened, one clockwise and the other counterclockwise. This find led to extensive searches. A week after the original find, cane farmer, Lou Lardi, and his nephew, Van Klaphake, discovered another two "nests", both apparently much older than the Pedley find.

One was about 12 feet in diameter and the other was 8 feet, with distinct signs of burning in a circular patch of reeds in its centre. A few days later, another identical "new" nest with an apparent scorched centre was found among the earlier nests. The last 3 nests all had their reeds flattened in anti-clockwise fashion.

The traces found after the original nest, although interesting, are less compelling, because of the huge interest and presence of many people in the wake of the initial publicity. Although not proven, hoaxing may have been possible in the later finds. None of these nests had an apparent UFO connection. There was extensive UFO activity being reported but none of it was related to explicit UFO landing events.

George Pedley, a bachelor, lived with Ashley Butler, 64, a neighbouring farmer. He was known to be a quiet, hard worker. None of the locals had anything against him, even those who did not believe in his sighting. He said to journalists, "Had anyone asked me five days ago if I believed in flying saucers I'd have laughed and thought they were nuts. But now I know better." Farmer, George Pedley's sighting at Horseshoe Lagoon and the physical evidence found there caused a media sensation.

The Brisbane newspaper, The Sunday Mail, of January 23rd, 1966 "quoted" Pedley:

"I was driving the tractor through a neighbouring property on my way to my farm about 9 a.m. on Wednesday when I heard a loud hissing noise above the engine noise of the tractor.

"At first I ignored the sound, but suddenly I saw a spaceship rise at great speed out of Horseshoe Lagoon, about 25 yards in front of me. It was blue-grey, about 25 ft. across, and nine feet high. It spun at a terrific rate as it rose vertically to about 60 ft., then made a shallow dive and rose sharply. Travelling at a fantastic speed, it headed off in a south-westerly direction. I saw no portholes or antennae, and there was no sign of life either in or about the ship.

"But on my way home to Tully that night I met Albert Pennisi, who owns the property where I saw the saucer. He said that about 5.30 a.m. on Wednesday his dog suddenly went mad and bounded off towards the lagoon."


While George Pedley was himself a skeptic converted by his experience, the January 20th sighting did not occur in a vacuum. One suprising element came out in an article by Sun-Herald journalist John Dickson on January 23. Pedley attributed the following to Albert Pennisi, the property owner:

"He believed me straight away and told me he had been dreaming for a week that a flying saucer would land on his property.

"He said that about 5.50 am on Wednesday [the morning of the discovery of the original nest - B.C.] his dog suddenly went mad and bounded off towards the lagoon."

Pennisi elaborated on these dreams in an interview with the Sydney newspaper The Sun on January 24, 1966. He was quoted by journalist Ben Davie:

"I'd get them almost every night. And they were beginning to worry me. I couldn't understand them. It was always the same. This thing like a giant dish would come out of nowhere and land nearby. And I would watch it in my dream and get real afraid before it went away. Then on Wednesday morning about 5 o'clock my dog suddenly seemed to go out of its mind. It was howling like a mad thing and raced off towards the lagoon."

While Pennisi did not clarify this strange element to the Tully UFO saga, there were suggestions of paranormal happenings. Much of this information was anecdotal and unconfirmed. More than a decade later, according to information I received, at nearby Murray Upper, a similar situation apparently unfolded. A young woman was woken up by her father, apparently because he thought the house was on fire. There was a huge orange glow outside.

They tried to wake up other family members without success. Fear started to overcome them and they ran down the hallway of the house away from the light. Their next recollection was that they both woke up the next morning extremely puzzled by what seemed to be a bizarre shared dream. Over breakfast they heard radio reports of UFO sightings. They then realised their "memories" were not dreams. A circular area of flattened sugar cane was found near the house.

I subsequently spoke with the young woman. While she only confirmed these events in a vague sort of way she did have a history that many would consider to be a classic UFO abductee. I even spoke to her father but he did not confirm the experience and was not keen to elaborate further. I was not able to confirm the validity of the affair.

There were other accounts in the surrounding area that were somewhat suggestive but ultimately unconfirmable. For example Ted Phillips' Physical Traces associated with UFO Sightings catalogue (CUFOS, 1975) describes the following intriguing event:

At about 10 pm, on November 5th, 1971, in the South Johnstone area,

"two locomotive men of the South Johnstone Cooperative Sugar Milling Assoc., Ltd. were in the Number Two Branch area when the traffic control officer tried to contact them by radio. Jumbled and incoherent voices were heard. Believing an accident had occurred, a rescue party was sent out. One of the group observed a dazzling and powerful light in the area where burnt cane scarred by great heat was found. When they reached the driver and fireman they found them stupefied with one man repeatedly pointing to the sky. Both were taken to a hospital."

The source is cited as the Evening Advocate.

The UFO Investigation Centre (UFOIC) files of the early seventies reveal a possible partial confirmation of the story. A correspondent referred to what was apparently this incident:

"It was either during the inward or the outward trip of a loco that the driver and his mate saw a strange light in one of the fields. On investigation of the light, the men are reported to have seen some kind of strange object in the field... The upshot was that they were placed in hospital under sedation, for about 2 weeks, due probably to hysteria ..."

One of the most prolific sources of UFO stories from the Tully area was local witness, Claire Noble. She reported on extensive activity that preceded the famous Pedley sighting of January, 1966. According to Mrs. Noble there had been aboriginal stories spanning many years from Tully Gorge, Murray River and mountain areas around Tully. Apparently aboriginal folklore suggested similar occurrences from earlier times although I have not come across explicit evidence of this.

One of the earlier reports came from near Euramo, the closest village to Horseshoe Lagoon. In September, 1959, a Max Menzel was driving a tractor when he spotted "a brilliant, large, conical craft, approximately 30 feet long", which seemed to be hovering over the top of sugar cane, just 100 feet away. A nearby house was illuminated in a vivid red and orange light. There was a proliferation of sightings through 1965, including an apparent night time landing on the slopes of Mount Mackay on November 29th.

Activity surged for months in the wake of Pedley's experience. The Tully district seemed to be haunted by UFOs. "Nest" activity reoccurred during early 1968 culminating in a strange affair involving a remote "UFO detector" and linked camera at Horseshoe Lagoon being triggered and running off footage. The undeveloped footage was posted off to Kodak.

The package was returned with a note from Kodak saying the container contained no film on arrival in Melbourne, despite the original postage being indicative of a film being present. Investigators even used a local member of parliament to try to get to the bottom of the missing film mystery, but all to no avail.

"Nest" activity also occurred at Horseshoe Lagoon during subsequent years including 1969, 1972, 1975, 1981 and 1987. By 1990 Albert Pennisi was indicating there had been 22 nests at his lagoon since 1966. However none were as compelling with regard to an explicit UFO connection as George Pedley's find in 1966. While hoaxing and misinterpretation was suggested in some of the later finds, such allegations were not applicable to the original nest.


I have spoken to George Pedley on a number of occassions. Initially I found him to be reluctant to resurrect his experience. However he was interested to assist a serious attempt to clarify what had happened. For example, I spoke with George Pedley on June 3rd, 1981:

B.C.: From what I have read you saw what you called a spaceship? You didn't really describe it in much detail.

G.P.: Oh, I would never have said I saw a spaceship!

B.C.: That's what the papers were quoting you as saying.

G.P: Well, that's wrong for a start. I saw an object... something going up and that's it. Just what it was, I don't know.

B.C.: What did you really see?

G.P.: Well ah, I just saw this thing in the sky and it took off! It was about 25 feet when I saw it. 25 to 30 feet in the air, when I saw it.

B.C.: It was in the air when you saw it?

G.P.: Oh yes, I didn't see it in the lagoon as they say. That's wrong. The marks were in the lagoon... and it just took off from there (in the air). It went up another 25 feet and it just flew straight out.

B.C: So you saw it rise up from a position of about 20 feet when you first saw it.

G.P.: Thats right.

B.C.: And the position where you first saw it, was that in the same spot where the nests were found?

G.P.: You mean the object?

B.C.: Yes, where you saw the object rise up, you say you saw it originally from 20 feet in the air, roughly about 20 feet in the air...

G.P.: Yeah...

B.C.: Where the nests were subsequently found, was that directly beneath that position or...

G.P.: That's correct.

B.C.: What sort of size would you have put on it?

G.P.: Size? Oh, the size was pretty right. I'd say 29-30 feet, something like that.

B.C.: Did you get the impression of an object, or was it sort of a solid-looking thing or gaseous...

G.P.: Well I thought it was a solid thing, at the time. I didn't see any portholes, or anything like that, antennas or anything like that. They could have been there, I'm not saying they weren't there.

B.C.: What sort of shape would you have put on it?

G.P.: Something similar to like 2 saucers, you know, face to face...

B.C.: What sort of colour?

G.P.: It seemed a silvery grey, a blue grey, like that.

G.P.: (with regard to the media assertions that he saw the object rise up out of the lagoon) I think there was a little bit of misunderstanding there. I would say it was their fault. Anyway, I'd never say that.

B.C.: So how long in sight was it for?

G.P.: We worked it out to say 30 seconds.


The RAAF files describe the famous Tully incident in the following manner:

At about 9.00 a.m. on 19th January, 1966, Mr. G.A. Pedley, a banana grower of Tully, Qld, observed a light grey non reflecting dull object, reported to be about 25 feet long and 8 feet deep, rise vertically then climb on an angle of 45° from a height of about 30 feet above marshland which was situated about 25 yards away from his position.

There was an associated hissing noise which decreased as the 'object' rose. The apparent shape was described as 'two saucers, face to face', but no structural detail was observed. The duration of the observation was approximately 15 seconds and it disappeared in mid-air whilst receding into the distance (not assessed).

"A clearly defined near circular depression remained in evidence in swamp grass at the point from which the object was seen rising, and measured about 32 feet long by 25 feet wide. The grass was flattened in clockwise curves to water level within the circle and the reeds had been uprooted from the mud. There was no scorching of grass or surrounding trees and the observer stated that there was no smell of combustion..."

My research of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) files uncovered the original police report on the incident. As these are the earliest documented sources, extracts of it are included here of details not included in the above statement made in 1973 in response to an enquiry from the Australian newspaper.

George Pedley reported his experience to Tully Police at 7.30 pm, on January 19th. At 7 am, January 20th George Pedley and Sgt. A.V. Moylan went to the site of the incident. Sgt. Moylan then contacted Townsville RAAF Base by telephone, on the morning of January 20th. Flt. Lt. Wallace advised Sgt. Moylan that he would forward a proforma questionnaire for completion by George Pedley. On Friday, January 21st, Flt. Lt.

Wallace confirmed despatch of two copies of the sighting proforma by mail that same day and also requested Sgt. Moylan obtain "a sample of the grass from the scorched area." At 3.30 pm, on the same day, Moylan returned to the site and took a sample "of the grass from the depression in the swamp grass at the site." The proforma was filled out by Moylan based on his interviews with George Pedley and was dated 26/1/66. Sgt. Moylan despatched the report and the sample on 26/1/66.

The following details are extracted from the RAAF REPORT ON AERIAL OBJECT OBSERVED Moylan filled out with George Pedley. Because so many conflicting claims have been made about what George Pedley said at the time, it is worthwhile to go back to the original official documentation filled out at the time of the incident:

Name of Observer: George Alfred PEDLEY aged 28 years

Manner of observation: travelling on a tractor about 1/2 mile from farm house of Albert PENNISI, Rockingham Road, Euramo. Attention attracted by hissing noise, clearly heard over noise of tractor - similar to air escaping from tyre; checked tyres and was looking about for source of noise when he saw object about 25 yards ahead. No optical instruments used in sighting.

Height or angle of elevation: First seen at treetop height 30'. Rose vertically to about twice that height, then departed, climbing at about 45 degrees.

Speed, or angular velocity: Extremely fast; No estimate of speed, but much faster than an aeroplane. It was near treetops and these gave observer a good basis for estimating height.

Direction of flight with reference to landmarks or points of the compass: Rose vertically to about 60 feet and departed south west climbing at about 45 degrees; appeared to be rotating for full time observed. (object appeared to remain on) straight climbing path.

Existence of any physical evidence: Clearly defined near-circular depression in swamp grass at point from which object seen rising, about 32' long and 25' wide. Grass flattened to surface of 4' of water lying in xxxx-clockwise curves.

[Sgt. Moylan in his report had typed in anti-clockwise initially and then corrected it to clockwise, by overtyping 'anti' with 'xxxx'. The direction of the swirl at the site of the 19 January 1966 incident was to become a matter of ongoing confusion. The clockwise direction was the correction direction - B.C.]

Weather conditions experienced at time of observation:
Clear sky; Hot sunshine.

Location of any air traffic in the vicinity at the time of sighting: Unknown but checked by RAAF Garbut.

[Flt. Lt. Wallace of Townsville RAAF base in a covering minute paper confirmed that "there were no service or Civil aircraft operating in the area.. at the time of the sighting.."- B.C.]  

Any additional information: (Sgt. Moylan wrote)

Observer reported this matter to Tully Police at 7.30pm on 19/1/66 and at 7am, 20/1/66 went with me to the site of the depression in the swamp. His version then included the information that the object rose vertically, appeared to dip slightly and then went off in straight climbing path.

He then said...further that there was no smell of combustion and no scorching of grass or trees visible; that the the flattened grass or rushes was quite green when he first saw the depression; on his return that afternoon the grass had turned brown.

(Sgt. Moylan further added:)

In this matter I formed the opinion that the depressed area in the swamp grass had been caused by a small helicopter and that the observer, in the early morning bright sunlight shining on the rotor may have mistaken the shape. His description of the take off lent some strength to my opinion. However there was cleared land to the east for about 200 yards where such an aircraft could have more safely landed instead of the position indicated by the observer, close to trees.

Later I was informed by Wallace Evans of ...Tully, an electrician, that he has seen similar markings in a swamp at Kurrumine Beach and is quite certain that it was caused by a whirlwind, sucking up water into a waterspout, uprooting the grass and laying it out in a similar pattern. At 3.30pm, 21/1/66 I took a sample of the grass at the site and have forwarded it under seperate cover on even date.

Flt. Lt. T.D. Wright, for Air Officer Commanding, Headquarters Operational Command, RAAF, Penrith, New South Wales (NSW), on-forwarded police Sgt. Moylan's report on George Pedley's UFO sighting and Flt. Lt. Wallace's covering minute paper, to the Department of Air, Russell Offices, Canberra. His communication classified RESTRICTED, which was channelled to the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI), also indicated, "This headquarters believes that the depressions of the swamp grass were caused by small isolated waterspouts."

In response to an enquiry, dated 2nd February, 1966, from the Commonwealth Aerial Phenomena Investigation Organisation (CAPIO), the Secretary, Department of Air, Mr. A.B. McFarlane, wrote on 11th February, 1966:

"Investigations of the area surrounding the reported "Nests", testing of samples taken from around them and interrogation of persons involved in the report failed to reveal anything of significance.

"However, during enquiries a number of local residents stated that the reported "nests" are fairly common during the onset of the "wet". Furthermore, the University of Queensland stated that there was nothing unnatural in the samples submitted and assessed that the "nests" could have been the result of severe turbulence, which normally accompany line squalls and thunderstorms prevalent in NORTH QUEENSLAND at the time of the year.

"There is no explanation for the visible phenomena reported but it could have been associated with or the result of "down draughts", "willy willies" or "water spouts" that are known to occur in the area.

".. for information January of this year from an airfield in the tropics (a number of photographs taken give) a fine example of the type and growth of a cloud formation occuring with a severe "down draught". This whirling mass of tropical air associated with thunderstorm activity, on reaching the earth's surface may dissipate and subside or persist giving rise to dust eddies, water spouts, etc, leaving a telltale circular pattern on the ground.

Should it occur over a swampy reed bed the effect would be to flatten the reeds with a circular pattern. Resultant photographs and investigations of the "nests" seem to fit in with this theory and is accepted as a possible cause of the phenomena."

It is fascinating to note how Secretary McFarlane's cursory explanatory exposition, no doubt inspired by "the tornado-like metereological phenomena" that infested skies over Willow Grove, Victoria (Charles Brews famous 1963 close encounter) and Vaucluse Beach, NSW (Dennis Crowe's striking suburban encounter in 1965), anticipated by almost 2 decades Dr. Terence Meaden's early theoretical attempts to explain the English "crop circles" of the 1980s. Dr. Meaden would mistakenly assume that George Pedley saw his "vortex" at 9 pm, not 9 am, which was a fatal flaw in the mechanism he originally put forth to explain the report.

The Willow Grove

"Tornado-Like Meteorological Manifestation"

At 7 am, February 15th, 1963, Charles Brew bore witness to a classic close encounter. With his 20 year old son, Trevor, Brew was at work in the milking shed on their farm, "Willow Grove", near Moe, Victoria. It was light, but rain clouds lay overhead. Charles Brew was standing in an open area, with a full view of the eastern sky. It was from that direction that he saw a strange object appear and descend very slowly towards the milk shed.

The objects approach was coincident with the cattle and a pony reacting violently. The 2 farm dogs fled. A local newspaper even reported that the cows turned somersaults, a suggestion the Brews denied. The UFO descended to an apparent height of between 75 and 100 feet, hovering over a large Stringy-Bark tree. It was about 25 feet in diameter and 9 to 10 feet high. The top section appeared to be a transparent dome of a glass-like material, from which protruded a 5 to 6 foot high mast or aerial. The "aerial" appeared to be as thick as a broom and resembled bright chrome.

The top portion of the disc itself was battle-ship grey in colour and appeared to be of a metallic lustre. The base or underside section glowed with a pale blue colour and had "scoop-like protuberances about 12 to 18 inches apart around the outside edge." This section rotated slowly at about one revolution per second. This spinning motion apparently caused the protuberances to generate a swishing noise, somewhat like a turbine noise, that was clearly audible not only to Brew but also to his son Trevor, who was located inside the shed near the operating diesel-powered milking machine units.

Charles Brew described how he felt his eyes were drawn towards the object "as though beams of magnetic current" were between it and him. He also experienced a peculiar headache which came on with the approach of the object. Even though Brew normally did not suffer migraine, the use of tablets did not subdue the headache.

After hovering for a few seconds, the object began to climb at roughly a 45 degree angle, continuing on its westward course and passing up into the cloud deck again. Trevor did not see the UFO, but confirmed the unusual sound, like a "diggerydoo" or "bullroarer" - aboriginal artifacts which can produce a pulsating wind rushing noise.

Flt. Lt. N. Hudson and Sqd. Ldr. A.F. Javes of the RAAF interviewed Charles Brew on site on March 4th, 1963. While impressed with his credibility, the weather at the time of the sighting - heavy continuous rain with very low cloud and poor visibility, and with a fresh wind in an easterly direction, caused them to focus on weather-related explanations. Their report describes the basis of their somewhat extraordinary "explanation" for the incident:

"On 6th March, Dr. Berson and Mr. Clark (of the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation) Meteorological Physics division) were interviewed to see if clouds give this type of phenomenon. They agreed that a tornado condition could give this effect. The direction of rotation of Brew's report of the object was consistent with known facts for the Southern Hemisphere.

The blue-ish colouring has been reported previously and is probably due to electric discharge and there would be a smell of ozone. The only difference in Brew's report was that the object moved from East to West because all previous reports to the CSIRO Met section of this nature have been from West to East. Mr. Brew stated that the wind was fresh from an easterly direction. However, (a) meteorological report states that wind was westerly at 8 knots."

The report notes that the met report was from a Yallourn observer, which is about 20 kilometres away; therefore local variations in the weather would not have been unusual. Despite this lack of rigour in determining how relevant their hypothesis was, the RAAF officer's report concluded, "There is little doubt that Brew did witness something, and it is most likely that it was a natural phenomenon. The phenomenon was probably a tornado. There was no reported damage along its path, therefore one could assume that it was weak in nature."

The Department of Air responded to a civilian UFO group enquiry about the incident with the following statement,

"Our investigation and enquiries reveal that there are scientific records of certain tornado-like meteorological manifestations which have a similar appearance in many ways to whatever was seen by Mr. Brew. The information available is such however, that while we accept this is a possibility, we are unable to come to any firm conclusion as to the nature of the object or manifestation reported."

The official sighting summaries removed any such doubt. By then the "possible cause" was listed as a "tornado-like meteorological manifestation." In correspondence with the Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society, the CSIRO's Dr. Berson indicated, "we are unable to come to any firm conclusion as to the nature of the object or manifestation reported."

It seems clear that the RAAF were largely parroting the CSIRO's conclusions and taking things a little further without any realistic justification. Their musings pre-empted Terence Meaden's "vortex" hypothesis by some 2 decades.

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.

There was evidently extensive interest from the military and government scientists. Brew indicated that the RAAF officers told him that the object he saw was similar to those seen overseas and that it was the best sighting they had looked at.

What the Department of Air referred to as a "tornado like meteorological manifestation" elicited the following emotive description from Charles Brew. It mirrors the striking nature of his encounter with the "unknown". He said, "I wished it would come again. It was beautiful. I could feel the life pulsating from it."

A local bard penned a witty ballad, placing the sighting as happening at night, not in the morning, but lets indulge him. The local newspaper, The Moe Advocate, described it thus:

"... the following heretical ballad has been submitted by a Moe resident who asks us to preserve his anonymity as he is "strongly against capital punishment":  


"At Willow Grove, north west of Moe,
One starry summer's night,
A flying saucer 'peared on high,
And gave the cows a fright.
Don't scoff or scorn at Willow Grove,
Or throw jokes at its face,
For Willow Groves' not far from Moe
And Moe's the queerest place.

"For we who've lived here long enough,
Are not surprised one bit,
That men from Mars should visit us,
And give the cows a fit.

".... perhaps these saucer jokers,
Wandering lost amongst the stars,
Thought Moe's like nothing else on earth,
And reckoned it was Mars."

With the help of VFSRS, Dr. James McDonald visited Charles Brew during his 1967 Australian trip and interviewed him at the site of the 1963 incident. McDonald concluded, "like that of many other UFO witnesses, it is extremely difficult to explain in present-day scientific or technological terminology."

Despite the extraordinary nature of the Willow Grove incident and the high level of official interest in it, the sighting was listed in a subsequently released "Summary of Unidentified Aerial Sightings reported to Department of Air, Canberra, ACT, from 1960" as having a possible cause of "tornado like meteorological manifestation."

The Vaucluse Beach "Tornado"

Between showers and high winds, Dennis Crowe, a former technical artist with English aircraft companies, was walking along Vaucluse Beach, one of Sydney's beach suburbs, at about 5.30 pm, on July 19th, 1965. He became aware of a glow coming from what appeared to be a huge disc shaped object resting on leg-like structures. The object's diameter was estimated at some 20 feet.

It had a glowing, greenish blue rim, while the top and bottom halves were dull silver grey in appearance. Crowe thought a hollow in the top could have been a glass dome. He could not make out any sign of movement in the object. When he approached the object to within 50 to 60 feet, it suddenly lifted off the ground. A noise, like air being forcibly released from a balloon, was noticed. The UFO climbed rapidly and within 10 seconds had disappeared into clouds.

There were no other witnesses to the encounter save a dozen or so dogs. While the object was stationary they were all barking loudly at it. After it took off they were all strangely silent. A geologist made independent calculations at the landing site which confirmed definite traces of an unusual object having rested there. He stated that the vegetation there was dying and would remain dead for a number of years. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) put forward a possible explanation for this extraordinary incident. They suggested it was a "tornado"!

The Vaucluse "tornado" was another remarkable example of an unlikely explanation put forward by the RAAF, that perhaps anticipated meteorologist Terence Meaden's "plasma vortex" hypothesis and his extreme applications of it to English "crop circles" of the 80s and 90s, and significant UFO physical trace events.

The Tully "Willy Willy"

The only other significant official statement on the Tully sighting I found in the RAAF files was included in a letter by Mr. G.J. Odgers, Director of Public Relations, Department of Defence (Air Office), dated 17th December, 1973, directed to Charles Wright, a journalist working on a article for the national newspaper, The Australian.

George Odgers' Air Office public relations department had clearly gleaned from the 1966 DAFI files details of an explanation of what George Pedley had seen that the original RAAF officers and Department officers back in 1966 had not determined:

Although a conclusive determination could not be made, the most probable explanation was that the sighting was of a 'willy willy' or circular wind phenomenon which flattened the reeds and sucked up debris to a height of about 30 feet, thus forming what appeared to be a 'flying saucer', before moving off and dissipating. Hissing noises are known to be associated with 'willy willies' and the theory is also substantiated by the clockwise configuration of the depression.

Mr. Odgers further added, more generally,

"All too often unusual occurrences are reported in sensational terms with little or no attempt made at rational assessment. The general subject is 'newsworthy' and lends itself to sensationalism and guesswork, but in most cases logical explanations follow from careful investigation. You will appreciate that there is nothing to be gained from reopening old cases." [a sentiment I would not agree with - B.C.]

Circular Perspectives

The "crop circle" controversy is a very recent phenomenon on the unusual ground effects stage, with specific and limited physical and social dimensions. My "physical traces" review in UFOS 1947 - 1987 highlighted the rich tradition of UFO related ground traces. The English "crop circle" controversy is a belated abberation which was done more damage than good for the credibility of the physical dimensions of the UFO phenomenon.

The "crop circle" controversy has also been embraced by the new age community, some of whom view the striking complex patterns as vindication of obscurely expressed signs that "mother earth" is in trouble and this is her way of alerting us to wake up and "do the right thing" - noble thoughts, but in this context more a tribute to wooly thinking and gullible belief in very dubious "crop circles".

I took an early interest in the English crop circle saga as it unfolded in the early 1980s, alert for any potential implications for the UFO mystery. However it quickly became evident that the English crop circle milieu was a startling example of a modern myth in the making.

In the majority of cases no clear correlation exists with apparent physical unidentified flying objects, whereas in the better documented UFO landing events substantial correlations exist. The Tully incident is a clear example. The 1980 Rosedale (Australia) landing, the 1974 Landenberg (Canada) encounter and the 1981 Trans-en-Provence (France) event are further strong examples of impressive UFO physical trace cases.

It was indeed puzzling that where a very dubious connection exists between the UK "crop circles" and UFOs, that a theoretical mechanism emerged that sought to explain both, namely the Meaden "plasma vortex" hypothesis. However the mechanism was on very shaky ground in its patently flawed attempts to explain the more provocative UFO landing cases.

I initially gave a guarded endorsement of the possible utility of the early versions of the hypothesis, in the BUFORA booklet Controversy of the Circles (1989): "It appears to be a possible explanation for many of the circle formations, that fit the topographic restrictions of the theory.... Providing researchers understand the limitations of the vortex theory, then I see it as a reasonable hypothesis."

It seems that advocates of the theory have gone way beyond its limitations, and by so doing have critically damaged the credibility of a hypothesis, which may still have a place in explaining some cases.

In The UFO conspiracy (1987) Jenny Randles suggested that the Tully "nest" affair may be explained by meteorologist Terence Meaden's developing "vortex" theory. In Controversy of the Circles (1989) I was quoted as indicating, "I have spent some considerable time assessing the evidence of the 1966 Tully 'UFO landing nest" ...

I have to state that the vortex model does not apply here for many reasons. The RAAF suggested this as an explanation at the time. It did not fit the facts then, nor does it fit the 'vortex' model as it is currently understood." The theory was to evolve into the 'plasma vortex" hypothesis, but my reasons (which were ommitted from the BUFORA report) are equally valid, namely:

1. The topography does not fit the theory. The Horseshoe lagoon is part of an extensive flat coastal area. The nearest hill/mountain/high ground is literally miles away.

2. There was no prevailing wind conditions. In fact the weather had been fine and sunny.

3. The witness saw a UFO described as 2 saucers end on end - in broad daylight at close proximity for some 10 to 15 seconds. To argue that he saw a 'vortex' is to categorically reject his evidence and the physical evidence at the site. The reeds did not disappear from the site.

They were floating on the surface. There was no evidence that a sufficient quantity of reeds were lifted up to create the impression of the UFO Pedley saw. He saw it directly above the 'nest'. It then rose up and then moved off at speed, rotating as it went. I think it it is extremely difficult to reconcile this to an observation of a 'vortex'."

While the evolved "plasma vortex" theory moved closer it was still untenable.

In Crop Circles - A Mystery Solved (1990)

Jenny Randles made an untenable attempt at suggesting the striking 1980 Rosedale Australia UFO landing was an example of "the Meaden Vortex Theory in action". The duration alone makes this an unrealistic explanation. Also where Jenny Randles interpreted in the Rosedale witness's description of a "tube", "a vortex funnel", in reality he was describing an explanding annulus like a black inner tyre tube, situated on the base of the object, something significantly different to a "vortex".

Suggestions that the Tully "nest" and "UFO" were similar to a "vortex" incident at Marple in 1988 are strained at best. While the flying hay "vortex disc" at Marple is intriguing it should be pointed out that the hay body was clearly recognised as such by witnesses. Light hay had clearly been lifted up by midday summer vortex thermals and was drifting. In the Tully incident we are dealing with water-laden reeds, a fast moving "object" and an apparent lack of absent reeds from the lagoon.

In other words the RAAF's suggestion of a Willy Willy "vortex" of reeds from the lagoon cannot be sustained. The 1966 Tully UFO physical trace case still stands as a classic example of the impressive physical dimensions of the UFO phenomenon. We should continue with our efforts focused on the physical reality of UFOs and use this as a basis of understanding the phenomenon rather than anchoring much of our speculations on less credible dimensions of the phenomenon.


The OZ Files - the Australian UFO story, by Bill Chalker, Duffy & Snellgrove, Australia, 1996.

"Tully (Australia) 'saucer nests'", by Bill Chalker, in The Encyclopedia of UFOs edited by Ronald Story, Doubleday Dolphin, New York, 1980.

"UFOs in Australia and New Zealand, 1960-1979" by Bill Chalker, in "High Strangeness: UFOs from 1960 through 1979", The UFO Encyclopedia, Volume 3, by Jerome Clark, Omnigraphics, Detroit, 1996.

Personal communications by Bill Chalker with George Pedley, Albert Pennisi and Stan Seers.

Field Investigations at Tully by Bill Chalker (1973) and Russell Boundy & Holly Goriss (1987 & 1990)

"Tully/Horeshoe Lagoon - Location study, August 30 1990" by Holly Gorris & Russell Boundy, UFO Research, Far North Queensland prepared for Bill Chalker.

"1966 TULLY ...", Australian Flying Saucer Review (UFOIC Edition), No.9, November, 1966.

"Queensland Again" by Judith Magee, Flying Saucer Review (FSR) (U.K.), March - April, 1966.

"North Queensland UFO Saga" by Stan Seers and William Lasich, FSR May-June, 1969.

"Tully - 1966", UFO Research (Qld) report, Brisbane, Qld, September, 1977.

Willy Willies & Cockeyed Bobs - Tornadoes in Australia by David Seargent, Karagi Publications, The Entrance, 1991.

"The Tully 'nests': How Freakish can whirlwinds be?", Anon., Australian Flying Saucer Review, No.5, July, 1966.

UFOs - the Case for Scientific Myopia by Stan Seers, Vantage Press, New York, 1983.

Round In Circles by Jim Schnabel, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1993.

The Circles Effect and its Mysteries by G.T. Meaden, Artetech, Bradford-on-Avon, 1989.

The Crop Circle Enigma edited by Ralph Noyes, Gateway, Wellow, Bath, 1990.

Crop Circles - A Mystery Solved by Jenny Randles & Paul Fuller, Hale, London, 1990 & 1993.

"A Crop of Circles", in Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious Universe TV programme (1994), featured on site interviews with George Pedley and Albert Pennisi.

Source: The Australasian Ufologist Magazine Vol.4 No.4 Pgs 4-13 (Photos/Illustrations)


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