Australian UFO Researcher
Bill Chalker


Copyright © B. Chalker 1983-2001

Explanations for the Min Min Light and other similar “ghost lights” are as numerous and varied as the sightings themselves. In a survey completed in 1981, Australian researcher, Mark Moravec, concluded that “ghost lights” may be:

(1) “Misidentifications of natural phenomena such as wind-blown mists; phospheresence in marshes; spontaneous neuronal discharges in the visual field; clusters of luminescent insects; light refraction effects; ball lightning or other electric discharge.

(2) An unknown natural phenomenon involving low-level air oscillations; or ionisation in geophysically-generated electrical fields (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs) or “earth lights” -B.C.).

(3) Psychokinetic or poltergeist effects unconsciously produced by an individual.

(4) Non-physical apparitions/ghosts.

(5) Small, physical UFOs (“remote-control probes”).”

As far as the Min Min Light is concerned, these possible explanations vary from not unreasonable to exotic suggestions, to the quite untenable. It seems clear even from this limited survey of “ghost light” phenomena that not all such reports can be relegated to over active imaginations.

Lets consider some of the possible explanations.

Despite what a few of the locals suggest, “small, physical UFOs” are not likely to be among the explanations for the Min Min Light. Only a few accounts may fall into this speculative category, and even these contain elements that suggest they are atypical of the mystery light indigenous to the Boulia area. For example the soaring “strange light” observed by Mr. C. Rhodes and company, at Min Min, back in 1951, seems to have been something entirely different in character to the famous “ghost light” that haunted the very locality of this sighting. May be it was a “small physical UFO” or in fact a large light source due to the distance involved. The strange apparition at Garah in 1972 also suggests an artificial explanation, but possibly of a most intriguing kind. Such manifestations of small, and ostensibly, artificial “objects” are not rare in the annals of UFO sightings, but because they are somewhat atypical of the Min Min Light sightings, we will not concern ourselves further with them here. They are, it seems, another neglected area of extraordinary phenomena awaiting serious scientific enquiry.

“Non-physical apparitions/ghosts” as an answer for the Min Min Light, might seem consistent with the lore of “ghost lights” but there is no “solid” evidence (no pun intended) for this enduring folklore. In fact we will see shortly that the connection of death and the “ghost lights” (i.e. hauntings) is a legacy of, and a tribute to, the infinite variety of unusual natural phenomena. Likewise, for unconsciously produced “psychic” effects by individuals, if such things are possible.

“Unidentified aerial phenomena” (UAPs) or “earth lights” are fast becoming centres of growing intense interest of critical UFO researchers, who recognise that the extraterrestrial hypothesis for many unexplained UFO sightings, is often the least likely explanation, rather than at best, an entertaining, and as yet, unproven possibility. British researcher, Jenny Randles, suggests that UAPs are earth bound “natural physical mysteries on the threshold of science. There are almost certainly several different UAP types that are reported as UFOs (and for that matter as “ghost lights”-B.C.); earth lights may well be one, extreme forms of ball lightning are another probable kind...” In this article’s limited survey, the Bega district phenomenon of 1974, the Garah manifestation of 1972, and Bruce Cheeseman’s amazing “Min Min Light” encounter of 1979, are all strong candidates. Such phenomena are clearly at the limits of science and deserve to be the subject of detailed and sustained scientific enquiries. The pity is that no such interest is evident amongst mainstream science.

The “earth light” theory is an area of fascinating investigation, which is in part an extension of the scientifically respectable “earthquake light” phenomena. At though not proven as a mechanism, many researchers argue that piezoelectric effects under ground, particularly in situations of great geological stress, such as earthquakes, lead to luminescent displays, which sometimes, albeit quite rarely, take the form of balls of light. More often they appear to be more similar to auroral phenomena or even more frequently, localised or widespread, diffuse light glows. The need for a contemporary history of significant geological stress, of course, limits this explanation as a general contender for “ghost light” reports and specifically largely disqualifies its self as an explanatory mechanism for the Min Min Light reports localised to the Boulia area.

Some protagonists of the “piezo-electric earthlight” hypothesis argue that more subtle earth forces may be the causative mechanisms. With such adjustments to their theoretical basis, the mechanism that causes the visual light display becomes almost devastatingly weak, to be almost untenable. The “earthlight” theorists even invoke a human “interactive” mechanism in which the proposed geophysical and electromagnetic fields could induce hallucinatory experiences that may account for the wide variety of “ghost lights”, and even, no less, the more spectacular close encounter UFO experiences. There are obvious drawbacks to these somewhat eclectic hypotheses. None are proven as yet by normal scientific criteria of theory falsification, but researchers in this area are coming up with never the less, interesting correlations in specific localities.

It is however in the area of misidentifications of natural phenomena, that the most promising leads are apparent for explanations of the Min Min Light mystery. “Marsh gas”, “swamp gas” or “will-o ‘ the-wisp” have been invoked as possible explanations, but the mechanisms of burning marsh gas and phosphuretted hydrogen due to decaying matter can be of only limited appeal in the face of accounts that talk of extended duration, and such apparently “controlled” and “purposeful” motion across the countryside, that is more often than not, free of marshy terrain, many accounts talk of steady movement over considerable distances. Some reports are of such close proximity that the suggestion of “phoshorous” birds, owls for example, brushing against luminescent fungi, also becomes untenable. It certainly seems unreasonable to invoke such a mechanism in Bruce Cheeseman’s vivid account. That account is highly suggestive of some sort of unusual electrical phenomena, because of the apparent indications of possible ozone presence and electrical interference noticed on the radio.

Let us now return to a consideration of Detective Lyall Booth’s observation of the Min Min Light. Recollect that N. Bauer, the late Queensland Commissioner for police, described Booth’s report as “the best authenticated recording of this remarkable phenomenon.”

Lyall Booth described two seperate lights. He specifically ruled out car headlights as an explanation since, according to the map accompanying his account in the “Royal Geographical Society of Australia Bulletin”, “The main road was further to the North” and vehicle lights “could not be seen plainly from my location.” Booth’s map shows the road heading in a west-east direction, which certainly would have made it difficult to view car headlights. However, if you consult a detailed map of the area, an interesting detail becomes apparent. The Boulia-Winton road does indeed travel west to east, just to the north of Booth’s position, but just to the North East of his camp, it then travels to the North East. In fact the road does this approximately along the line of sight Booth appears to have had from his camp, in the direction where he saw his first “Min Min light.”

This detail then brings to mind a number of possibilities as a cause of the first sighting, namely car headlights, distant ground lights, or other prosaic light sources. Indeed down the Winton road, along the line of sight, some 20 km away, stands the Hamilton River Hotel. Perhaps Booth’s first observation could have been due to a light refraction effect, caused by consecutive “hot” and “cold” air “lenses” due to the undulating channel country, and further extended by scintillation and autokinetic effects. The light source could have originally been a car, a house light or otherwise.

In fact a similar mechanism was recently invoked for the Marfa Light of Texas. “Science 84” described how astronomer Eric Silverberg suggested that the mystery lights, which were recently filmed and shown on television, may simply be car headlights “carried over great distances and along writhing paths by atmospheric tunneling, also known as the Novaya Zemlya effect. Large and abrupt temperature variations above the Earth cause sharp changes in the density of the air, bending light in funny ways.”

The Novaya Zemlya effect is named after the location of the classic long distance mirage of the sun, observed by artic explorer Willem Barents, north of Siberia, in Siberia, in 1597.

Of course the major difficulty for the Novaya Zemlya effect as a mechanism for the Min Min Light, Marfa “spook light” and other “ghost lights” is the age of many of these legendary lights. We have taken the Min Min legend back to the 1880’s, long before cars frequented the locality. Other light sources are still possible (eg. fires, etc), but the possible limitations with this impressive mechanism highlights the most significant factor pertinent in looking for “ghost light” explanations, namely that more than one explanation is apparent, particularly more so when an area becomes intimately associated with a legendary light, as in the case of the Min Min Light.

One of the other probable explanations is an extraordinary example of a natural phenomenon Lyall Booth’s second sighting may have been one, namely a light “ball” produced by a swarm of luminescent insects. Before you baulk at that suggestion, consider the following.

Journalist James Oram described the account of a Mr. Allan Camm, who claimed he was once driving a grader on an almost straight stretch of road between Boulia and Dajarra. A “Min Min light” began to follow him, about a quarter of a kilometre behind. Oram quotes Camm as saying, “I aimed, the grader right at it. It was flat ground and I got the grader up to its top speed of about 25 mph. I drove straight into it. It exploded all around me and then I found its secret. The light was made up of millions of glow-worms. In fact, when I got to the pub at Dajarra, I still had the worms in my hair and clothes.”

This is a compelling story, but unfortunately Mr. Camm has eluded my attempts to find out more. If he reads this, I hope he will get in touch with me.

A fascinating booklet, “Stars, and Humours of Stars”, by Kevin and Sue McClure, which describes extraordinary light phenomena, contemporary with the Welsh religious revival of 1904-5, quotes a newspaper description pertinent to the “ghost light” lore that connects such manifestations with death.

Mr. J. Castell-Evans, a professor of Chemistry, desribed his antecdote in the “Daily News” of February 15th, 1905: “One of my father’s men, while blasting some rock, met with a fatal accident. He had been working alone, so no one knew until the next day when his body was found. The spot, at once, became allegedly haunted, by his ghost in the form of a strange light. Some of us tried to catch it, thinking some scoundrel was playing a wicked trick upon us. But the faster we ran the faster it glided away from us, keeping always just out of our reach.

“Eventually I succeeded in persuading a number of the bolder young fellows to join in a circle round the ghost and close in on it. When we got close enough I put out my hand. The thing was cold. It gave me a nasty shudder. It broke into little bits as I touched it. Then we all bolted. But the ghost was nothing but phosphorescent insects.”

Professor Castell-Evans had also encountered another “ghost light” in his youth, near Bala Lake, in the valley of Dee. On this occasion he threw a stone at it. The stone went right through the light, and “the ball broke into a thousand little pieces... A few moments later the little pieces joined together again; and once more the ball of light went dancing down over the course of the stream. It was nothing but a cluster of luminescent insects.”

Bioluminescence in insects is a well known phenomenon, being a “cold light” produced via chemiluminescence with luciferm reacting with the enzyme luciferase. More detail would be required to determine which species of insect was involved in Mr. Camm’s report. Glow-worms are the larvae of small flies of the Arachnocampa genus, Family Mycetophilidae. A constant pale green glow is given off by the larvae, but this is often extinguished if disturbed if disturbed. The adult female fly is generally unable to fly, but it has a strongly luminescent yellow underside, designed to attract the male fly. The female fly’s light is visible up to 100 yards. The flying males have two, very tiny light sources at the tips of the abdomens, which produce a weaker light.

Australian luminescent fireflies, as distinct to glow worms, are beetles of the Lampyridae family, genera Luciola and Atyphella. In adults the light produced is bright, but unlike the glow worm is only emitted in brief flashes. Unlike tropical species, Australian fireflies do not form impressive swarms with synchronised light emissions.

In the case of Mr. Camm’s account, if the ‘light” followed him, it appears unlikely that it could have been “glow worms”, but rather some type of winged insect was involved. Another difficulty with the “glow worm” explanation is the problem of a dull light emission being generally involved with the insect population. This anomaly is a clear challenge to the biologist to resolve. To both isolate and replicate such a form of sustained bright, natural light would be a major development. Already some camping light sticks work on a similar principle, but if the brilliance of some “ghost lights” was due to an insect species or the like, then replication would have some real dividends.

The Min Min Light is many things. First and most paramount, is that it is and perhaps always will be, an enduring part of Australian folklore. The explanation for the light lies in a number of areas, particularly amongst a range of unusual natural phenomena. For example, it has been caused by luminescent insects and long distant, mirage effects. It has also been many other things over the years. There is no one unique explanation for the Min Min Light.

Attempts to explain the light, even if successful, will not harm the legend that is the Min Min Light. Instead, if the mystery is resolved as fascinating examples of natural phenomena (as this article has suggested), the locality of the Min Min Light’s hauntings, may simply translate into a site of enduring significance, as manifestations of marvellous natural phenomena and attendant folklore. While the mystery may wane somewhat, the power and complexity of nature may be enhanced. Therein nature is unbound.

The Min Min Light presents a challenge. We have a wealth of anecdotal accounts describing extraordinary phenomena. If more detailed accounts are forthcoming, Some better answers may be possible. The long term nature of the history of the light’s presence in the Boulia area represents a further real challenge. If a pattern of appearance can be determined and the lights themselves regularly viewed, we could be provided with a rare chance to do some real science in a controversial area, and a great opportunity to preserve and enrich a wonderful folklore.

The author would like to thank Del George (Boulia Shire Councillor), Cliff Donohue (former Boulia Councillor), the Royal Geographical Society of Australiasia (Queensland), Dr. Ralph Molnar (Queensland Museum), and Dr. Michael Hough for their assistance in some of the research that lead to this article.

Lyall Booth’s account was quoted with the permission of the Royal Geographical Society of Australiasia from N.W. Bauer’s article “A Mystery unsolved – the story of the Min Min Light”, Royal Geographical Society of Australiasia Bulletin, Vol.7, No.1, January, 1982.

Mr. C. Rhodes’ account was quoted with the permission of Stan Seers from his book, “UFOs- the Case for Scientific Myopia”.

The list of “ghost light” explanations was quoted with permission from Mark Moravec’s study “Psiufo Phenomena”, published by the Australian Centre for UFO Studies.

The author would like to hear from readers who have information about phenomena similar to what has been covered in this article. He can be contacted c/- P.O. Box 42, West Pennant Hills, NSW, 2125, Australia.

By Bill Chalker

Late in 1995, the well known “earth lights” researcher and author, Paul Devereux, travelled to a remote location in northern Australia, with Erling Strand, a Norwegian engineer (who wrote the Project Hessdalen report, covering the extraordinary depth of recurring nocturnal light activity at the remote Hessdalen Valley) and a cameraman. They were there for 11 nights attempting to document the extent of recurring light phenomena. Dr. David Seargent and I had been assisting Paul Devereux, trying to establish whether the locality did indeed play host to recurring anomalous light phenomena.

This possibility represents great opportunities for serious researchers to actively interact with unusual phenomena in the context of possible repeatable observations and experiments -- potent mainstays of the scientific method. We were open minded as to what was going on there. The most intriguing possibility was that at this remote aboriginal property we had a recurring anomolous light “infestation” that offered researchers exciting opportunities to document and attempt to understand the nature of the display events. At the very least we were dealing with an area rich in “min min light” style reports and other anomalies. Our research into the area confirmed that aboriginals in the area were witnessing recurring light shows but its repeatability was questionable. Aboriginals and white people described sighting a variety of strange lights and other experiences. Some of these experiences were also occuring in localities further north. These included transient white lights and “bubble shaped” jelly-like things that floated about. One of these came down near the ground and a man approached it with a cigarette lighter. It appeared to sublimate on contact to a precipitate. On another occassion the same man witnessed a luminscent “bubble” appear to take on the form of a person in what seemed to be a silver suit. [1]

That incident reminded me of a strange event that befell the wife and 2 daughters of a well known country and western singer (whose name is known to me). On a road south of Broome one night in about 1971, while travelling in a truck, towing a caravan, some distance behind the singer’s vehicle, they observed a light on the side of the road. Thinking the singer had pulled off, they investigated. Instead they found that the light came from an extremely large humanoid “figure”, bathed in a luminous glow. One hand was outstreched in which there was some sort of ball of light. The “ball” bounced up and down from the ground to the figure’s hand, rather in the manner of a yo-yo. The 3 witnesses found they were surrounded by thousands of small mushroom shaped lights, arranged in regular patterned rows as far as the eye could see. Although frightened, they were able to turn the vehicle around and as they drove out each row would go out with the truck tires impact. Whatever it was they were pleased to leave it behind. [2]

Devereux, Strand and company did not see any substantial light activity during their stay, but there were some intriguing events. When they observed flickering lights on hills to the south, their magnetometer started registering anomalies for several hours. The lights however lasted only a few minutes. Devereux characterised the magnetic anomalies as registering some 800 times above normal terrestrial fields. There were other less compelling observations. Local aboriginals were helpful. Some were in a state of excitement as they had been “buzzed” by a large white light. Paul Devereux was impressed enough to believe that the area warrants further monitoring. Given the sensitivity and scientific nature of the project, the locality needs to been kept reasonably confidential. Otherwise the potential for further research and the privacy of the aboriginal owners may be compromised. [3]

1: Personal research by Bill Chalker & David Seargent, 1993 - 1996
Personal communications with Paul Devereux, 1993 - 1996
2: Personal communication from James Oram, 1975
The Last Showman - Larry Dulhunty’s Larrikin Life by James Oram, 1992
3: Ibid 1.

Extract from “Report on an expedition to the Eastern Kimberley/Cambridge Gulf, Australia, to investigate reports of Anomolous Light Phenomena in that region, 28 September – 14 October, 1995” by Paul Devereux (March, 1997)

Seargent had also put Devereux onto Bill Cha1ker, an industrial chemist living in New South Wales, who is well-known in the international UFO literature for sensible, objective reporting on anomalous phenomena in Australia. Cha1ker has contacts in the Kimberley area, and was able to confIrm from his own knowledge that the region had been a source of UFO reports for at least 20 years. As well as providing written notation on the history of reported light phenomena in the Kimberley area, Cha1ker kindly made further enquiries on behalf of Devereux/ICRL (and we gratefully acknowledge his considerable efforts). Cha1ker was able to determine that the salt flats areas described by Harrington were mainly in the southern part of the huge Oombulgurri Aborigine reservation, between the Cockburn and Millington ranges.

He spoke with various tribal members and also set up a direct phonecall between Devereux and the Nulla Nulla encampment (via field telephone). .It became clear that the lights were known to these people, though the current incidence levels were hard to interpret from the Aborigines’ comments -they seemed to pay little attention to the phenomena and to consider questions about them from outsiders to be somewhat strange. Nevertheless, they seemed prepared to allow an expedition onto their land should that be required, and to indicate areas prone to light phenomena appearances -though they warned that the lights “wouldn’t appear of you went looking for them”. It also transpired that Malyarka was currently abandoned, with only Nulla Nulla being occupied.

Chalker furnished Devereux/ICRL with useful contact phone numbers, including those of the former and current tribal heads, and for Home Valley Station, located just outside the Oombulgurri reservation, owned by the Sinnamon family, for whom Harrington had worked.

It was the closest location to the reported light phenomena incidence areas that had the potential of providing an expeditionary HQ facility.

Paul Devereux and Peter Brookesmith describe describes the Kimberley “window” in some more detail in their book “UFOs & Ufology” (1997) pgs.152-155.

Source: The Australasian Ufologist Magazine Vol.6 No.3 Pgs 15-19 (Photos/Illustrations)


Home Page