The National Spotlight on UFOs
by Bill Chalker
Australia has a rich history of organised interest in the
UFO subject. Various cooperative national ventures were undertaken over the
decades, the most notable being the initial publication of the Australian
Flying Saucer Review magazine in the early 1960s, the Commonwealth Aerial
Phenomena Investigation Organisation (CAPIO) in the mid to late sixties, the
Australian Co-ordination Section (ACOS) for the Centre for UFO Studies during
the seventies (which became the Australian Centre for UFO Studies in 1980), the
UFO Research Australian Newsletter (UFORAN) magazine and the UFO Research
Australia in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Australian UFO Research Network
since 1998 and the national newsstand magazine Australasian Ufologist from 1999.
This article will focus on these
national based initiatives which were a force of collective perspectives
brought to bear on the UFO phenomenon, which clearly had more than just state
Public civilian investigations took off in July, 1952, when
in response to a huge wave of sightings at the time, and one of his own, during
May, 1951, Edgar Jarrold began Australia's first public civilian flying saucer
organization - the Australia Flying Saucer Bureau (AFSB)- based in Sydney.
(Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February 1954)
During 1953, the
Australian Flying Saucer Investigation Committee (AFSIC) was established in
Victoria, and the Australian Flying Saucer Club (AFSC), which later became the
Australian Flying Saucer Research Society, began in South Australia. Jarrold’s group had “Australian capital city
observers” in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Hobart. From each of
these state connections lay the seeds that would lead to the ultimate
development of strong state groups. With the departure of Jarrold by 1955, and
the failure of Fred Stone to develop a similar network, state borders
progressively lead to the formation of strong independent groups, which arose
from active elements developing in various states. These included the UFO Investigation Centre
(UFOIC) during 1956, the Queensland Flying Saucer Research Bureau (QFSRB - now
known as UFO Research (Qld)) in 1956, and the Victorian Flying Saucer Research
Society (VFSRS - now known as the Victorian UFO Research Society) in 1957.
During the fifties cooperative national ventures initially
pivoted around the group activities of Edgar Jarrold in NSW, then Fred Stone in
South Australia. By the end of the
decade there was a national association developed among some of the state
groups. This was initially suggested by UFOIC in June 1958, with the idea that
such an association would allow the collective membership of all state groups
to access pooled resources. The UFO
Association of Australia was created by September 1958 with a pooled membership
of 300 from the three largest cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. It was intended that there would be a pooling
of resources such as tape recordings, slides and other material. Fred Stone of the AFSRS, perhaps stung by his
failure to establish the AFSRS as a national entity, abstained from the
In June 1959 Papua New Guinea was still a territory of
Australia. There the spectacular
"entity" sightings of Reverend Gill and members of his Boainai
mission capture the public imagination and the attention of the Australian
researchers. Reverend Gill made notes about the experience and sent a copy of
his own report - 8 closely typed foolscap pages - to Rev. Crutwell at Menapi
Mission, who in turn sent a copy to Mr. D. H. Judge, a Brisbane member of the
Queensland Flying Saucer Research Bureau.
The report was released to the media and accounts appeared in the media
during mid August, 1959, causing a sensation.
(CUFOS reconstruction with Rev Gills direct assistance
from the International UFO Reporter)
(based on Rev. Gill's own sketch)
Reverend Gill was at the time of his sightings already
scheduled to return to Australia. This
presented civilian groups with an excellent opportunity to assess the significance
of the reports. All investigators found
Gill to be very impressive. His
credibility was enormous. This lead one
of the leading civilian groups, the Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society,
to view the Gill reports as constituting the most remarkable testimony of
intensive UFO activity ever reported to civilian investigators in the entire
history of UFO research. VFSRS indicated
that they were unique because for the first time, credible witnesses had
reported the presence of humanoid beings associated with UFOs. The VFSRS report concluded that the Boianai
UFOs were advanced craft, manned by humanoid beings, capable of a fantastic
aerodynamic performance. VFSRS now felt
that UFO researchers no longer needed to enquire as to the nature of UFOs, now
only their origin was to be determined.
The major civilian groups of the day, in a spirit of new
found cooperation inspired by the significance of the Boianai observations, distributed
copies of Reverend Gill's own sighting report to all members of the House of
Representatives of Australia's federal parliament. A circular letter accompanied the report,
signed by the presidents of the participating civilian UFO groups, urging
members of parliament to press the Minister for Air for a statement about the
attitude Air Force Intelligence had of the New Guinea reports.
On November 24th, 1959, in federal parliament, Mr. E.D.
Cash, a Liberal politician from Western Australia asked the Minister for Air, Mr.
F.M. Osborne, whether his department (specifically Air Force Intelligence) had
investigated "reports of recent sightings of mysterious objects in the
skies over Papua and New Guinea."
The Minister's reply did not address this question, but instead he
focused on the general situation indicating that most sightings were explained
and "that only a very small percentage - something like 3 percent - of
reported sightings of flying objects cannot be explained".
Peter Norris, VFSRS president, was advised by the
Directorate of Air Force Intelligence that the Department was awaiting
"depth of evidence" on the New Guinea sightings.
The civilian groups stood at the end of the fifties in a
position of strength, unified, strengthened, and galvanised into action, by the
quality of the Gill reports. The
extraordinary reports of UFO "visitants" over Boianai, Papua New
Guinea, during 1959, were remarkable testimony from "credible observers of
relatively incredible things" (as the director of USAF intelligence, Major
General John Samford referred to the witnesses of the minority of
"unknown" and "unidentified" reports, back in 1952). The Anglican Church missionary, Reverend
William Gill, provided civilian groups with remarkable testimony of unknown
"interlopers". They were in
stark contrast to the hoary silliness that punctuated the flirtation of
enthusiasts with the contactee absurdities during much of the fifties. Buoyed by substantial data, the civilian
groups were ready to face what would prove to be the turbulent sixties.
Fred Stone of AFSRS organised the first flying saucer
convention in 1960. Held in Adelaide it
attracted little support from the other states, but the attendance of Reverend
Gill gave it some focus, but still it remained anchored in the issues that
dominated the fifties – the validity of contactees such as George Adamski,
which approach was best – the “nuts and bolts” extraterrestrial approach or the
psychic route, and just what were the purposes behind the saucer visitations.
During the early sixties some of the state groups even
co-operated in a joint publication. But cooperation wilted for a few
years. Through to the end of the fifties
state groups produced their own publications – UFOIC published the “UFO Bulletin”,
VFSRS produced the “UFORUM” journal, and QFSRB issued “Light” magazine. By 1960 in cooperation initially with the
Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society (VFSRS) and later also with the
Queensland Flying Saucer Research Bureau, UFOIC published the Australian Flying
Saucer Review (January 1960, April 1960, September 1960, February 1961, July
1961, January 1962 and November 1962). The interstate cooperative effort
lapsed. VFSRS began publishing its own Australian Flying Saucer Review
Victorian edition in May 1964, continuing for a number of years, and
intermittently after that. UFOIC published 3 issues of its own NSW edition
(June 1965, November 1966 and the much delayed December 1969 issue).
By 1965 another national initiative emerged - C.A.P.I.O.
(Commonwealth Aerial Phenomena Investigation Organisation) which had some limited
success bringing Australian groups together for a few years.
A major turning point in civilian UFO research in Australia
occurred on February 27th, 1965, at Ballarat, Victoria. What was billed as Australia's real first
convention of UFO groups provided a focus for elevating the respectability of
the UFO subject. Unfortunately, in
hindsight it also started a process that, while initially encouraging, would
eventually divide some UFO groups and lay the seeds of group political warfare
which would resound for years to come. What seemed to have been a very good
idea emerged at the conference. It was
suggested apparently by RAAF representatives that the RAAF would deal with
civilian UFO organisations only if they were organised on a federal level. It was resolved at the convention to form
such a national organisation - "a centralised body all the groups in
Australia in order to deal with the government and public on top
level." The name of this
organisation was agreed as C.A.P.I.O. (Commonweath Aerial Phenomena
Investigation Organisation). Officer
bearers were elected at the convention.
Peter Norris, VFSRS president, was made CAPIO president. Leslie Locke (Western Australia) and Andrew
Tomas (NSW) were elected vice presidents.
Sylvia Sutton and Judy Magee, both from VFSRS, took the positions of
secretary and assistant secretary respectively.
This was the beginnings of C.A.P.I.O.
Attempts were made for the large state groups to cooperate in combine
publications and the national group CAPIO.
Both efforts ran into trouble, largely fuelled by group politics.
(the 1965 Ballarat conference with l to r: B.G. Roberts left) & George Jones (centre)
However the 1965 Ballarat convention was a great opportunity
for those researchers, investigators and enthusiasts who attended. It had been arranged by W. Howard Sloane, of
the Ballarat Astronomical Society, with the aim of removing "the stigma of
ridicule from research into UFOs."
Not only did representatives of most existing Australian groups attend,
but there were also several witnesses to some of Australia's most famous cases,
including the Rev. William Gill and Charles Brew, who spoke about their
experiences. Former Air Marshall Sir
George Jones attended and was out spoken in his support for serious UFO
research. The RAAF was represented by
Mr. B. G. Roberts, Senior Research Scientist, of the Operational Research
Office, Department of Air, Canberra. The
presence of a scientific consultant of the RAAF, along with 2 RAAF officers,
manning a hardware display, was an unprecedented step for the Australian
government. CAPIO lasted a few years but
collapsed due a range of problems.
Differences again arose and national initiatives were largely abandoned
The 1960s and the 1970s were periods steeped in UFO accounts
of high strangeness that emerged in a climate of gradually increasing maturity
in the manner in which the phenomenon was investigated. Considerable intrigue and energetic debate marked
the search for answers from both the perspective of the civilian researcher and
that of the clandestine world of official investigations. Occasionally such activities came together in
curious ways but generally official investigations remained the stuff of
secrecy, at least to the general public.
Civilian researchers themselves were caught up in fundamental and
evolutionary steps towards understanding the nature and extent of the UFO
The Australian Centre for UFO Studies (ACUFOS), which
started out as ACOS (Australian Co-ordination Section) faired better than CAPIO
during the seventies and early eighties.
ACOS - the Australian Co-Ordination Section - for Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s
Centre for UFO Studies was formed by Harry Griesberg and David Seargent in
1974. ACOS organised regular
conferences, the first in 1975, from which a real sense of co-operation emerged
between most of the state civilian groups and individual researchers. Both as ACOS and as the Australian Centre for
UFO Studies (ACUFOS) from 1980, it was a focus of major projects and
(UFOCON 1, 1975 - I'm on the left hand side & Keith Basterfield is on the centre desk)
Dr. Allen Hynek, who had acted as astronomy consultant to
the United States Air Force UFO study since 1948, came to Australia during
1973, to lecture on astronomy and UFOs and to promote his ground breaking book,
"The UFO Experience - A scientific Inquiry", published in the US in
1972. His visit was a watershed for both
Australia and himself. Dr. Hynek was in
the best position to determine the scientific merits of the UFO phenomenon. He had consulted for more than 20 years with
the US Air Force and had moved from a sceptic to a scientist who was willing to
actively promote the validity of the phenomenon. He championed the need for serious
research. His 1972 book was his case for
the scientific merit of the UFO phenomenon.
It caused a lot of scientists to rethink their position on the
subject. By 1973, Dr. Hynek lacked an
appropriate vehicle for his ongoing research.
For years he had quietly encouraged and actively participated in the
"invisible college". Following
his visit and the massive resurgence of UFO activity in America during that
year he brought the "invisible college" into the open and formed the
Centre for UFO Studies. It continues as
an ongoing focus for serious research into the UFO phenomenon.
During his stay he researched many of the classic
Dr. Hynek was able to meet with
Rev. William Gill and also journeyed to Papua, enabling him to undertake a
detailed on site investigation into this famous case.
He came away still convinced of the bonafide
nature of the Boianai "visitants".
While in Australia he had discussions with researchers to try to set up
a local focal point of case material which could then be forwarded to his group
Out of those discussions,
ACOS - the Australian Co-Ordination Centre for the Centre for UFO Studies was
In 1980 a number of the state groups joined forces with the
cooperative publishing venture UFO Research Australian Newsletter (UFORAN)
edited by South Australian research group veteran Vladimir Godic. It became a
focus for cooperative activity often with a national focus.
ACUFOS had been successful in its efforts at
co-operation at a national level, but by the second half of the eighties it
loss much of its momentum, when many of the leading researchers, tired of group
politics and problems, opted for a more informal networking structure. In 1984 UFO Research Australia (UFORA) formed
by Vladimir and Pony Godic, with Keith Basterfield, was the outgrowth of this
trend. It was successful in its efforts
to encourage serious research on a loose networking basis. UFORA also pioneered the use of electronic
mail and bulletin boards by UFO researchers in Australia.
THE NINETIES AND BEYOND
Vladimir and Pony Godic edited a digital book on UFO
research in Australia and New Zealand, which was published in 1992. It brought together material published in
Vladimir Godic's UFO Research Australia Newsletter (UFORAN) through the
eighties, and was a testament of the success of UFORA.
Unfortunately Vladimir Godic's untimely death
in 1995 led to the closure of UFORA. ACUFOS
limped into the nineties a pale shadow of its former self. Most serious researchers had long since
abandoned it in favour of the national networking vision established by ACOS
and the earlier ACUFOS manifestation and UFORA, and because ACUFOS had lost
direction and credibility with what was seen as the uncritical promotion of
dubious material by its final incumbent co-ordinator. Its recent attempted resurrection lacked
credibility and seemed to be little more than a vehicle for the views of a
rather skewed form of ufology.
The proliferation of interest in the UFO field seemed well
served by the variety of groups, networks, and individuals that became
available. Their contributions were
supplemented by the influx of new people and approaches. The civilian contribution to elaborating the Australian
UFO mystery continued with considerable momentum, but national focuses were
difficult to coordinate. However the
national vision pioneered by CAPIO, ACOS, ACUFOS and UFORA were to get an
In 1998 the
Australian UFO Research Network (AUFORN), was formed by Robert Frola and Diane
Harrison. AUFORN provided the opportunity
for an effective, and yet, informal network through a number of successful
steps, including the AUFORN internet network and a national toll free UFO
hotline number for reporting sightings. AUFORN also supported the growth of
this magazine the Australasian Ufologist which by 1999 had become a national
Both AUFORN and
the Ufologist continued into the new century and mobilised the national focus
that has been consistently revisited since the inception of public civilian
group interest way back in 1952.
persistence in pursuing a national research, investigation and publishing
vision for the UFO subject is an important and critical part of our ongoing
attempts to understand this extraordinary subject. A national spotlight on the UFO phenomenon
needs to continue and should be vigorously supported.