Over the next several weeks, I’ll be conducting interviews with leading UFO researchers from countries around the world in an effort to paint a picture of global UFOlogy today. This week, our global UFO trek takes us to Australia, and to Bill Chalker, a veteran UFO researcher based in Sydney with a background in chemistry and mathematics. He has contributed to such publications as Rolling Stone and Reader’s Digest and has written chapters for books including UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry and all three volumes of Jerome Clark’s The UFO Encyclopedia. He is the author of The OZ Files (1996) and Hair of the Alien (2005) and Coordinator of the Sydney-based UFO Investigation Centre (UFOIC) and the Anomaly Physical Evidence Group (APEG).
RG: Who have been the defining figures in Australian UFOlogy over the past 70 years (for better or for worse), and why?
BC: Edgar Jarrold is generally seen as a foundational figure in Australian ufology with his 1952 group, the Australian Flying Saucer Bureau, and his publication, The Australian Flying Saucer Magazine. More controversially, it is his departure from public ufology that helped spawn Gray Barker’s version of the “men-in-black” saga with his colourful book, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (1956). South Australian ufologist Fred Stone tried unsuccessfully to take over Jarrold’s national reach. By the end of the 1950s, individual state groups began their rise with people like Peter Norris (the Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society, later VUFORS), Stan Seers (the Queensland Flying Saucer Bureau, now UFO Research (Qld)) and Dr. Miran Lindtner (the Sydney based UFO Investigation Centre (UFOIC) which I continue today). Judy Magee and Paul Norman became prominent in the Victorian group. Colin Norris provided a focus in South Australia, until the efforts of Vladimir Godic and Keith Basterfield during the 1970s encouraged a number of the state groups to adopt the generic group name of UFO Research and a scientific investigation focus. The 1970s also saw the rise of a national focus, following Dr. Allen Hynek’s 1973 visit, ultimately leading to the Australian Centre for UFO Studies operating from 1980.
It 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. Vlad Godic led a revived national focus with his UFO Research Australia Newsletter and with Keith Basterfield, the UFO Research Australia organisation, which ended with Godic’s untimely death. The national focus was effectively re-empowered with Robert Frola and Diane Harrison’s Australian UFO Research Network (AUFORN). Robert Frola also focused on a national newsstand magazine—the Ufologist—which continued for two decades. While the Internet helped break down a lot of the barriers of a big country like Australia, it effectively energised individuals and state orientated groups. For example the blogs of Keith Basterfield, Paul Dean, and myself in terms of the individual approaches, and in terms of state orientated groups—UFO Research Qld, UFO Research NSW, and Victorian UFO Action (VUFOA). Other organisations and individuals provide alternate focuses such as my own low profile networking continuation of UFOIC, Moira McGhee’s INUFOR (Independent Network of UFO researchers), the Campbelltown based UFO-PRSA (The UFO & Paranormal Research Society of Australia), Rex and Heather Gilroy’s Blue Mountains UFO research, John Auchettl’s rather secrecy obsessed group PRA (Phenomena Research Australia) and Damien Nott’s Australian Aerial Phenomena Investigations (AAPI).
RG: What do you consider to be the most compelling Australian UFO incident on record, and why?
BC: I prefer to put forward my own list of “top ten” regional Australian cases, rather than one single case, as the list better reflects the complexity and nature of the UFO phenomenon. Despite various efforts to explain away some of my listed cases, they have stood up well. You can explore the details of each case, in part, through entries about each on my blog along with a whole lot of other cases.
My personal top ten regional Australian case list: (in italics the reason for each case being chosen):
1954, August 31 – Sea Fury case, near Goulbourn, NSW, Australia (experienced naval pilot, radar visual confirmation, independent ground witnesses, apparent intelligent responses to witnesses’ thoughts about possible collision)
1992, July 23—Peter Khoury “Hair of Alien” DNA case—Sydney, Australia (abduction type encounter with female Nordic blonde yields anomalous hair sample that suggests “hybrid origin” and unusual genetic profiles. This case also led to my book Hair of the Alien (2005) and my on-going research into the “alien DNA paradigm” hypothesis – for further details see here.
1959, June 27—Father Gill UFO entity sighting—Boianai, Papua New Guinea (credible multiple witness sighting of animate entities on UFO with intelligent interactions)
1980, September 30 – George Blackwell’s Rosedale UFO landing physical trace case – Rosedale, Victoria Australia (compelling array of physical evidence—ground trace, missing water, effects on witness, other witness)
1993, August 8—Kelly Cahill’s abduction experience—Narre Warren North, Victoria, Australia (possible independent multiple witness UFO encounter with abduction dimensions and physical evidence)
1966, January 19—George Pedley’s Tully UFO nest encounter—Tully, Queensland, Australia (daylight close encounter with UFO take off leaving physical evidence – “UFO nest”)
1966, April 4—Ron Sullivan’s “bent headlight beam” experience—Burkes Flat, Victoria Australia (striking UFO encounter, physical traces, bent light beams, possible related fatality)
1966, April 6—Westall school daylight UFO landing” encounter—Westall, Victoria, Australia (multiple witness daylight landing, physical traces, “cover-up” dimensions)
1977-78—Gisborne UFO abduction milieu—Gisborne New Zealand (complex and high strangeness UFO and abduction milieu – entities, multiple witnesses, multiple abductions)
1973 May—August—Tyringham Dundurrabin intense UFO flap area, NSW, Australia (long term intense UFO flap, multiple witness, physical effects, paranormal dimensions, much of which was personally witnessed)
RG: What is the Australian government’s official stance on UFOs? When was the last time it issued a statement on the subject?
BC: While I would argue that Australia’s “official stance on UFOs” (that there was largely nothing to it all) was fully expressed back in 1984, it was restated and expanded upon in 1994 and again in 1996 and even later still. See my chapter in the UFO History Group’s monumental study, “UFOs and Government” (2012). My friend Paul Dean describes the drawn out Australian “swan song” in 2015 and 2016 posts on this theme:
"In the 1994, and further in 1996, the Australian Defence Department increasingly and officially washed their hands of the UFO/UAP matter. This came after some 44 years of official Defence handling of the issue, with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the old Department of Air (DOA) begrudgingly doing the lion’s share of the investigative work - if you can call it 'investigative work' that is. See, judging by the thousands of declassified and released pages held now at the National Archives of Australia (NAA), its crystal clear that those in RAAF and Aviation officialdom did a sub-standard job of chronological filing, policy development, and last, but definitely not least, actual investigation. Veteran researcher Bill Chalker stated to me in my first phone conversation with him 6 years ago, that his opinion of the government’s handling of the matter, after looking through the files, was 'an entirely lost opportunity' for a proper 'scientific appraisal' of the UFO matter. He was right then, and he is right now."
I describe my own take on this:
"Despite cases like the 1973 North West Cape event, the 1983 Melton/Rockbank incident and the 1987 SAS Learmouth report, during December 1993, the RAAF formerly concluded its long love-hate relationship with UFOs, or 'Unusual Aerial Sightings' (UAS) as they preferred to call them. The Department of Defence 'swansong' was dryly expressed in Enclosure 1 to Air Force file AF 84 3508 Part 1 folio 18 - RAAF POLICY: UNUSUAL AERIAL SIGHTINGS.”
In correspondence dated January 4, 1994, civilian UFO groups around Australia were informed by now Wing Commander Brett Biddington, on behalf of the Chief of Air Staff, that “The number of reports made to the RAAF in the past decade had declined significantly, which may indicate that organisation such as yours are better known and are meeting the community’s requirements.”
The “new” policy, which was an inevitable outgrowth of the downgrading of the RAAF's role back in 1984, stated:
"For many years the RAAF has been formally responsible for handling Unusual Aerial Sightings (UAS) at the official level. Consideration of the scientific record suggests that, whilst not all UAS have a ready explanation, there is no compelling reason for the RAAF to continue to devote resources to recording, investigating and attempting to explain UAS.
The RAAF no longer accepts reports on UAS and no longer attempts assignment of cause or allocation of reliability. Members of the community who seek to report a UAS to RAAF personnel will be referred to a civil UFO research organisation in the first instance...
Some UAS may relate to events that could have a defence, security, or public safety implication, such as man-made debris falling from space or a burning aircraft. Where members of the community may have witnessed an event of this type they are encouraged to contact the police or civil aviation authorities."
Given the rich history of political and military machinations that quite often effectively prevented opportunities for real science, the policy statement alluding to "the scientific record" is particularly perplexing. As a scientist who has examined in detail the RAAF "record" I can state with some certainty that their record was not particularly scientific and was largely defined by two criteria—national security and political expediency. This appeal to “the scientific record” is particularly puzzling as the RAAF regularly highlighted that national security not scientific investigation was their main focus. For example, in a 6 December 1968 memo from DAFI to HQSC in 554/1/30 Part 2, DAFI mentions, “As you are probably aware the Department of Air (later (DOD (Air Office)) is concerned solely with any possible threat to Australian security and does not go into detailed scientific investigation of UFO reports.”
Keith Basterfield reported Melbourne researcher Paul Dean’s recent interview with Brett Biddington who had since retired from the Air Force, who stated, “I wrote the 1994 policy and had a hand in the 1996 policy as well. After the Melbourne sightings I conducted an informal (in the sense I did not document it) literature review of UAS. I also sought help from civilian UFO organisations which claimed knowledge and understanding of the domain. I could find nothing on record that was defensible or sustainable. This is the reference to the “scientific record.”
I had spoken with Brett Biddington back in 2008. He indicated he had left the Air Force as “the most senior Air Force intelligence person in Australia during the 1990s.” He saw himself as still “the RAAF UFO/UAS expert” and regularly got RAAF enquiries. He regarded the “UAS regime” as a response to the Cold War and a way of finding data on “space debri.” He felt he encountered paucity of data in every respect, with “the veracity of the entire system in doubt.” He felt the UAS data had limited historical relevance. The RAAF’s response was always about the doubtful and limited veracity of UAS reports and the grief they caused for the RAAF. He told me that he never saw any case that grabbed his attention, not even the Melton case.
While I would agree that much of the data collected and assessed by the RAAF’s UFO/UAS programme was of limited merit, I also feel strongly that the lack of scientific investigations revealed numerous lost opportunities to do real science. Many impressive cases came to the attention of the RAAF, but rarely were they given the investigation they deserved—both a focus on national security where appropriate, and a scientific investigation. The scientific approach was not part of the RAAF’s investigations in any really significant way, hence the irony of a claim of “a consideration of the scientific record” informing the decision to end the RAAF’s reluctant and erratic embrace with the UFO problem. I wondered why the 1994 and 1996 policies were developed as the RAAF involvement had long since faded to a very low ebb and was always problematic. The UFO problem was always unwieldy and unmanageable for the RAAF. Controversy rather than resolution was a frequent feature. At times it seemed the RAAF were barely doing even a token effort. The RAAF largely resolved any dilemmas they had with intractable or unexplained cases by either burying them with unlikely explanations or simply ignoring the implications of often robust and unexplained events.
I have interviewed highly placed scientists within the Australian intelligence and defence community such as nuclear physicist Harry Turner who headed up the nuclear section of the Directorate of Scientific and Technical Intelligence within the Joint Intelligence Organisation and led a fight for a “UFO science” response within the Australian intelligence and military science community. The chief Defence scientist Dr John Farrands also had a deep interest in the UFO subject. He shared information, his perspectives and told me he had even contemplated writing a book on the subject, but would instead wait for mine. Sadly he passed away about a week after my book The OZ Files—The Australian UFO Story was published, so I never got the opportunity to see what he thought of it.
If the Department of Defence had a sense of an efficient “burial” of “the UFO problem,” someone had forgotten to inform the alleged corpse. The UFO phenomenon has never really passed away, but you would be forgiven for believing it has had many resurrections. Remarkable events continue to occur, providing a challenging testament for the legitimacy of the UFO phenomenon.
RG: Does the Australian Ministry of Defence have an official UFO investigations unit?
BC: While the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) historically had the central responsibility for investigating UFOs (or UAS—Unusual Aerial Sightings—as they preferred to call them), the drawn out nature of the Australian government’s disengagement from the UFO subject has led to a somewhat fragmented and ad hoc current picture. Paul Dean has elaborated on this, indicating:
"There are currently two Australian government agencies who are equipped to, and indeed do, accept UFO reports from civil aviation flight crews. They are the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and Air services Australia (ASA). Of course, they do more than deal with infrequent UFO reports, and, in fact, are responsible for airspace management, the functionality of airports, pilot licensing, air safety, navigational systems, etc. Australia’s Department of Defence (DoD) also accepts and processes UFO reports, but their system is quite different from those of the ATSB and ASA. The DoD’s Directorate of Defence Aviation and Air Force Safety (DDAAFS) accepts reported military UFO cases via a form called an Air Safety Occurrence Report (ASOR). ASOR’s are processed through the Defence Aviation Hazard Reporting and Tracking System (DAHRTS), and are studied within the Closed Loop Hazard/ASOR Review and Tracking System. DDAAFS military UFO reports have proven very hard to obtain. But ATSB and ASA reports have been somewhat easier."
RG: Has the Australian government shown more or less transparency on the UFO subject than the US and British governments?
BC: The Australian government’s approach was more of a middle ground, but defined in a somewhat ad hoc way by the principle of “the ties that bind,” namely Australia’s relationship with its major defence partners—the US and the UK. While Australia routinely followed the lead from the much larger scale UFO investigations of the US Air Force, the government also took stock of the approach of the UK, which only in more recent years had become more open with their UFO files.
My own direct access of the Australian government UFO files was generally pretty open. During 1982 to 1984 I was able to examine a continuity of DAFI UFO files from 1955 to 1982, and since then filled in many of the gaps before and after those years. Through those investigations I was able to make contact with a lot of official players, particularly Defence scientist Harry Turner. Keith Basterfield, through an Australian disclosure programme, extensively supplemented and complemented my earlier investigations of official government files.
RG: Does Australia have a national UFO investigations organisation today (something akin to MUFON), and how many smaller Australian UFO groups are you aware of?
BC: The Australian UFO Research Network (AUFORN) was the last and most recent of the national UFO investigation organisations in Australia, but this slowly lapsed, particularly following the closure of the national UFO magazine, the “UFOlogist.” Prior to AUFORN there was CAPIO in the 1960s, ACUFOS (and its ACOS roots) in the 1970s and 1980s, UFORA in the 1980s and early 1990s. In terms of smaller groups, these exist with most having either local or state focuses, the main ones being UFO Research Qld, UFO Research (NSW), UFO-PRSA, UFOIC, VUFOA, and AAPI. Sadly one of the best civilian groups, the Tasmanian UFO Investigation Centre (TUFOIC), has ceased operations. Many Internet/social media groups exist as I indicated in response to your first question about personalities. MUFON in Australia has had a rather ad hoc history in recent years. Its most recent reincarnation appears to be playing out under the umbrella of the Internet site Australian UFO Action. It remains to be seen if this will be a positive development. Unfortunately the proliferation of Internet and social media sites has made detailed UFO investigation by experienced researchers more difficult and problematic than in the past.
RG: What are the most active regions of Australia for UFO sighting reports?
BC: Northern Queensland around Tully has had a rich UFO history particularly since the classic 1966 daylight UFO physical trace in Horseshoe Lagoon. St. George and Boulia Queensland also had a prolonged history. Coonabarrabran in NW NSW has a prolonged UFO focus, as well as the Bourke area. Tyringham on the Dorrigo Plateau and around Mount Butler/Armidale in the New England district has had a recurring focus. The Kempsey area, the Central coast and Blue Mountains regions of NSW also have long UFO focuses. The South coast of NSW, particularly around Kiama has a lot of UFO activity. Leitchville- Echuca, Rosedale- Gippsland and the Mallee district of Victoria seem to host a lot of activity. Northern South Australia, the Nullarbor and Bass Strait are often associated with extensive UFO activity. NW Western Australia, NW Cape/Exmouth and Corrigin in Western Australia seem to have regular UFO visits. Cressy, Maydena and central Tasmania are frequent locations as well. Pine Creek, Pine Gap and the north of the Northern Australia also host UFO activity. So there are a lot of areas to pick from and this listing is not complete.
RG: Have you personally had any UFO sightings?
BC: In 1972 returning from a late chemistry practical class I had a “daylight disc” sighting just on dusk as I was crossing my college campus at the University of New England, on the outskirts of Armidale. At least another 2 students also saw this object. During the early hours (pre-dawn) of the same day on a nearby farming property—Mount Butler—3 students experienced a bizarre entity “possession” episode. This location became the focus of protracted UFO activity.
In 1973 I experienced my “UFO baptism of UFO fire” on the Dorrigo plateau at the remote Tyringham-Dundurrabin villages where locals were experiencing extensive UFO activity and apparently paranormal activity. I witnessed a number of sightings there and experienced some very strange phenomena. When I read Hunt for the Skinwalker it was kind of like UFO deja-vu for me.
Also back in 1969 I witnessed a so-called “angel hair” fall while others in my hometown at the same time witnessed a UFO. I handled the material and witnessed what my later chemistry training would describe as sublimation—the material disappeared in my hands.
RG: How long have you been involved in the UFO subject; roughly how many cases have you personally investigated; and what conclusions, if any, have you drawn about the underlying nature of UFO phenomena?
As a kid in my hometown of Grafton in 1966 locals, including police, but sadly not me, reported UFO sightings that made international headlines. That sparked my interest. But it was a strange ground trace episode at Bungawalban (to the north of Grafton) in April 1969 and my August 1969 “angel hair” experience that finally started to push me into active field investigation, first in the Grafton area, than Kempsey in the early 1970s, and New England when I went to university in Armidale. From that I was seconded into joining the Sydney based UFOIC group when I moved to Sydney. Since 1969 (I’ve not really counted), I’ve investigated easily hundreds of UFO cases, indeed probably thousands. In terms of conclusions the evidence I have personally examined tells me the core UFO phenomenon is probably rarer than we think, but it its far stranger than just the physical phenomena that is certainly at the heart of the mystery. I was examining the so-called paranormal aspects back in the 1970s, so the recent embrace of such aspects is simply revisiting aspects I have already examined extensively for decades.
I’m an advocate of open scientifically based investigations that are open to many other approaches, but also far greater mainstream support is needed. I have extensively researched high strangeness close encounter cases and hundreds of so-called abduction and contact cases. With the latter, evidence and critical thinking or common sense need to be our guides, along with regular reality checking and informed peer review. I am optimistic rather than pessimistic about the future of UFO research, but the uncritical nature of many approaches needs to be regularly confronted with calls for reality checks and sensible investigation.
RG: How can Australian UFOlogy better itself?
BC: Common sense, reality checks and critical thinking should be regular pit stops in research. More co-operative and less politicised scientific investigations need to be the norm rather than the exception. Sharing of quality documentation should also be a focus rather than a rarity. Deep investigations utilising a broad range of disciplines need to be more frequent, rather than uncritical acceptance of the wilder shores of ufology. History and science should be our allies rather than our enemies. If ufology continues its uncritical trajectory it will continue to be marginalised. There are a lot of competent investigators and researchers out there and greater networking, sharing and cooperation is needed. Try not to be too compartmentalised and isolated in approaches. Learn from others and keep an open mind.