Sunday, April 17, 2011

Is this Australia’s earliest UFO photograph?

I have been interested in historical UFO events in Australia ever since I began my interest in UFOs. The only pre-1947 UFO event supported by a photograph I had come across was a sighting I briefly described in my 1996 book “The OZ Files – the Australian UFO Story.” The account of it I have been able to find was the story in the U.F.O.I.C. Newsletter No. 21, December, 1968:

Sighting and UFO photo back from 1935 Only now, a report and a negative of a UFO photographed in 1935 have been received and investigated by UFOIC. As the case was, the person concerned wondered at the time what the object might have been but has only recently become aware of the extraordinary nature of his experience and the significance of the photograph which he took. That year, Mr. Patrick A.M. Terry of Mosman, Sydney, was stationed with the military at Newcastle and on the night of 10th October he went fishing to Nobby’s Head. The sky was overcast and there was no moon. At about 10 p.m., while sitting on the rocks, he noticed a flash of light in the sky out over the sea. Then a steady light appeared. It was brighter than a full moon and was hovering about a mile away and possibly 10,000 feet high. It was yellow – bright on the lower part gradually diminishing through three dark bands into grey. The whole complex appeared actually as a tremendously large mush-room-shaped object, consisting of three floors, smaller supporting the larger one, and the light from the bottom floor illuminating all three upper sections. The object then suddenly descended to a height of about 5,000 feet and remained stationary for a few seconds. It then moved quickly back to its original position. At that time Mr. Terry’s curiosity and surprise were fully aroused and while he had a Kodak Brownie box camera with him, he took a snapshot at 1/25th sec. exposure. After about 10 minutes of hovering, the object began revolving with increased speed and moved away, disappearing towards the north and out of sight in seconds. The photos later showed a definite circular object with details seen well at enlargement. (The photo will be published in the next Review).

The report refers at one point to “photos” but only one seems to have been taken. The next Review – the Australian UFO Review (UFOIC edition), No. 10 - did not appear until December, 1969. There was no account or photo of the 1935 incident in the issue. The magazine did report on the accidental death of UFOIC’s long time energetic president Dr. Miran Lindtner. Not reported was a story I had heard a few times from various sources that a UFOIC committee member had allegedly been bombarding Dr. Lindtner’s widow about retrieving some trivial items. The alleged insensitivity of the UFOIC member apparently led to the widow disposing of some UFOIC items in a backyard bonfire. If this story had any validity it may be a depressing explanation for the non-appearance of the 1935 photo in the UFOIC Review magazine. Another piece of UFOIC folklore also refers to its sighting officer being a bit of a “bower bird” when it came to unique and significant UFO related items. In other words one didn’t tend to leave items of this nature for his attention as they would disappear into his alleged “private collection.” When I joined the UFOIC group committee in 1975 I came across evidence of this man’s “bower bird” activities (lining his “private UFO nest” with “bright” (important) items as a bower bird does in nature). Unfortunately I was not then aware of the 1935 UFO photo story. When I did find out of it a number of years later I made attempts to locate the photographer and any evidence for it, unfortunately without success.

If anyone has any knowledge of the 1935 incident or Mr. Terry I would be pleased to hear of it.

There have been a number of other early Australian photos that show items that look like UFOs, but these do not have any related UFO story. For example the Australian magazine Ufologist reproduced one taken of Brisbane Hospital in the late 1800s, courtesy of Gordon Bagnall, in their Vol.9 No.4, 2005 issue. It shows a black disk shaped “object.” It is not clear if the people in photo are noticing anything unusual. The dark item may even be a photo defect or from some other prosaic source. The lack of any UFO related sighting narrative makes the photo interesting but not of any strong probative value.

My friend Paul Cropper, who shares my passion for searching out old records for unusual Fortean type material, recently drew my attention to another early “UFO” photo which has an accompanying contemporary narrative. Our decades’ long searching for this sort of material has been greatly assisted by the increasing digitisation of old newspaper archives available on-line. Paul’s discovery was of an interesting 1931 Queensland newspaper report of a “strange light” which also carried a photo. Now it could be of a meteoric sourced “trail” of light or the result of the luminous trail its passage left behind. The details supplied are not sufficient to have certainty with regard to an explanation, so we will give it a tentative label of “UFO.” I will note that 4 months earlier Francis Chichester had his curious airborne encounter off the Australian coast over the Tasman Sea“the dull grey-white shape of an airship … like an oblong pearl,” as described in his 1933 book “Seaplane Solo” (also published as “Alone Over the Tasman Sea”).

From the Rockhampton newspaper the Morning Bulletin of Wednesday 21 October 1931, various independent observers reported a curious sky phenomenon in the Winton district. One described “a strange trail of light, seen in the western sky between 6.30 and 7 pm, on Saturday evening, October 17th. When first seen, this trail of light was shaped like a capital “T” or a figure “7,” then it changed into a long wavy line like a great serpent. Much brighter and bigger at the lower end. It stayed in the sky about twenty minutes and then suddenly disappeared.” The correspondent sent two photos with time exposures of one minute, taken at 6.45 pm. Only one photo was carried in the paper (reproduced here).

Another observer, a stockman, reported the “dazzling affair. The sun was down a good time and the moon’s light not very bright. The time must have been a little past 7 o’clock. The affair resembled a thick snake, head downwards, all brilliantly white, while several clouds nearby were quite black. In fact, there was not another white cloud in the sky.”

The stockman further described, “It held its shape for quite a while. Then the tail changed and it started to pale, turning quite pink as it did so. The head stayed strong and pink to the last. I had no watch, but before it paled I had ridden a mile watching it all the time. I have an idea that it came on suddenly, as I shut a gate several minutes before and saw nothing. Superstitious people will be wondering what it fortells. I’m trying to believe our long delayed rain is close at hand.”

The paper’s Winton correspondent reported that many residents saw the phenomenon as dusk was approaching. The correspondent wrote, “It took the form, when first observed, of a pencil of white steam-like substance. It was located in the sky, south of Winton, at an altitude of about halfway between the horizon and the zenith, close to the pointers of the Southern Cross.”

“This mysterious white streak stood almost vertical and unravelled slowly downwards, at the same time growing thicker, until it was about the length (to the eye) of the distance of the Southern Cross pointers.

“After about ten minutes it began to bend as if blown by an air current, and gradually lengthened, the tail growing fainter and assuming the shape of a reversed mark of interrogation. The lower end was now in the shape of an arrow head and drifted lower and in a westerly direction, until, as darkness came on, it faded from view.”

The newspaper account ends with a possible source of the4 aerial phenomenon: “An enormous meteor or shooting star, which fell in a north-westerly direction, was observed in the Winton district. It reached the dimensions of a huge electric light, and had a brilliant red sword-like tail.”

If any readers have information on other pre-1947 events please advise me at

Photo source: Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld) 21 October 1931, pg. 6. via the National Library of Australia trove site