THE WESTALL UFO INCIDENT
Over 200 students and teachers witnessed an unexplained flying object on Wednesday 6th April 1966 around 11.00 am. They reported it descended into a nearby open wild grass field adjacent to a grove of pine trees in an area known as The Grange. The object then ascended in a north-westerly direction over the suburb of Clayton South.
Shane Ryan is a researcher looking for eyewitnesses. "It happened on the Wednesday before Easter, April 6, 1966, about 11 0’clock in the morning.
Around about 200 people, most of them students at what was then called Westall High School, were out for morning recess", says Shane. "Many saw the strange object descend behind pine trees in The Grange Reserve, and then later ascend and fly away at great speed.
The people who ran over to the reserve found a huge ring in the paddock where the object had been seen.
Some people reported five light aircraft following or chasing the object.
Academic throws light on 40-year-old UFO mystery
Just what did flash out of the sky and into the lives of hundreds that April day? Stephen Cauchi reports.
A Canberra academic is investigating one of Australia's most compelling UFO mysteries, a sighting by hundreds of people in the Melbourne suburb of Westall on April 6, 1966.
More than 200 students and staff from two schools watched as the object landed in a nearby paddock, lifted off and vanished.
Shane Ryan, an English lecturer at the University of Canberra, is interviewing dozens of witnesses for a book he hopes to publish on the 40th anniversary of the sighting.
Mr Ryan, 38, was alerted to the events in the 1980s by a housemate who was there. Unlike most UFO sightings, the Westall object had a large number of credible witnesses. It was viewed in daylight and attracted a forceful response from police and the RAAF.
"It had these rather interesting elements which indicated to me that, unlike some other so-called UFO stories, there was some substance to this," he told The Sunday Age.
"I knew the 40th anniversary was coming up next year, so I thought it was timely to do some research on it."
Mr Ryan has interviewed about 30 witnesses, mostly former staff and students from the Westall secondary and primary schools. He has tried obtaining police and RAAF reports, but so far with little luck. The story was covered then by Channel Nine, The Age and local newspapers.
On the UFO, everyone seems to agree, Mr Ryan says. It was a low-flying, silver/grey shining object, either of classical flying saucer shape or close to it, "a cup turned upside down on a saucer". The students were familiar with light aircraft because the schools were close to Moorabbin Airport. Although the UFO was of similar size, "everyone said straight away that they knew it was not a plane", Mr Ryan said, nor a weather balloon.
The object was in view for up to 20 minutes, and many saw it descend. Most agree it landed behind pine trees at the Grange Reserve. Dozens of students ran across what was then an open paddock to the reserve to investigate, but the object had lifted off and vanished.
Other details are sketchier. The UFO appears to have left a circle of scorched grass; others say several circles were left in paddocks bordering Grange Reserve.
Many witnesses, not all, report seeing aircraft, up to five, trailing the UFO. Some say it made no sound, others say it did.
Many reported that police/air force/military personnel inspected the site; some (not all) say the authorities burnt the site. The Dandenong Journal, for which the story was front-page news two weeks in a row, reported that "students and staff have been instructed to 'talk to no-one' about the incident". Nevertheless, one teacher, Andrew Greenwood, gave the paper a detailed account.
"It was silvery-grey and seemed to thicken at times," he said. "The thickening was similar to when a disc is turned a little to show the underside."
One of the closest witnesses was a boy whose family leased land at Grange Reserve for horses.
Shaun Matthews (not a student at Westall) was on holidays and spending time on the land.
"I saw the thing come across the horizon and drop down behind the pine trees," he told The Sunday Age this week. "I couldn't tell you what it was. It certainly wasn't a light aircraft or anything of the like …
"I saw the thing drop down behind the pine trees and saw it leave again. I couldn't tell you how long it was there for, it was such a long time ago."
Mr Matthews, 51 and now living in Greenvale, said the object "went up and off very very rapidly".
"I went over and there was a circle in the clearing. It looked like it had been cooked or boiled, not burnt as I remember," he said. "A heap of kids from Westall primary and high school came charging through to see what had happened — 'look at this, look at that, we saw it as well', that sort of thing. It was a bit of a talking point for a couple of days."
Mr Matthews said the object, about the size of "two family cars", passed him at a distance of about "four football fields". "It was silvery, but it had a sort-of purple hue to it, very bright, but not bright enough that you couldn't look at it," he said.
"I saw that it dropped down behind the trees, and I thought, 'hello, hang on'. A minute or so later, it went straight up, just gone."
He said police and other officials interviewed his mother. But he cannot remember them burning the landing site, as others have alleged. And he did not see any light aircraft trailing the object, as others did.
"The way this thing moved there is no way it could have been a weather balloon or a light aircraft," he said.
"A helicopter? No way — no noise, wrong shape, and it didn't move like it. It came out of the distance, stopped, and then just dropped.
"It didn't just sort of cruise and then slightly descend at an angle. It just stopped, dropped, and then went straight up."
The Victorian UFO Research Society investigated the incident. VUFORS secretary Tony Cook said Westall remained one of Australia's major unexplained UFO cases.
The top one was the case of Frederick Valentich, a 20-year-old Melbourne pilot whose light plane disappeared while flying over Bass Strait in 1978.
In the last minutes of radio communication, Valentich reported seeing a UFO hovering above his plane. He and his craft were never recovered.
"It's pretty well documented," Mr Cook said. "That's probably the most important one because it involves the disappearance of a person."
Mr Cook said the society's stance on UFOs was that, "there are people out there seeing unusual things in the sky at times and they can't be explained. But it's a very big leap to go from unexplained things in the sky to extraterrestrials."
Most witnesses, including Mr Matthews, say the UFO was not an aircraft or helicopter. But Westall is only six kilometres from Moorabbin Airport, and the object was roughly headed in that direction, travelling north to south.
"It sounds to me like some sort of experimental craft, very much Earth-based," Steve Roberts, of Australian Skeptics, said.
"It is an interesting event with lots of witnesses and what we now call a crop circle.
"Accounts are confused. Some have the object landing and taking off again, others say 'a paddock over which the object seemed to hover'."
As well, "if there was a whole swag of officials investigating it, there must be an official report in RAAF archives somewhere".
But Mr Ryan said that no one at the RAAF knew of the incident.
But given the history of the case — the way students and staff were told to keep quiet from the start — that was not surprising, he said.
"As I got a little bit older, I got a little more interested in the social and historical aspects of the story, how something like this could have happened and how it reflected society at the time, and how authorities responded to it," he said.
"There's been a layer of secrecy that was very, very prominent in this story from the beginning."
Polaroid photo of UFO over South Clayton taken 4 days before reported Westall High School incident
Shane Ryan is a researcher looking for eyewitnesses to the 1966 Westall UFO incident, on the Wednesday before Easter, April 6, 1966, about 11 0’clock in the morning.
Say the name Roswell and 774’s Breakfast presenter Red Symons immediately thinks of metal objects shooting through the sky landing in the desert, and little green men coming out of them. But when you say the name Clayton South, you probably think pork buns, unless you were around in 1966 and were one of 200 people who witnessed the Westall UFO incident.
Shane Ryan is a researcher looking for eyewitnesses. "It happened on the Wednesday before Easter, April 6, 1966, about 11 0’clock in the morning. Around about 200 people, most of them students at what was then called Westall High School, were out for morning recess", says Shane. "Many saw the strange object descend behind pine trees in The Grange Reserve, and then later ascend and fly away at great speed. The people who ran over to the reserve found a huge ring in the paddock where the object had been seen. Some people reported five light aircraft following or chasing the object.
"It’s an interesting case because there was this trace left behind which not only those kids saw, but a whole number of people who came afterwards, after school and adults and so forth came down to have a look at it as well."
A crop circle perhaps? "Some people call it that," continues Shane, "I’m not sure that it was, but it was certainly a ring left behind in the grass. And the other fascinating aspect of the story is that some people talk about the area being cordoned off by people in uniform."
Several witnesses reported being spoken to by the RAAF or military, including the school's science teacher, who was apparently threatened by two RAAF officers under the Official Secrets Act, if he spoke in public about what he had seen. The high school authorities dealt very harshly with both students and staff in the wake of this event, and forbade any discussion about it.
Shane has now established an email discussion group to encourage people to come forward and tell their stories about that day. About 45 people have made contact thus far. A lot of former Westall school students and two or three of the teachers. This group is dedicated to those people who were involved in, or have an interest in the incident at Westall High School, in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton South. He is especially keen to hear from people from "the other side", that is from the side of the authorities who may have been involved that day, such as RAAF, police or army.
Clayton South residents remember the 1966 day they saw flying objects
heraldsun - Flying saucers, crop circles, missing film, disappearing files, denials, military cover-ups, threats and shadowy Men in Black.
It couldn't happen here?
Most people would say it couldn't happen anywhere!
But more than 100 witnesses to one of the world's biggest UFO mysteries are adamant that it did, in broad daylight in Clayton South on April 6, 1966.
And 44 years after the event, many are still fuming that the military they say were swarming around the scene for days have offically denied the incident and no record appears to exist.
They say they spent their lives being doubted and want some official acknowledgment that something weird happened above and behind Westall high and primary schools that morning.
London's Telegraph newspaper rates it as the fifth-greatest UFO mystery of all time, but another mystery is how little-known the episode is here.
A documentary - Westall '66: A Suburban UFO Mystery - premieres on Austar and Foxtel's Sci-Fi Channel at 8.30pm tomorrow.
Producers hope it will flush out an official who can say what the military were doing and what they found.
Researcher Shane Ryan has spent five years tracking 110 witnesses, many found through an appeal in the Herald Sun in 2006, but could find no military officials, and no record of a military response.
But locals remember it vividly, saying it lasted days.
The 110 Mr Ryan has found who say they saw saucers include professionals, tradies and a Ministerial Adviser, but not one military official of the time.
He says time is running out for them to come clean.
"Whatever security concerns there were at the time, they are redundant now,'' he says.
A TV crew covered the incident and it screened on the 6pm news, but the film canister from the job was recently found empty in the station archives.
Several witnesses say they were warned off speaking by sharply-dressed men in dark suits, in the principal's office and at home.
Others recall school threats of detention for UFO talk.
But talk there was, and coverage.
The Dandenong Journal reported the incident on its front page for consecutive issues and ran interviews with witnesses.
Many were school pupils who say they saw flying saucers from their school yards. Some ran to Grange Reserve, where the craft appeared to have come down.
Terry Peck, 56, was among them. She says she was playing cricket on the oval, saw the saucer and chased after it to Grange Reserve.
"Two girls were there before me. One was terribly upset and they were pale, really white, ghostly white. They just said they had passed out, fainted. One was taken to hospital in an ambulance,'' she says.
Ms Peck says she saw a silver, classic-shape saucer rise up.
"I was about 6m away from it. It was bigger than a car and circular. I think I saw some lights underneath it.
"We all got called to an assembly ... and they told us all to keep quiet.
"I'd absolutely just like someone to come forward from the services just to say 'yes, it did happen, and it landed and there was a cover-up'.''
Jacqueline Argent, 58, in Form 3 then, says she saw a UFO from the oval and was one of the first three kids over the fence looking for where it came down.
"Originally I thought it must have been an experimental-type aircraft, but nothing has emerged like that after all these years,'' she said.
She says she was called into the headmaster's office and interrogated by three men: "They had good-quality suits and were well spoken. They said, 'I suppose you saw little green men'?
"I spoke to my parents about it at the time and they were pretty outraged.''
Retired engineer Kevin Hurley, a Monash Uni student then, missed the saucers but saw the aftermath.
"There were army or air force people in the area,'' he said.
"I'm pretty sure they were going around the area with geiger counters or metal detectors.
"I'm not a freak that thinks Martian people are coming. I don't think that kind of stuff, but it's bugged me.
"After 44 years, I reckon they need to come clean on this.''
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New Light Shed On Australia s Westall UFO Incident
Revisting the Westall UFO Incident
Many more say they later saw the perimeter of a perfect circle singed into the grass at the Grange Reserve near Westall State School.
The Age reported the next day that hundreds of children and a number of teachers saw the unidentified flying object, which the paper said might have been a weather balloon.
The article said witnesses had seen a number of small planes circle around the object - however, a check later showed that no commercial, private or RAAF pilots had reported anything unusual in the area.
But despite the many witnesses, exactly what happened at 11am that day in Cold War-era Melbourne suburbia has remained a mystery.
Suzanne Savage, who was in form 2 at Westall High in 1966, recalls principal Frank Samblebe holding a special assembly after she and her science class saw a ''classic saucer-shaped object'' descend into Grange Reserve and then disappear into the sky.
''He said he didn't want to hear any more about this nonsense. We were not to discuss it ever again - and so I didn't,'' Ms Savage told The Saturday Age.
Ian Cochrane, who was in form 3 at Westall High in 1966, also believes the bizarre occurrence was covered up.
Mr Cochrane recalls returning to Grange Reserve the following Saturday to show his mates the perfect circle of flattened grass, only to discover the site had been dug up.
''If you talked about it you'd get nutbags to contend with, or people who couldn't cope, so you just didn't talk about it,'' Mr Cochrane said.
What did the students see? Was it a UFO from outer space, a secret military aircraft, a meteorological oddity or an example of a psychological phenomenon, where people were influenced by each other to believe in something they did not really see?
Forty-five years later Shane Ryan is still searching for answers. The English teacher has spent the past six years investigating the flying saucer enigma, which he believes ranks alongside the daylight school-based UFO sightings in Broad Haven in Wales in 1974 and Ruwa in Zimbabwe in 1994.
''It's obvious to me people saw something very strange and unusual and somebody in the government didn't really want the story to get out,'' he said.
Mr Ryan has interviewed more than 300 people connected to the case, 89 of whom claim they saw a flying saucer and 138 who saw the circle. He said several witnesses told of police and men in military uniforms who cordoned off the landing site and interviewed some students.
However, despite extensive searches, Mr Ryan has been unable to find police or military personnel who attended on the day or locate documents that may be held by state and federal government agencies.
''I'm so frustrated that after all these years I can't get an official answer about why the powers that be were there that day and why they didn't want the students to talk about what they saw,'' he said.
Mr Ryan's search for the truth is the subject of the documentary Westall 66: A Suburban UFO Mystery, directed by Rosie Jones, which will screen at 8.30pm on Tuesday on the Sci Fi Channel on Foxtel and Austar.
The Australian Teachers of Media have also created a study guide around the event, which can be used in the national history curriculum.
The study guide says Westall 66 reflects a fascinating and pivotal period in world history. ''With its undercurrent of Cold War paranoia, secret US airbases and a strong military relationship between Australia and America, this story raises questions about the acceptability of cover-ups and untruths delivered by governments in the interests of national security,'' it says.
Study guide co-writer Lee Burton says these are themes that have repercussions today. ''This is an example of how we can help students understand an historical event within a local community that occurred in living memory,'' she said. ''My guess is it will be very popular.'' - theage
|Ring of mystery: Shaun Matthews revisits Grange Reserve where he witnessed the UFO|
Website: Westall '66: The Suburban UFO Mystery
NOTE: to save space, several personal eyewitness accounts can be found at - Several eyewitness accounts of the Westall UFO Incident as well as Bill Chalker's report - The Westall School Sensation
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