; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Cressy 'Cigar'

The Cressy UFO sighting remains as one of Tasmania's best known UFO encounters. The following TUFOIC report is the best available account on the incident:

The Cressy sighting of October 4th 1960 remains as one of Tasmania's best known UFO sightings. The cigar shaped 'mothership' and attendant discs were witnessed by the local Church of England minister, the Reverend Lionel Browning and his wife, about 6.10pm on a cloudy evening. The case was investigated by the Royal Australian Air Force, details were taken by the Victorian UFO Society, whilst Prof: James E McDonald (senior Physicist in the Dept: of Meteorology at the University of Arizona) interviewed Rev Browning in 1967. TUFOIC published details of the sighting and other events in the area at that time in its Annual Report for 1970, with a more complete account in its 'Cressy Revisited' publication. The sighting was the page one story in the Launceston Examiner of October 10th, 1960. The sighting prompted questions in the Australian parliament and was mentioned in various books and journals both in Australia and overseas.

Subsequently the Rev Browning became the patron of the Tasmanian Unidentified Flying Objects Investigation Centre when it was formed in 1965. He remained interested in Tasmanian sightings until his departure from the state in 1990. Rev Browning travelled to Melbourne soon after the 1960 sightings to present details of the case to a VUFORS meeting.

Cressy is a small country town in the rural Northern Midlands of Tasmania about 30 k south-west of Launceston. The surrounding area is mainly pastoral and relatively flat, although the Western Tiers some 20 k to the south-west rise to over 1200 m. A similar distance to the north-east of the town is Launceston Airport.


The RAAF files had a full account of the sighting together with a sighting report form.

Rev Browning stated that at approximately 6.10pm on the 4th of October 1960, he and his wife were standing in the dinning room of their Cressy home. They were looking out through the window at a rainbow over some low hills about 12 k to the east. The hills , the highest of which are about 400 m, were partly obscured by low cloud and rain. As they were looking at the scene, his wife drew his attention to a long cigar shaped object which was emerging from a rain squall.

The object was a dull greyish colour, had four or five vertical dark bands around its circumference and at regular intervals along its length had what looked like a short aerial array which projected outwards and upward from the northern facing end of the object. The object seemed to be slightly longer than Viscount aircraft which Rev Browning frequently sees flying in that area and he therefore estimated the object's length at about one hundred feet (32 m). The outline of the object was well defined and was even more so a little later when it had as a background the tree covered slopes of a rain free area of the hills. Rev Browning estimated from landmarks below the object, that it was over Panshanger Estate owned by the Mills family and was probably 3 to 4 miles distant (6-7 km).

The object after emerging from the rain squall moved on an even keel in a northerly direction at an estimated speed of sixty to seventy miles per hour (100-110 kph) at a constant height of about 400 feet (120 m). His estimate of the speed of the object was made by comparing its rate of movement with that of Viscount aircraft which he has seen flying in the area. His estimate of the height of the object was by comparison with the height of the hills behind it. The object moved approximately one and a half mile(2 km) north, also estimated by reference to land marks below it, and then abruptly stopped. Within seconds, it was joined by five or six small saucer like objects which had emerged at high speed from the cloud above and behind the cigar shaped object.

The small objects stationed themselves at positions around the cigar shaped object at a radius of about one half of a mile (800 m) and then, after an interval of several seconds the cigar shaped object accompanied by the smaller objects, abruptly reversed back towards and then into the rain squall from which it had emerged. The reverse movement was at about the same speed and height as during its outward movement. In all, the cigar shaped object had been visible for approximately two minutes and the small objects for about one minute. Neither the Rev Browning or Mrs Browning heard any unusual noise during the period of the sighting.

Rev Browning and his wife watched the area for several minutes after the disappearance of the objects into the rain squall but there was no reappearance. Rev Browning then telephoned the Control Tower at Western Junction (Launceston) Airport and reported the sighting. The weather at the time of the sighting was overcast but fine after past rain at Cressy with showers still to the east in parts.

Rev Browning stated that on October 9th he gave a full report of the sighting to the Launceston 'Examiner'. A sketch of the object was superimposed on a photograph taken through their dinning room window. The following day (October 10th) the story was published in the paper. The published report apart from giving the length of the object as 300 instead of 100 feet and having stated that he knew of other witnesses was accurate. He also stated the artist's impression depicted a fairly accurately the shape, size and appearance of the objects but they should have been shown as being below and not above the skyline.

Rev Browning stated that since making the sighting public, he has received several reports of believed sightings of flying objects and has also received many reports of loud explosions. He himself heard such an explosion at 21.30 on October 27th. He is of the opinion that it was too close and loud to have been from an area 10 miles (16 k) distant where the Hydro Electric Commission does rock blasting. Rev Browning was of the opinion the explosions are someway associated with the flying objects seen by him and his wife.

Rev Browning said that prior to his and his wife's sighting of the unidentified flying objects he had been sceptical about reports of such objects but now he and his wife are convinced such objects exist.


Michael Hervey's book, UFOs Over the Southern Hemisphere mentions the Cressy sightings and that another eye witness a Mrs D Bransden who said: 'It was a fantastic sight - like a lot of little ships flocking around a bigger one.' In TUFOIC's 1970 report gathered from the Rev Browning and his notes on the case, a Mrs Bransden is also mentioned as having seen the cigar from near the Rectory. A young child is also reported as having seen the objects. Unfortunately no further information is know about the Bransden sighting.

Two hours after the sighting many outlying residents in the Cressy-Perth district heard a loud explosion. It was too loud to be from Poatina, one of the residents, Mrs J Robson of Barlington estate claimed. She said it was a loud explosion like someone banging heavily on a wall. She said she could hear the earth shake. Mr B Spencer of Woodlands, Cressy, said the explosion shook the house. It was followed by rumbling vibrations. It seemed to come from towards the Panshanger estate over which Rev Browning had made an earlier sighting.

The Civil Aviation Department said there were no aircraft in the vicinity at the time of the report. They had made a report to headquarters of Mr Browning's sighting.

For several weeks following the Cressy sighting there were numerous reports of strange airborne objects in the Longford, Cressy, Poatina, and Evandale districts.

In 1990 TUFOIC obtained copies of the RAAF sighting form completed by Rev Browning but the form was undated.

Professor McDonald received a letter from the RAAF officer who did the interrogation of the Brownings. The Brownings impressed the officer as being mature, stable, and mentally alert individuals who had no cause or desire to see objects in the sky other than objects of definite form and substance.


The meteorological summary for October 4th describes a small depression over the Central Plateau with a front extending to the east of Flinders Island. Light to moderate rain was experienced ahead of the front with rain clearing after 15.00 (3 pm). However, extensive cloud build up were associated with the trough along the Western Tiers (south-west of Cressy) during the late afternoon. Thunderstorm activity was reported from areas near the Tiers.

The RAAF summary explained the case as 'Astronomical". Moon rise would have been visible shortly after 6pm in an east south east direction; as the objects were seen near the skyline, the moon's reflection on scud type cloud associated with the rain squall were responsible for the sighting.

Rev Browning dismissed the RAAF's explanation. The moon he said would have been competing with a glorious sunset, whilst the easterly skyline was not visible due to rain covering the Ben Lomond area.

A check reveals that the sun was indeed about to set in the western sky, and if anything would have been the more likely of the two astronomical bodies to light up the sky. Rev Browning told Professor McDonald that the sun was illuminating the objects, there being a distinct difference in tone between the dull grey of the larger object and the shiny, metallic lustre of the smaller disc-like objects. The moon was just rising but at the time of the sighting would have been at a mere 6 degrees to the east. In fact it may have had trouble at that time in being visible over mountains to the east.

No mention is made if the Brownings heard the explosions two hours later, nor does the RAAF seem to have been informed of these events. Possibly the explosion and rumblings were due to the thunderstorm activity near the Tiers. The residents of the Cressy district were quite used to explosions from the Hydro works at Poatina but these as a rule were daytime occurrences.

It seems a pity that the RAAF did not take a more active approach to the sighting and others reported in the press in subsequent days. A logical step would have been to interview Mrs Bransden the second witness to the case, from a different view point would she have also seen moonrise reflecting on scud cloud? The 1960 Cressy case remains a classic sighting of a 'mother-ship' and attendant discs, a type of case that seems to have become less frequent in recent times. - Keith Roberts, TUFOIC (Tasmanian UFO Investigation Center)



The Cressy area of Tasmania became the centre of a spectacular wave of sightings in October and November, 1960. An entirely crediblewitness was at the centre of the milieu. Once again, an Anglican priest reported that he had seen a UFO. The Reverend Lionel Browning and his wife witnessed a fantastic sight from the dining room of the Cressy Anglican rectory on 4th October, 1960. A detailed account appeared in the Launceston Mercury of October 10th headlined "FLYING SAUCER" SEEN AT CRESSY. Mysterious ships in the sky. A succession of media stories followed elevating the sighting in to national prominence.

Again, because of the undeniable credibility of the witness, the RAAF were in a difficult position in their efforts to contain the rapidly escalating public clamour.

Wing Commander Waller interviewed Rev. Browning and his wife on November 11th, at their Cressy home. Waller concluded that the couple were "stable, responsible and unexcitable individuals who would not perpetrate a hoax", and were "genuinely and firmly convinced that they saw actual objects." He confirmed this assessment in a letter to Dr. James McDonald, who undertook a retrospective investigation into the sighting during his 1967 Australian visit.

The RAAF's attempts to explain the Cressy sighting away were rather hollow, particularly given an intriguing sighting report I found buried in the DAFI UFO files. On November 15, 1960, some 50 kilometres north of Cressy, a United States Air Force JB57 aircraft, operating out of East Sale RAAF base, encountered a UFO.

The Cressy affair even had a sequel in Australia's federal parliament. Rev. Browning's federal member, Mr. Duthie, asked the following question on October 20th, 1960:

Mr. Duthie: "Has the Minister for Air read the reports of unidentified flying objects sighted in Australia in the last two years, especially the detailed description of such an object at Cressy in my electorate by the Reverend Lionel Browning and his wife two weeks ago, and twice last weekend? Inc idently, the reverend gentleman was my Liberal opponent at the 1951 and 1954 elections. Does the Minister accept responsibility for investigating these sightings? Has the Minister any information about them that may be of interest to the people of Australia?"

The Minister for Air, Mr. Osborne, responded with an answer that would form the basis of RAAF policy for more than a decade to come.

Mr. Osborne: "I have read the press reports of these sightings in Tasmania, and in accordance with the usual practice, all the information that is available concerning them has been furnished to my department and is now being examined. The Department of Air does obtain information about all well reported cases of unidentified flying objects. The department not only receives information about them but also exchanges it with the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force. There is a regular exchange of information on these matters. I can tell the honourable member for Wilmont that although reports of this sort have been investigated very carefully for years, nearly all of them are explainable on a perfectly normal basis. Sometimes they are found to be weather balloons, high-flying aircraft or even stars.

On one occasion, it was established that a reported spaceship was the moon. Of all these reports, only 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. cannot be explained on the basis of some natural phenomenon, and nothing that has arisen from that 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. of unexplained cases gives any firm support for the belief that interlopers from other places in this world, or outside it, have been visiting us."

The Gill "entity" reports of 1959 and the Browning "mothership" report at Cressy in 1960, provided substantial dilemmas for official UFO investigations. In both cases Anglican ministers were the primary witnesses and press coverage was extensive and positive. A confidential briefing paper prepared by DAFI to the RAAF Staff Officer to the Minister of Air concluded after cursory investigations:

A preliminary analysis of the available information indicates that (the Cressy) sighting was some form of natural phenomena associated with the unsettled weather condition. You will recall that the sighting by Reverend William Gill in the Boianai area of New Guinea, which also received wide publicity, was very similar and occurred under almost identical weather conditions. On that occasion, after investigation, we concluded that the sightings were either known planets seen through fast moving cloud, or natural phenomena. The notable difference between the reports is that objects observed by the Reverend Browning were dull grey in colour, while those seen by the Reverend Gill were brightly lit and, in one case, allegedly contained humanoid beings.

The Brownings in the case of Cressy impressed the investigating RAAF officer as "mentally alert individuals who had no cause or desire to see objects in the sky other than objects of definite form and substance." In the case of the Gill reports the investigating officers' opinions on the main witness's character were also most favourable. Despite the impact of the Boianai and Cressy reports and the apparent incongruity of the official "explanations", the prevailing controversy failed to shift the official stance on UFOs that "nothing that has arisen from the 3 or 4 per cent of unexplained cases gives any firm support for the belief that interlopers from other places in this world or outside it have been visiting us." A close analysis of both cases (Boianai and Cressy) argues powerfully that the RAAF "explanations" are unsatisfactory. - UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry


Unexplained!: Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena

UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry

UFOs Over the Southern Hemisphere

Flying Saucer Review Volume 7: The Phenomenon - Sept-Ot. 1961

The APRO Bulletin - Sept 1960