1966 was again a major year for UFO activity in Australia. The classic UFO landing at Horseshoe Lagoon near Tully, far north Queensland, and witnessed by farmer George Pedley, entered the term UFO "nest" into popular UFO parlance. The locality was the centre of an extended UFO milieu that continued for many years, particularly in 1969, 1972 and 1975. The area was also the site of controversial and fascinating experiments in UFO detection through remote sensing and filming.
Farmer, George Pedley's sighting at Horseshoe Lagoon and the physical evidence found there caused a media sensation. The Tully "UFO nest" affair of 1966 is one of the best known accounts of an apparent UFO landing report. It has been mentioned extensively in the UFO literature over the years,and yet surprisingly many inaccuracies and misconceptions have developed. These problems became more critical when the famous Tully incident of January 19, 1966, once again became the focus of attention, this time due to the English "crop circle" controversy. The prominent schools of thought on the crop circle formations adopted the 1966 Tully incident as a classic example of their percieved explanations for the circle complexes. Their claims about the relevance of the Tully incident as an example of the currently perceived crop circle phenomenon were flawed and generally unfounded.
My research of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) files uncovered the original police report on the incident. As these are the earliest documented sources they will be quoted in detail:
At about 9.00 a.m. on 19th January, 1966, Mr. G.A. Pedley, a banana grower of Tully, Qld, observed a light grey non reflecting dull object, reported to be about 25 feet long and 8 feet deep, rise vertically then climb on an angle of 450 from a height of about 30 feet above marshland which was situated about 25 yards away from his position. There was an associated hissing noise which descreased as the 'object' rose. The apparent shape was described as 'two saucers, face to face', but no structural detail was observed. The duration of the observation was approximately 15 seconds and it disappeared in mid-air whilst receding into the distance (not assessed).
A clearly defined near circular depression remained in evidence in swamp grass at the point from which the object was seen rising, and measured about 32 feet long by 25 feet wide. The grass was flattened in clockwise curves to water level within the circle and the reeds had been uprooted from the mud. There was no scorching of grass or surrounding trees and the observer stated that there was no smell of combustion..."
My research of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) files uncovered the original police report on the incident. As these are the earliest documented sources extracts of it are included here of details not included in the above statement made in 1973 in response to an enquiry from the "Australian" newspaper.
George Pedley reported his experience to Tully Police at 7.30 pm, on January 19th. At 7 am, January 20th George Pedley and Sgt. A.V. Moylan went to the site of the incident. Sgt. Moylan, then contacted Townsville RAAF Base by telephone, on the morning of January 20th. Flt. Lt. Wallace advised Sgt. Moylan that he would forward a proforma questionaire for completion by George Pedley. On Friday, January 21st, Flt. Lt. Wallace confirmed despatch of two copies of the sighting proforma by mail that same day and also requested Sgt. Moylan obtain "a sample of the grass from the scorched area." At 3.30 pm, on the same day, Moylan returned to the site and took a sample "of the grass from the depression in the swamp grass at the site. The proforma was filled out by Moylan based on his interviews with George Pedley and was dated 26/1/66. Sgt. Moylan despatched the report and the sample on 26/1/66.
The following details are extracted from the RAAF "REPORT ON AERIAL OBJECT OBSERVED:
Name of Observer: George Alfred PEDLEY aged 28 years.
Occupation of Observer: Banana grower
Date and Time of Observation: 19/1/66 at about 0900 hours
Period of Observation: About 15 seconds
Manner of Observation:
Travelling on a tractor about 1/2 mile from farm house of Albert PENNISI, Rockingham Road, Euramo. Attention attracted by hissing noise, clearly heard over noise of tractor-similar to air escaping from tyre; checked tyres and was looking about for source of noise when he saw object about 25 yards ahead. No optical instruments used in sighting.
Where was object first observed: Object about 25 yards ahead at height of about 30 feet rising vertically.
What first attracted observer's attention: Loud hissing noise.
Did object appear as a light or a definite object: Definite object, no light visible. One object (only seen)
What was the colour of the object: Light grey; dull-non-reflecting.
What was its apparent shape: Two saucers -- face to face.
Was any detail of the structure observable: Object about 25 feet long and 8' to (9') deep. No structural detail observed.
Was any method of propulsion obvious: No.
Was there any sound: Loud hissing noise which seemed to diminish as object rose.
Height or angle of elevation: First seen at treetop height 30'. Rose vertically to about twice that height, then departed, climbing at about 45 degrees.
Speed, or angular velocity: Extremely fast; No estimate of speed, but much faster than an aeroplane. It was near treetops and these gave observer a good basis for estimating height.
Direction of flight with reference to landmarks or points of the compass:Rose vertically to about 60 feet and departed south west climbing at about 45 degrees; appeared to be rotating for full time observed. (object appeared to remain on) straight climbing path.
Was any trail of exhaust, vapour or light seen: No
Where did object disappear: Mid air; receded into distance.
Existence of any physical evidence:
Clearly defined near circular depression in swamp grass at point from which object seen rising, about 32' long and 25' wide. Grass flattened to surface of 4' of water lying in xxxx-clockwise curves.
[Sgt. Moylan, in his report, had typed in anti-clockwise initially and then corrected it to clockwise, by overtyping 'anti' with 'xxxx'. The direction of the swirl at the site of the 19 January 1966 incident was to become a matter of ongoing confusion. The correct direction was clockwise - B.C.]
Weather conditions experienced at time of observation:
Clear sky; Hot sunshine.
Location of any air traffic in the vicinity at the time of sighting: Unknown but checked by RAAF Garbut.
[Flt. Lt. Wallace of Townsville RAAF base in a covering minute paper confirmed that "there were no service or Civil aircraft operating in the area... at the time of the sighting..." - B.C.]
Any additional information: (Sgt. Moylan wrote)
Observer reported this matter to Tully Police at 7.30pm on 19/1/66 and at 7am, 20/1/66 went with me to the site of the depression in the swamp. His version then included the information that the object rose vertically, appeared to dip slightly and then went off in straight climbing path. He then said...further that there was no smell of combustion and no scorching of grass or trees visible; that the the flattened grass or rushes was quite green when he first saw the depression; on his return that afternoon the grass had turned brown.
(Sgt. Moylan further added:)
In this matter I formed the opinion that the depressed area in the swamp grass had been caused by a small helicopter and that the observer, in the early morning bright sunlight shining on the rotor may have mistaken the shape. His description of the takeofflent some strength to my opinion. However there was cleared land to the east for about 200 yards where such an aircraft could have more safely landed instead of the position indicated by the observer, close to trees. Later I was informed by Wallace Evans of ...Tully, an electrician that he has seen similar markings in a swamp at Kurrumine Beach and is quite certain that it was caused by a whirlwind, sucking up water into a waterspout, uprooting the grass and laying it out in a similar pattern. At 3.30pm, 21/1/66 I took a sample of the grass at the site and have forwarded it under seperate cover on even date.
Flt. Lt. T.D. Wright, for Air Officer Commanding, Headquarters Operational Command, RAAF, Penrith, New South Wales (NSW), on-forwarded police Sgt. Moylan's report on George Pedley's UFO sighting and Flt. Lt. Wallace's covering minute paper, to the Department of Air, Russell Offices, Canberra. His communication classified RESTRICTED, which was channelled to the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI), also indicated, "This headquarters believes that the depressions of the swamp grass were caused by small isolated waterspouts."
In response to an enquiry, dated 2nd February, 1966, from the Commonwealth Aerial Phenomena Investigation Organisation (CAPIO), the Secretary, Department of Air, Mr. A.B. McFarlane, wrote on 11th February, 1966:
"Investigations of the area surrounding the reported "Nests", testing of samples taken from around them and interrogation of persons involved in the report failed to reveal anything of significance.
"However, during enquiries a number of local residents stated that the reported "nests" are fairly common during the onset of the "wet". Furthermore, the University of Queensland stated that there was nothing unnatural in the samples submitted and assessed that the "nests" could have been the result of severe turbulance, which normally accompany line squalls and thunderstorms prevalent in NORTH QUEENSLAND at the time of the year.
"There is no explanation for the visible phenomena reported but it could have been associated with or the result of "down draughts", "willy willies" or "water spouts" that are known to occur in the area.
".. for information ....in January of this year from an airfield in the tropics (a number of photographs taken give) a fine example of the type and growth of a cloud formation occuring with a severe "down draught"
This whirling mass of tropical air associated with thunderstorm activity, on reaching the earth's surface may dissipate and subside or persist giving rise to dust eddies, water spouts, etc, and leaving a telltale circular pattern on the ground.
Should it occur over a swampy reed bed the effect would be to flatten the reeds with a circular pattern. resultant photographs and investigations of the "nests" seem to fit in with this theory and is accepted as a possible cause of the phenomena."
It is fascinating to note how Secretary McFarlane's cursory explanatory exposition, no doubt inspired by "the tornado-like metereological phenomena" infested skies over Willow Grove, Victoria and Vaucluse Beach, NSW, anticipated by almost 2 decades Dr. Terence Meaden's early theoretical attempts to explain the English "crop circles" of the 1980s. Dr. Meaden would mistakingly assume that George Pedley saw his "vortex" at 9 pm, not 9 am, which is a fatal flaw in the mechanism he put forth to explain the report.
The only other significant official statement on the Tully sighting I found in the RAAF files was included in a letter by Mr. G.J. Odgers, Director of Public Relations, Department of Defence (Air Office), dated 17th December, 1973, directed to Charles Wright, a journalist working on a article for the national newspaper, The Australian.
George Odgers' Air Office public relations department had clearly gleaned from the 1966 DAFI files details of an explanation of what George Pedley seen that the original RAAF officers and Department officers back in 1966 had not determined:
"Although a conclusive determination could not be made, the most probable explanation was that the sighting was of a 'willy willy' or circular wind phenomenon which flattened the reeds and sucked up debris to a height of about 30 feet, thus forming what appeared to be a 'flying saucer', before moving off and dissipating. Hissing noises are known to be associated with 'willy willies' and the theory is also substantiated by the clockwise configuration of the depression.
Mr. Odgers further added, more generally,
"All to often unusual occurrences are reported in sensational terms with little or no attempt made at rational assessment. The general subject is 'newsworthy' and lends itself to sensationalism and guesswork, but in most cases logical explanations follow from careful investigation. You will appreciate that there is nothing to be gained from reopening old cases." [a sentiment I would not agree with - B.C.]
Seers, S., UFOs - The Case for Scientific Myopia, Vantage Press, 1983, Ch.4, The Tully Saucer 'Nests'.
Chalker, B.,Tully (Australia) 'Saucer Nests', 370-371, in Story, R., The Encyclopedia of UFOs, NEL, 1980
Chalker, B., Tully Saucer Nests of 1996, International UFO Reporter, Winter, 1997-98 & Spring, 1998.