A University of Canberra academic is on the trail of an apparent UFO sighting and subsequent 'cover up' writes Gabby McMillan.
25 October 2005: English teacher Shane Ryan is researching one of the most puzzling events in Australia over the past 40 years - the alleged sighting of an unidentified flying object (UFO) in a Melbourne suburb.
Mr Ryan hopes to publish a book next year to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1966 sighting where around 200 people watched an object descend above a paddock at the Grange Reserve in Westall for around 20 minutes, lift off and disappear.
He has interviewed around 45 witnesses, mainly students and staff from nearby Westall secondary and primary schools, since he began researching early this year.
He said the Westall incident stands out because "unlike other UFO stories where people see odd lights which turn out to be planes or balloons with candles inside, it happened in broad daylight".
While Mr Ryan is interested in the UFO sighting, he is also intrigued by the mysterious reactions from many Australians, especially officials.
"There is an unusual element to this story," he said. "Many people have told me about military officials, RAAF officers, coming to investigate the landing site on the afternoon of the sighting and keeping people away from it and making them keep quiet about what they saw."
Mr Ryan interviewed a chief witness, who was working as a science teacher at a Westall school in 1966, a few weeks ago and was astonished by what he heard.
The witness, who was around 20 at the time, told Mr Ryan the recalls a visit from two RAAF officers threatening to damage his career if he continued talking publicly about the sighting.
Mr Ryan hopes the service records, held at the National Archives of Australia, of two air force officers involved with "unusual aerial phenomena investigations" in the 1960s will help him find some answers.
"Hopefully they give me a lead to a person because the most important thing for me about this story is talking to people," he said.
Mr Ryan said he is interested in the incident from a "social and historical perspective" not necessarily as a UFO story.
"I'm interested in this as a mystery story about this strange event that happened and how society reacted to it," he said.
'A hint of a cover-up'
Rather than putting Mr Ryan off, the difficulty in tracking down information is actually motivating him, because he "smells something there...something going on underneath".
"I'm not saying the object was from another planet, but there was something about the object and sighting that people were not happy for the general public to know about it," he said. "There's a hint of a cover-up, but I can't say it was [a cover-up]."
Mr Ryan said he has "no doubts" the incident occurred; "people saw something unusual come down, people came out and looked at it and it was swept under the carpet".
But Mr Ryan isn't convinced the object is from another planet - although he would love it to be the "most amazing thing possible".
"I think like most people, I would like it to be an object from another planet, or another time, or another dimension," he said. "But I suspect it's something more down-to-earth, excuse the pun, more prosaic and earth-bound. I have no doubt I will find an answer, one day. I just don't know how long it's going to take."