Monday, April 18, 2011

Peter E Norris and the Australian Government UFO files - 1957 to 1968 Part three

This is the third and final post re Peter E Norris.

CAPIO Campaign:

On the 18 March 1966 Peter again wrote to the Department of Air concerning a film of a UFO which had been taken at Port Moresby on 23 August 1953 by Mr T Drury, then in the Department of Civil Aviation.

"Mr Drury has advised my association that the film was handed to the Commonwealth Security Branch in Port Moresby where it was referred to your Department for further action...I would be obliged to receive your advice as to your Department's evaluation of Mr Drury's sighting..." (Source: Digital version of file 580/1/1 Part 5 p.126.)

The Department of Air responded on 31 March 1966 to Peter, that an exhaustive search of old records, including a 1955 file, had failed to locate a relevant 1953 file, or copies of the film. "Record of the evaluation was destroyed with the Department's copies of the photographs." (Source: Digital version of file 580/1/1 Part 5 p.124.)

Call for action:

On 23 April 1966 the Honorary Secretary of CAPIO, Sylvia Sutton wrote to Mr Peter Howson, the then Minister of Air.

"1. My association is aware that the Commonwealth Government has for some time been receiving and evaluating information concerning the existence of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) and believes that this fact together with a detailed analysis of all sightings investigated, should be published, with the object of removing the obstacle of public ignorance from this research. There is considerable misapprehension among the public at large concerning UFOs and a policy of secrecy can engender only further misapprehension. On the other hand a frank and open discussion of the subject would enlist the full cooperation of the Australian public.

2. My association is concerned that much information is withheld by persons who have made sightings of UFOs but who decline to report their information for fear of ridicule. A favourable Government statement on UFOs would therefore result in much valuable information on UFOs being received from members of the public.

3. As there is considerable evidence indicating that some UFOs are manned, instructions should be given to defence forces and all police, not to commit unprovoked acts of hostility towards UFOs.

4. There has been a marked increase in reports of UFOs during 1965 (maintained in 1966) resulting in obvious need for further investigations into the UFO phenomenon. Since the RAAF is primarily concerned with questions of defence, my association submits that responsibility for scientific investigation of UFOs should be vested in the CSIRO. Any project inaugurated by your government along the lines indicated would receive the full support of my association." (Source: Digital version of file 569/5/451 Part 1 p.65.)

The Minister of Air referred this letter to DAFI for advice, on 26 April 1966.

The Government's view on UFOs:

DAFI drafted a reply and the final version was dispatched to CAPIO from Peter Howson on 17 May 1966. The Minister noted that the government did indeed receive UFO reports as did the United Kingdom and the USA. "The first point I would like to make is that during the course of the investigations in these three countries no information has come to light which indicates the existence of extraterrestrial vehicles, or that we are being observed by beings from outer space."

"Your letter infers that the Government is anxious to keep secret the results of inquiries into reports of UFOs...I therefore hasten to advise you that such is not the case at all." It goes on to say that anyone could apply to the DOA and receive a summary of reports investigated, and that the DOA made occasional press and radio comments about UFOs. "However, I consider that too much publicity on UFO reports would be likely to cause concern and even alarm in the minds of the public who are not so well informed on these matters as members of your organization."

"The Government believes the appropriate authority to investigate UFOs in Australia is the RAAF and I assure you that scientific advice is sought from appropriate authorities whenever necessary." (Source: Digital version of file 569/5/451 Part 1 p.61.)

Just before the above letter, on 16 May 1966, Peter wrote to the Department of Air referring to their letter to him dated 11 February 1966 about the Tully case. Peter sent the Department a copy of CAPIO's evaluation of the Tully case, by CAPIO's meteorological consultant. (Source: Digital version of file 580/1/1 Part 5 p.56.)

On 21 October 1966 Peter asked the Minister for a copy of the RAAF's summary of UFO reports. (Source: Digital version of file 569/5/451 Part 1 p.59.) The Secretary DOA forwarded a copy of the RAAF's summary to Peter, on 2 November 1966.

Several months went past and then on 6 March 1967 CAPIO again wrote to the Minister of Air and mentioned that in the USA the University of Colorado had received a grant to investigate UFO reports in that country. "We in Australia would like to see similar assistance given here to some approved official organization such as the CSIRO or perhaps a university. We have it on good authority that already the University of Colorado has approached an Australian scientist with a request for co-operation and suggesting as to the best methods of research. It is obvious that large-scale work cannot be achieved without financial assistance." (Source: Digital version of file 569/5/451 Part 1 pp42-43.) Again, this letter was referred to DAFI for a response.

What appears to be a first draft DAFI reply to CAPIO was found at page 38 of the file. The RAAF was concerned "...from the aspect of the air defence of Australia. In the absence of any evidence of a threat to air defence, the RAAF could not justify the type of research into and scientific analysis of reports of UFOs which you contemplate..." The final reply (p.37) dated 26 April 1967 referred to the CAPIO letter of 6 May (they meant 6 March). It is longer than the draft response. It reinforced that the RAAF is the correct authority to be investigating. "The Government is satisfied that our national interests are adequately serviced by this arrangement." In short, there was no need for a financial grant to study UFOs.

Just prior to this, Peter had written directly to the CSIRO on 19 April 1967. The subject was the possibility of the CSIRO undertaking a University of Colorado style investigation into UFOS. (Source: Digital version of file 554/1/30 Pat 1 pp10-11.) The CSIRO responded on 28 April 1967, and declined to be involved.

On 31 October 1967 CAPIO wrote to Minister Howson. Peter sent the Minister a description of the work of the University of Colorado. "My organization maintains that a similar Project inaugurated in Australia with Commonwealth funds would be of assistance in helping to solve the great international problem of UFOs. Your assistance in bringing this matter to the attention of the government will be greatly appreciated."

At the same time, 31 October 1967, Peter, on CAPIO letterhead also wrote to Mr P W C Stokes, Member of the House of Representatives and sent him information on the University of Colorado study. This led to an exchange of letters between Stokes and the Hon J M Fraser, MP, about CAPIO's request for assistance in studying UFOs. The long and the short of the response was that the Commonwealth Government declined to assist CAPIO.

Interestingly, DAFI, internally, was responsive to the argument of scientific research into UFOs. In a DOA minute dated 9 November 1967 a Group Captain in DAFI wrote "The weight of evidence suggests that scientific, as opposed to defence, investigation of these phenomenon would be more appropriate if any further investigation is desired by the government." (p.32.)

The Minister wrote to Peter 0n 22 November 1967 (p.31) to reinforce that the RAAF was best placed "However, I am keenly aware of the developments taking place overseas and I shall continue to watch them with interest for their possible implication to the situation in Australia."

Into 1968:

On 16 March 1968 the then Secretary of VUFORS, Mrs Judith Magee, wrote to the Chief of the Air Force Intelligence, DOA, Canberra "I have been directed by the Committee to write your Department requesting a conference, for the purpose of discussing current investigations carried out by the Air Force, into Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs.) We await your reply with anticipation." The VUFORS letterhead indicated that Peter was still President. (Source: Digital version of file 554/1/30 part 2 p.199.)

In June 1968 CAPIO made it into the Government's House of Representatives' question time. The 4 June 1968 Hansard, page 1888, records in part:

"Mr Stokes - I ask the Minister for Air a question which relates to representations which I have made to him on behalf of the Commonwealth Aerial Phenomena Investigation Organisation, requesting a government grant to assist with research into unidentified flying objects."

Mr Freeth's response was that the matter " being considered..." (Source: Digital version of file 554/1/30 Part 2 p.193.) Ultimately, the Government simply decided not to assist.


The correspondence reviewed above, indicates that Peter was looking to:

1. Seek to determine the Government's views on classic UFO cases such as Boianai; Cressy and Tully. In all cases, the Government indicated that it felt there were mundane explanations for each case.

2. Push for a scientific study of UFOs, as opposed to a study to determine if there were any defence implications to the cases. The Government declined to do so.

3. Use political processes, by writing to Ministers, heads of Government bodies, and members of Parliament.

Question to Peter:

I posed a number of questions to Peter by email, and these, together with his responses are reproduced below:

Peter wrote me "I am only too happy to answer the questions you put to me with the caveat that time and age have taken their toll of me and my answers may be present day reconstructions of what I think I felt, rather than what I actually felt."

Q1 When interacting with the RAAF/DOD, what were your thoughts on the way they dealt with the subject of UFOs?

A1 I thought the prevailing attitude was one of "We don't have the resources to worry about this matter unless it constitutes a security concern which we don't think it does. At any rate the Americans are throwing money at the problem and will tell us anything we need to know." In other words, it was stuff-up rather than cover-up.

Q2 You wrote at one stage to the Government (CSIRO if I recall correctly) suggesting they consider undertaking a Condon scientific style investigation into UFOs. What were your thought processes behind this action?

A2 I don't remember much about this but surmise I was probably indulging in a bit of old fashioned 'stir' rather than believing I would get positive results. I was more aggressive in my youth than I am today! Perhaps I was a bit more optimistic too.

Q3 In the 1950's and 1960's what were your thoughts as to the cause of the UFO phenomenon?

A3 Tentatively, I believed the UFOs exhibited intelligent control and, since a terrestrial source seemed unlikely, their origin was probably extra-terrestrial.

Q4 Looking back in 2011, what are your current thoughts as to the cause of the UFO phenomenon?

A4 Given modern cosmological research into parallel universes and the nature of time (vide Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies et al) I would look for a more esoteric cause, perhaps as timetravel machines. Despite a life-long interest in parapsychology, survival, apparitions and similar subjects I have never detected a correspondence between these and UFOs.

Q5 Did you ever find anyone in the Australian Government, who was conducting serious scientific research into UFOs? If so, who were they and what were they doing?

A5 We had a number of scientists who worked with us on investigations, but strictly under anonymity.

Q6 Did you ever come across an individual named Harry Turner, who was a Melbourne physicist who worked with the RAAF from about 1954? If so, what are your recollections of him?

A6 I recall the name but don't remember anything else about him.

Q7 What got you interested in the topic of UFOs?

A7 A general reluctance to accept the consensus view on anything, which I still possess.

I'd like to thank Peter for his assistance in preparing these posts.

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