Saturday, July 22, 2017

Westall - on the track of the missing Channel 9 news report

Introduction - 1966

Around noon on 6 April 1966, a channel 9 TV news crew, consisting of reporter Gordon Leed, and cameraman Keith Ballard, arrived at Westall High School and attempted to interview several students. These interviews were reportedly interrupted by police and school staff. That evening, a GTV-9 news story was shown on air, read by Eric Pierce, about that morning's observation of a 'flying saucer' at Westall. [Source: Chronology for 1966 Westall Flying Saucer Incident - compiled by Shane Ryan.]

Despite numerous inquiries, by a number of people, this Channel 9 TV footage has never been located.


Periodically, I have been searching the National Archives of Australia (NAA), for material relating to the 1966 Westall incident, but without success. 

On 18 June 2017, I came across an NAA file series C475, control symbol 1846620, barcode 13872656, titled 'This Day Tonight (12/10/1976) [segment] solar eclipse 23 October 1976 - UFOs and eclipse.'

Why would this be relevant to Westall? Well, because of a memory recollection I had. I recalled that someone, somewhere, had mentioned that there was a possible segment of the lost 1966 channel 9 news report regarding Westall, which had turned up on an October 1976 TV piece about that year's total solar eclipse. The problem was that I could not recall where I had heard this piece of information. However, that really did not matter, as here I had found a 1976 TV piece about UFOs and the eclipse. Perhaps, here would be some of the missing 1966 channel 9 film? 

I shared my discovery with Westall lead researcher Shane Ryan in Canberra, on 18 June 2017. Shane kindly agreed to make an application to the NAA to have the film examined, and opened for viewing.

Shane views the film

The wheels of the NAA run at their own speed. On 20 July 2017, Shane advised me that he had that day visited the NAA and viewed the film segment. Shane wrote to me:

'It was footage of an interview with Kevin Arnett on the eve of - as far as I could gather (as the sound was poor, and it seemed to be part of a longer interview) - an eclipse viewing at, and a UFO conference in, Mount Gambier. The interview only went for 2.5 minutes. At one point he held up a slide of, apparently the Balwyn UFO photo (he referred to it as Balwyn North.) There were several other slides in a box he had with him. There was no reference to Westall. It was difficult to tell, of course, how much more of the interview there may have been, or what else might have been talked about.'

The source of my memory recollection

The total solar eclipse that year was on 23 October 1976. 'This Day Tonight" was an ABC current affairs program which ran between 1967-1978.

At this point I thought it might be useful to track down where my memory recollection had come from. After some effort, and only after receiving Shane's report, I found the source. It was a message dated 7 August 2005, from Bill Chalker, on the Westall Flying Saucer Incident Yahoo groups discussion forum.

In part this message read:

' alternate source for at least part of the 1966 Westall channel coverage should be examined in the form of  A Current Affair story on the Mt Gambier UFO conference coverage. They ran a story on us over there. I'm pretty sure I recollect correctly that they included black & white archival footage of student Marilyn Eastwood and her sketch of the object. That would have been shortly after 23 October 1976. Find that footage and there might be pointers to the original footage?'

Blog readers will note, that Bill refers to the channel 9 TV program 'A Current Affair' and not to the channel 2 TV program 'This Day Tonight.'

Dandenong Journal, 21 April 1966 page 1,showing Marilyn's sketch

Further research

On the eve of 20 July 2017, I checked the NAA for any TV segments they might hold, generated by 'A Current Affair.' I found the NAA currently hold 124 such segments. Some are from 1976, however, none are from October 1976, and none refer to Westall, UFOs, or the solar eclipse.

On that same night, I sent an email to Bill Chalker asking for his 2017 memory recollections of this saga. In summary, Bill confirmed that after returning home from the eclipse and UFO conference, that he recalls seeing a segment on the channel 9 TV program 'A Current Affair.' The segment included footage of a girl and her UFO drawing. He recognised this drawing as a drawing reproduced in the Dandenong Journal, which was by witness Marilyn Eastwood. Bill said 'There was not an explicit reference to Westall, just B&W archival footage inserted into the story.'

Back to the NAA

I then went back to the NAA, and conducted another keyword search using the term 'solar eclipse.' Some more NAA files were displayed, above and beyond the film that Shane viewed. These were:

1. 22 October 1976 - C475, control symbol 1846545 barcode 13872584 [Segment] Solar eclipse 23 October 1976 - Preview.

2. 25 October 1976 - C475, control symbol 184682 barcode 13872535[Segment] Solar eclipse 23 October 1976 - Follow up.

Although these are not segments from 'A Current Affair,' in the interest of thorough research, I feel it is worth checking both these film segments to see if they do indeed contain any reference to Westall, including possible archival material from the missing channel 9 news report. I have therefore asked Shane if he would submit an application for these above two film segments to be examined, and opened for viewing. Naturally, this will take time. 

Thanks to Shane

My thanks to Shane, in Canberra, for taking the time to visit the NAA and view the one segment. Although our mutual efforts to locate Westall relevant files in the NAA, has, so far, proved unsuccessful, at least we are both still trying.

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