Monday, October 9, 2017

Westall - and the CSIRO

In a recent Facebook post, on the Westall Flying Saucer Incident Facebook page, Victorian researcher George Simpson made reference to an account where the CSIRO was reported to have removed soil from a location in Westall.  I had previously explored the UFO interest of one CSIRO scientist, who actually investigated the 6 April 1966 incident. Below I repost my 2015 blog post on this scientist.

Felician Andrzej Berson - the CSIRO - and his interest in UAP


There are scattered references, in the civilian UAP literature, to the interest of an individual named Dr. F A Berson, who worked for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research organisation (CSIRO). I thought it might be useful to bring these references together, hence this post.

Dr F A Berson
(Source: Garratt, J et al.  "Winds of Change." CSIRO publishing. 1999. Out of print.)


Firstly, before investigating his interest in the subject of UAP, I present a biography which I found in an article "Clouds on the Horizon" written by Berson himself, which appeared in  volume 72, number 2, February 1991 of the Bulletin American Meteorological Society.

Berson decided to study meteorology and qualified for his doctorate in 1934; then worked at the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute; followed by the Polish State Meteorological institute until 1939. Berson then moved to England where he joined the RAAF as a meteorologist, during the second world war.

In 1946, one of the items on his research list concerned cold fronts. After the war he accepted a post with the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute. Berson writes that at one point (about Carl-Gustav Rossby) "He appreciated the fact that I had imagination and was anything but institutionally inclined, he also enjoyed the eccentric behaviour I displayed on occasions.  p.208.)

In 1952 he "...applied to join the rapidly growing group of English wartime colleagues led by C H B Priestley forming the section (later Division) of Atmospheric Physics in the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) at Aspendale near Melbourne." (p.210.)

Between 1953 and 1974, when he retired, Berson worked at the CSIRO, and was known as Andgei to his colleagues. He researched cold fronts, Antarctic circulation; quasi-biennial oscillation; convective systems and interpreting radar echoes. During this time he worked for a period at the International Antarctic Analytical Center, and another period of time at the US Weather Bureau in Washington, DC. He also spent time at NCAR's National Hail Research Experiment at Boulder and Grover, Colorado in the US.

Ca. 1956:

According to Berson himself, in a letter, dated 28 November, 1966, to Robert Low of the famous Condon Committee, he became interested in the topic of UAP around 1956:

"It was in fact Mr Groodin who first got me interested in the subject. This was some ten years ago. I have since had one or two contacts in this matter, with Government departments, but have established closer contacts with a private agency in Victoria in an endeavour to find out what they were up to and whether scientific research was feasible."

According to Garratt, J; Angus, D and Holper P. (1999. "Winds of Change." CSIRO publishing, page 13,)  Ivan S Groodin was working for the CSIRO's Atmospheric Physics section from 1953, and was there at the time Berson joined that same section.

Ivan S Groodin in a group photograph.
(Source: "Winds of Change." CSIRO Publishing. 1999.)

March/April 1963:

Dr Berson investigated the 15 March 1963 Willow Grove, near Moe, Victoria, case. In an interview between Peter Norris of the Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society, and the witness, Charles Brew; Brew says:

A. "...the CSIRO were here and number one question as far as they were concerned - he asked me did I get a headache. I said..."

Q. "What did the CSIRO man say? Incidentally, do you know his name? What's his name?"

A. "Er, Mr Berson. Yes, Mr Berson was his name."

Q. "And what did he say about the headache?"

A. Well, he said, 'that ties in with what our theory, we always had the impression that it was ..." (what would you say) he gave me the impression it was electro-magnetic or something to that effect - that's beyond me - but he said that would more than likely cause a headache  and it certainly took all day to get rid of it, anyhow. I know that."

Q. "What else did the CSIRO do?"

A. " Well, as I said, he took away samples of rock - they were very interested in that - because he said being a sort of an ironstone, it may have some attraction for it. And there is the reef as I said..."

Q. "How long after the sighting, did the CSIRO come down here?'

A. "They were here about 4 days after..."

On 8 April 1963, Dr Berson wrote to Sylvia Dutton of CAPIO, advising that:

"I visited Mr Brew in company of a friend of mine, but we did not take any rock samples. But I know that somebody else did. To obtain more information about the mentioned sighting, please contact the RAAF Department of Air, Canberra who are investigating this case." 

The following is from a letter from Berson to Robert Low, dated 11May 1967:

"...among them a sketch of the distribution of total magnetic intensity (as recorded by an AN/ASQ-1 airborne magnetometer installed in a DC3 aircraft) in a part of Gippsland surrounding the site of the Willow Grove sighting."

Later, in the same letter Berson suggested:

"Following a discussion with a geophysicist in the Antarctic Division of the Department of External Affairs I venture to suggest to you that a statistical investigation should be made on the following lines: place and/or time of (low level?) sightings of high credibility rating be correlated with magnetic data such as the three hourly geomagnetic k index at observatories and the world-wide kp index." 

Who was Berson's companion on his visit to Moe in 1963? Berson mentioned he was accompanied by a Mr Clarke. On the website for the Encyclopaedia of Australian Science I found the following information:

Reginald Henry Clarke ( (1914-1990) joined the Bureau of meteorology in 1940, and then joined the CSIRO's Division of Atmospheric Physics at Aspendale in 1957. He retired in 1978 and passed away in 1990. One of his research interests was the subject of tornadoes.

Reg Clarke
(Source: "Winds of Change." CSIRO Publishing.1999.)

19 September 1963:

On Thursday 19 September 1963, Berson had his own sighting. I found the following information in an interview between Berson and James E McDonald dated 29 June 1967.  As far as I can ascertain he was at home in Mt Eliza, Melbourne at the time. He was with his son, when they noticed a cherry-red light in the sky. Far from being a point source of light, he estimated it had an angular size of one quarter of a degree, i.e. half the diameter of the full Moon.

The object appeared stationary, and there was no associated sound. He went inside the house to fetch binoculars, but when he came out, his son said that the object had formed two objects, and disappeared.

There was a newspaper report that an object was also reported from the Melbourne suburb of Dudley South at the same time. He checked the azimuth direction of his observation (it had been near a tree or similar object) and the track passed over Dudley South. He deduced that the object was not a balloon, or a hoax.

I found additional information on page 77 of the book by Michael Hervey, titled "UFOs over the Southern Hemisphere." (Click here.)

"On September 19, 1963, at approximately 8pm, the VFSRS received a telephone call from a man living at Mt Eliza. He and his family had watched an unusual object in the sky a little earlier that evening. The object, about 20 to 30 degrees above the horizon, appeared blood red  and was blinking on and off. It seemed larger than a star and made no sound. The object disappeared in a slightly easterly direction." 

"The Express" Newspaper of Wonthaggi, Victoria in its 26 September 1963 edition provided some other information. At 1845hrs South Dudley children at a playground saw an object. An orange ball was seen to the west. There was no sound. Tom Lymer reported "It was flashing on and off like an aeroplane light" but bigger and brighter. It was moving much slower than an aircraft. Suddenly flame shot out and it travelled at a tremendous speed. It was lost for a while then picked up to the south, hovering. Tom Ruby said that after hovering and still flashing on and off, it moved over the sea and disappeared. It was reported that television reception was affected.

The Australian Flying Saucer Review, May 1964, page 1 said that a John Waters, 17 saw two objects. "One appeared first, travelling in an area but not stopping, and the second object came over a little higher and followed the same trajectory." Mrs Sutton said that the Mt Eliza man's object was travelling in a south to south-east direction. Mrs Sutton checked with the RAAF, weather bureau and the Department of Civil Aviation and said that there were no balloons, kites, planes etc in the area at the time.

McDonald in his handwritten notes of interview with Berson wrote that the object was "Not blinking. Review is in error."

April 1966: The Westall incident:

In Ann Druffel's book on James E McDonald, "Firestorm" (click here) she wrote that

"Dr Berson had done his own investigation of the Westall High School sighting. He'd called Moorabbin airport also, but had been told he would have to call four separate companies in order to try to track down the source of the five Cessnas! He'd learned that students at Clayton school had also seen the object at the same time. he went to the Department of Air, but was given no information. There he was told by an aviation instructor, "We have a sub-chasing aircraft with very bright lights that can be misinterpreted."  The Australian officials were reaching as far afield for 'explanations' as project Blue Book."

Berson himself refers to this incident, in a letter to Robert Low dated 28 November 1966. In part it reads:

"On another occasion I established the fact that a similar D.A. team had appeared so quickly on the scene of a sighting made by a group of school children and a teacher in the vicinity of an aerodrome as to make one believe that they had some foreknowledge.The teaching staff was asked by the DA men to "play it down" and the sighting was promptly ridiculed, but quite independently another group of people had reported the unusual phenomenon from the opposite peripheral area of the aerodrome." 

July 1966:

An article titled "The Tully Nests: How freakish can whirlwinds be?" appeared in the Australian Flying Saucer Review, number 5, dated July 1966 pages 3-7. The article was "written by a member of VFSRS who has been connected with studies in atmospheric sciences." The references include an article by Reg Clarke. This may have been written by Berson.

May 1967:

In the McDonald archive section of Dr Michael Swords' digital file  collection, I found a letter dated 26 May 1967 to Dr Berson from James E McDonald. McDonald advised Berson that he was visiting Australia in June and July 1967. In part it read:

"I am now convinced it is a problem warranting greater increased scientific attention by a much larger group of workers...In going over one account of the Brew case, near Moe, Australia, I have noted that you are cited as a CSIRO investigator who looked into that interesting case. I should like very much to discuss that and any other Australian cases of which you have direct knowledge...I should like very much to speak to some of the CSIRO meteorologists about this entire problem...I might mention that I know...Priestley and Swinbank of your group."

June 1967:

Also in Swords' files is a letter dated 10 June 1967 from Sylvia Sutton, CAPIO to McDonald. In part it reads:

"The Chief purpose of this letter is to invite you to dine at my home...Dr Berson of the CSIRO, with whom you have been  corresponding, has become a good friend of my I have invited him and his wife to join us. He was particularly pleased about this because he would have liked to arrange some social occasion at his own home at Mt Eliza but due to the travelling distance, this rather ruled it out..."

McDonald met Berson on a number of occasions whilst in Melbourne, Victoria.

In the Australian journal of James E McDonald I found an entry dated 29 June 1967:

"then to Berson office to see geomagnetic anomaly at Brew site, and interviewed Berson re his Sep 19, 1963 sighting. Met Eric Webb who's been interested in UFOs (?) for some time but not until few weeks back did Berson learn of that..."

Eric Webb also worked also worked for the CSIRO.

Eric Webb
(Source: "Winds of Change." CSIRO Publishing. 1999.)

Another McDonald entry dated 30 June 1967  read:

"Phoned Berson. He wants me back. Priestley back and quite interested."

July 1967:

Another entry dated 4 July 1967 reads: "Paul and Geoff drove me to the CSIRO, Aspendale, met Priestley and Deacn (?) and Dyer."

CSIRO files on UAP:

The National Archives of Australia holds two relevant CSIRO files. File series A9778, control symbol M1/F/31, date range 1952-1957 is titled "Flying Saucers."

File series A852, control symbol HM1/30 titled "Miscellaneous Enquiries - General - UFOs."

 Is there anything on these files about Berson's UAP interests, or indeed about that of Groodin? I failed to find anything, however there were three items of general interest:

1. A memo dated 26 June 1968 from the Department of External Affairs addressed to the Secretary, Prime Minister's department, Canberra cc'd to Dr D F Martyn. Officer in charge, Upper Atmospheric Section CSIRO, about the Condon committee in the USA. However, the Upper Atmospheric Section was in Camden, New South Wales and not Aspendale, Victoria.

2. In the period 1959 to at least 1965, a copy of UAP reports were sent to the CSIRO, from the Department of territories (Papua New Guinea). There is no mention of which section/division of the CSIRO they ultimately ended up with.

3. A memo from the Department of Air, to the CSIRO dated 28 November 1968 advised that:

"During the course of an investigation into the unusual sightings made by Mr A S Ricketts of Baccus Marsh, Victoria, it was learnt that a 'team of CSIIRO scientists" had visited him on 7th July 1966. This Department would be grateful for any information on this visit that could be of assistance in assessing the origin of Mr Rickett's sightings."

 On 5 December 1966 the CSIRO replied:

"I have made inquiries from several likely CSIRO Divisions, but with negative results."

RAAF file 580/1/1 Part 6, held by the National Archives of Australia reveals a detailed investigation report on multiple observations by Mr Ricketts. It included:

"Mr Ricketts had a visit from a team of CSIRO scientists who saw something but would not confirm that this that this was a UFO. Mr Rickett's would not divulge the names of the CSIRO scientists."

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