A question for my readers.. What Australian federal government agency, other than the three armed branches of Department of Defence (DOD), or, the three air safety and/or transport regulation outfits, would be maintaining over 500 pages of hardcopy files related to the UFOs, or as I like to often say, the UAP (Unusual Aerial Phenomenon) riddle??
If you guessed the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) you’d be close, but I have tried them, and they drew a blank in their systems. If you guessed the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO), well, that would be lovely, but I have barely even started on them yet, so I know nothing of what they may have. If you guessed the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), you’d be spot on; and I now have a bunch of information regarding their UFO files, in black-and-white, directly from their understaffed Freedom of Information (FOI) desk, as we shall see.
Firstly though, back in early 2013, when trawling through the National Archives of Australia (NAA) using the RecordSearch database, I came across a BOM file titled “Observations – General By Outside Authorities (Includes UFO)”. Its date range was listed as 1972-1981. Immediately, I had the NAA staff examine this material and release it to me in hard copy. Indeed, it contained reports from the general public, and other records, related to UAP. For anyone who wants to go over this file using the NAA’s system, file series is PP956/1 and the control symbol is 45/38. The barcode is 1854167. More on that later.
On the 17th January, 2015, I sent the BOM a very reasonable FOI request which stated:
I wish to submit a subsequent request under the Freedom of Information Act. I am seeking to obtain any files or other materials held by the BOM regarding the topic of “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” (UAP) and/or “Unidentified Flying Objects” (UFOs). Specifically, I am looking for files containing: 1) Copies of enquiries from members of the general public to the BOM relating to UAP and/or UFOs; 2) Further BOM correspondence with the members of the public relating to the UAP and/or UFOs; 3) Copies of any previously and/or currently used standard templates or standard letters in such correspondence; 4) Internal BOM policies or guidelines for responding to Ministerial enquiries on the UAP and/or UFO topic; 5) Any files relating to the UAP and/or UFO matter itself, such as actual UAP and/or UFO case reports made to the BOM; studies or investigations related to UAP and/or UFOs; correspondence with other government departments, embassies, etc related to UAP and/or UFOs.
I also went on to say that their agency had maintained such files previously, and I gave them actual details of such material, thus, potentially avoiding any misunderstandings regarding exactly what I thought they may have in their archives. The BOM’s FOI officer, Erin MacLatchy, rang me a week after my initial request to firstly clarify exactly what I was looking for, and secondly, to explain to me that she was inundated with difficult requests of late and that my enquiry would take some time to process. Fair enough. On the 4th of March I finally received a formal reply letter, known as a “Notice of Charges”, which also contains a official determination regarding if they have actually found anything to furnish me with. In this material, the BOM stated, amongst other things:
“The Bureau has undertaken a range of searches for documents, and is now in the process of decision-making. I have decided that you are liable to pay a charge pursuant to section 29 of the FOI Act in respect of a request for access to the documents that fall within your request. A copy of this section is provided with this letter.”
So, this basically says that they found the sort of material I was asking for, and it is going to cost me a bit of money to have them released. That was the good news. Here is the bad news:
“My preliminary assessment of the charge is $1005.00. This is based on 27 hours of searching for the documents requested, and 30 hours for decision-making beyond the first 5 hours of decision-making time (which have been excluded from this assessment).
Over $1000 dollars? Not happening. Not on my watch. On the 11th of March, I appealed this fee on the grounds that it was by far the most expensive charge that I had ever encountered from an Australian government agency, including the complex encounters I have had with the Department of Defence, and, also, that the UFO topic was of public interest, because, you know, if one of these things slams into a packed airliner one day, then I think the average man on the street would be fairly concerned. Anyway, back comes the reply to my appeal on the 8th April 2015. In it, they clearly took my appeal efforts into account, however, those efforts resulted in merely this:
“Taking the above matters into account, I have decided to reduce the charges by 25 percent. Subject to my comments below, the total charge you are liable to pay is $753.75.”
I won’t detail what is involved in a second appeal, however, I will detail what was said on the phone when I rang the BOM FOI Desk officer two days later. The FOI staffer, Erin MacLatchy, explained to me that a hefty 500 pages of UFO-type files had been located, and the rest. She wasn’t able to say how many files made up this 500 pages worth of records exactly, or where they came from on a state-by-state basis, or the date ranges of found files, but, the mentioning of 500 pages was enough to put it all into perspective. See, if an FOI officer has to go through that much material to redact names, addresses, phone numbers, etc, and then color photocopy the whole lot, as well as handle administrative issues related to the FOI request, then, well, maybe a partially waived fee of $753.75 isn’t so unrealistic after all. So, instead of jumping in and spending a fortune, or, at the other end of the spectrum, throwing the towel in and forgetting it all, I decided to re-review the currently released BOM file that we do happen to have available–The very file I got released from the National Archives of Australia over 2 years ago.
As mentioned above, the old 1972-1981 BOM file which I got released in 2013, titled “Observations – General By Outside Authorities (Includes UFO)”, is held now physically by the NAA and available to all to review. It contains 297 pages of general public generated reports of meteorological phenomena, reports of apparent astronomical phenomena, reports of UFO/UAP activity, and various pieces of interagency and intra-agency correspondence.
The UFO/UAP events include:
1. A Mr G. Neads of Kelmscott, WA, took a picture in New Zealand about 1979. In the picture were bright circles of light. The Bureau passed the photograph to RAAF Base Pearce.
2. On the 14th Mar 1979 the BOM sent a letter to a G Hume of UFO Research Group, Perth. It said that the photograph you forwarded “…does not appear to show any object which could be recognised as part of a balloon train… I am not able to offer any alternative meteorological explanation of the object in the photograph.” The associated letter from PUFORG dated 28 Feb 1979 stated that the object was photographed at Ceduna, SA in Dec 1977. The photo is unfortunately not on file.
3. One the 27th May 1978, in Kings Rocks, Hyden, WA, at 2050hrs, apparently a dull orange object, low on the eastern horizon travelling north to south. It was described as faster than an aircraft, but slower than a meteor. No sound was heard, and the duration 1.5 to 2 minutes. It moved from north-east to south-south-west, above the clouds, and had a long orange tail. Furthermore, 3 or 4 weeks before, at dusk, a similar object was seen travelling in the opposite direction in the eastern sky.
4. A 16 Dec, 1976; 1225WST; Kalgoorlie meteorological office. M. Winterbourne saw an object travelling north-east to south-west. It passed south of overhead. It was white in colour, glowing, fuzzy at the edges and slightly pulsating. The shape was like a rugby ball, with an angular size of about half a degree. The duration of the sighting was some 10-12 seconds. Also, when at about 50 degree elevation in the south-west it seemed to stop for five seconds then dissolved in the same spot. On the same day at 1330WST Winterbourne received a telephone call from Dave Bower at the Scotia Mine, near Kalgoorlie reporting a “Strange object in the sky which was hardly moving. He gave me the bearings, but I failed to locate it at that time.” The same day at 1445WST Winterbourne saw the same object as at 1225hrs. This one flashed across the sky from east to west. It was lost to sight as it diminished in angular size apparently due to distance. The duration of this event was stated as being, similar to the earlier sighting, 12 seconds.
So, if these cases about are some of the “best” reports in the currently available BOM file, what are the chances that the 500 or so pages of unavailable BOM records would contain anything significantly “better”? At a price-tag of $753.75, I have, at least for the moment, decided to drop this one and spend my money on other various FOI requests that will be far more likely to yield more fruitful and usable results. Most likely, the currently unreleased, unsanitised 500 pages of BOM files would almost uniquely contain low level sightings and various unrelated reports of meteorological and astronomical oddities, just like the above BOM file at the NAA contains. Certainly, if anyone wishes to contribute to getting this bunch of unknown records released I would be open to sharing the cost I think; or, better still, a whole bunch of us could chip in and share the material. The other option is to merely bide time until the BOM records management area simply box up the files and truck them to the NAA for cataloguing and storage. It would be then that we should have the material released for all to see.