Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cold case - the Mount Gillen photograph - Alice Springs - 1954

Hi all

One entry in my catalogue of Australian photographic cases (click here) is the following:

15 Jan 1954 Alice Springs NT

A person was taking pictures of Mount Gillen (click here) when suddenly an enormous round object appeared from behind it. It went high, then dropped low. A picture was taken, and then suddenly it gained speed and shot off at high speed to the west. (Source: Hervey, M. "UFOs Over the Southern Hemisphere." 1969. Sydney. Horowitz. p.96.)

Recently, when looking at the digitised newspaper collection of the National library of Australia, I came across the original newspaper article about the event, which made interesting reading. I doubt that many people have had access to the original account, so I reproduce part of the text.

"Unknown" Claims Snapped Flying Saucer Over Alice:

"Men from Venus, secret flying machines from Russia, meteorites, optical allusions (sic) or just plain fakes and lies - what are these "flying saucers" reported to have been seen in many parts of the world, including Alice Springs?

Below we have published a photograph claimed to be that of a "flying saucer." With the picture, the following note was pushed under the door of the "Advocate" office.

'For several reasons, one of which is because I can hardly believe it myself I refuse at this stage to come forward and allow my name to be used. But study this picture of a flying saucer yourself.

'I was taking a picture of Mount Gillen on the day that a number of Alice Springs people said they heard something strange pass over the town (Friday January 15). Suddenly an enormous round looking object appeared from behind Gillen. It went high then dropped to come down quite between the mountain and the town - it was not travelling fast at this stage - in fact it appeared to be almost hovering. That was when I took this picture - almost automatically. I focused and clicked the camera. It would have been possible to take more shots but I just looked, then suddenly the thing moved off very fast - it gained speed until it must have been travelling at terrific pace going high to the west.

'I did not hear much of a whistling sound. The saucer looked to have been anything up to 150 feet across - I don't know, maybe Adamski had something about those men from Venus.'

The only comment that the "Advocate" is prepared to make at this stage is that the picture could easily be a fake - on the other hand it one would have to go to considerable trouble to make it up. If genuine, the saucer looks to be a very large affair, although distance would make all the difference in this."

The account then goes on to speak of Adamski, hoaxes and stories from other places.

The above quote is from the Centralian Advocate (Alice Springs, NT: 1947-1954) Friday 5 Feb 1954 pages 1-2.

The photograph:

The black and white photograph shows a scene which includes a mountain recognisable as Mount Gillen, scrub country in the foreground, and some sky. At the two o'clock position from the centre of the picture, in the sky, is a circular  object of quite large angular size. It has a circle in its centre, about one quarter to one third the diameter of the whole thing. From the edge of the inner circle, six "spokes" radiate out to touch the outer circle at the  2,3,4, 7,9 and 10 o'clock positions. The object is in clear focus while the landscape looks a little out of focus.

The date of the sighting:

The date of the photograph is given by the photographer as Friday 15 Jan 1954, and is said to be the same day as "...a number of Alice Springs people said they heard something strange pass over the town...I did not hear much of a whistling sound..."

Harts Range flying saucer:

Is there any documentation on the audio event? I found an item in the Centralian Advocate dated Friday 15 Jan 1954, page 1.

"Flying Saucer at Harts Range:

Something streaked across the sky in the Harts Range area very early one morning recently with a strange high pitched noise. Some who have heard the report believe that Central Australia has been visited by a "flying saucer."

The report is the first of any kind in the NT and is suggestive of the current "flying saucer" stories. They have been "seen" in Australia recently, but this is the nearest we have come to having our own "saucer."

Four Aborigines were witnesses to the strange sound. It was about 5am in the morning and the sky was clouded over, so that whatever past (sic) overhead was not seen.

Very uneasy about the incident the four men immediately went to the camp of Mr Mark Mitchell and his wife to report. They said the sound was not that of a plane, and they have heard many planes. Apart from sound, the object was travelling too fast. The natives claim that whatever it was, and it sounded to be just above the low cloud, it shot across at tremendous speed, but they heard it coming and going for several minutes.

Mr Mitchell stresses that he did not hear the sound, but is positive that the men heard something strange, because they are reliable unemotional types. They were plainly intrigued and their first thought had been to go to some one who may be able to tell them what it was.

The "Advocate" checked to see if the sound could possibly have been a jet aircraft, but no aircraft passed that way at this time, or during the week of the incident."

My comments:

1. The date of 15 Jan 1954, for this case, given in my catalogue appears incorrect. The photographer in their note to the paper gave the photo date as 15 Jan. However, they also wrote that the photo was taken on the same day as "...a number of Alice Springs people said they heard something strange pass over the town..." (Centralian Advocate 5 Feb1954.)

However, the Centralian Advocate of 15 Jan 1954, which refers to a report of a strange sound, states that this audio event occurred "...very early one morning recently..." i.e. prior to 15 Jan 1954 but not actually 15 Jan 1954. This discepancy casts doubt on this aspect of the photographer's claims.

The 15 Jan date for the photo is also cited in articles in "The Mail" (Adelaide, SA: 1912-1954) Saturday 6 Feb 1954 p.12, and "The Mercury" (Hobart, TAS:1860-1954) Saturday 6 Feb 1954 p.27.

2. To my knowledge, the Mount Gillen photographer has never to this day, been identified. It therefore remains an anonymously sourced photograph.

3. What did local people think about the photograph? The "Northern Standard" (Darwin, NT: 1920-1955) Thursday 11 Feb 54 p.3 provided some responses:

"...there are theories about the object in the sky between Mount Gillen and the town, ranging from a washing machine agitator, to a button, some folk believe it is the wheel of a toy car, others that it is an inflated rubber cushion. Still others believe it is in fact a "flying saucer"..."

4. My own impressions of this photographic case are that:

(a) There is doubt about the link between the audio event and the photograph, and the date given by the photographer.

(b) The photographer is anonymous and no details of the camera and film, are available, and no copies of photographs either side of the flying saucer one.

(c) The image of the object appears sharper than the scenery, suggestive of the object being closer to the camera than the scenery.

5. I conclude that this photographic case is of little value to us. Take a look at the photograph for yourself (click here.)

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