Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Westall UFO

Clayton South, south east of Melbourne, is an average middle class suburb a short distance from the CBD. Established in 1929 as the city expanded south, the Clayton area today is the very picture of modest, well kept ordinariness.

There are houses and apartment buildings, and a number of schools and parks. One of Melbourne;s best universities, Monash, is a short distance away, as is one of Australia's best golf courses, in Kingston Heath.

But Clayton South has as extraordinary footnote in the history of our city; it is also the site of Australia's largest mass UFO Sighting.

The renamed Westall Secondary College, present day.

Clayton South: 'A' marks the spot of the secondary school.

April 6, 1966 seemed a typical autumn day for the teachers and students heading into the two local schools; Westall High and Westall State school, the adjacent primary. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, it was just a day like any other.

Around 11.00am, a class of students at the high school were playing a game of cricket on the sports oval. Other children milled around at the end of their morning break, watching the game or just mucking about.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, something unusual appeared in the sky. An object, a silver-grey disk or saucer, moving slowly over the school, heading south.

The shock caused by the saucer's appearance was immediate: panic! Some of the children shrieked, while several threw themselves to the ground in fright:

The commotion drew more students and teachers, who ran outside to see what was happening. As many as 100 witnesses at Westall High have been identified as indicating they saw something in the sky that day, although their testimony varies.

Andrew Green, a science teacher, said he saw a silvery-green disk, about twice the size of a family car.

Joy Clarke, a second form student, said she saw 'three flying saucers.'

Some witnesses reported hearing engine noise coming from the object, or that they saw a light aircraft pursuing it.

Others have refuted these claims.

An artists impression of the incident.

The object's trajectory took it over the high school and then over the neighbouring primary, where its appearance again caused pandemonium. Children in both schools ran around chatoically; crying, yelling, pointing at the sky:

Next to the primary school was an open patch of vacant, overgrown land, called Grange Reserve. The object lost height once it was over the reserve and was witnessed descending behind a stand of trees. A number of excited students made to pursue the craft, some by climbing the school fence.

But after a short pause, probably no more than a couple of minutes, the object ascended from the trees again and departed the area, heading north west. It was soon lost from view, never to be seen again.

Witnesses who made it into the Grange shortly after the object's final disappearance reported seeing a flattened circle on the ground.

Artists impression of what was found in The Grange reserve.

Back at the high school, in the immediate aftermath, an attitude of secrecy was adopted. High school Principal Frank Samblebe called an assembly and told his stunned students:

Other witnesses claimed to have seen RAAF personal and government vehicles in the area around he Grange Reserve, immediately after the sighting.

The press coverage the following day was mixed. The local newspaper, The Dandenong Journal, made the 'Flying Saucer Mystery' its front page:

While The Age  ran a smaller, considerably more measured, item in it's local news section:

And this second story has probably become accepted as the official version of events.

The Government, state and federal, has always denied that they had any planes in the area at the time, and also that no military personnel attended the site to investigate. Diligent checking of the public record by private investigators has also failed to uncover any official reports or documents relating to the Westall event.

The absence of any official explanation, along with the now hazy memories of the people involved, has allowed a fine conspiracy network to spring up around the Westall incident.

It has a global profile as one of the world's most well known UFO events, and is one of the few to feature a large number of credible witnesses. In recent years, local interest in 'Australia's Roswell', has flickered from time to time as well:

In 2010, researcher Shane Ryan presented a documentary - Westall '66 - about his investigation of the incident, based on exhaustive research over a five year period. Through a public appeal, Ryan was able to uncover many previously unknown witnesses to the event and many from the surrounding area beyond the school grounds. In an interview given to the The Age in 2010, Ryan expressed his certainty that all those witnesses had seen... something:

But Ryan was unable to reach any solid conclusions about what had happened. He was frustrated, he said, by a lack of cooperation from official sources. In the interview excerpted above, Ryan states that his belief is that it was a Government aircraft of some sort, but that proof was scarce.

And in this, he mirrors the frustration of the people who witnessed this unusual event. People who, even after nearly 50 years, still aren't exactly sure what they saw that day.

To mark the anniversary of the event in 2004, The Westall UFO was given a small commemoration by the local council, when they named their new adventure playground in its honour.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Foy's Rooftop Fun Park

The corner of Swanston and Bourke is one of Melbourne's busiest intersections, where the mall meets the main drag.

And while the main buildings that ring this corner haven't changed for decades, there is one wonderful feature that is missing from the present day location: Foy's Rooftop Fun Park.

Foy's was a department store, along the lines of Myer and David Jones. Started in the 1870's as a Collingwood drapery by Mark Foy, the business expanded in the 1880's; The Foy family went into partnership with William Gibson in 1883 and new stores, originally called 'Foy and Gibson's' began selling a wider variety of goods. The chain soon expanded interstate, opening shops in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth.

Foy and Gibson Catalogue, 1902.

A Foy and Gibson store, around the turn of the century.

The shop was popularly referred to a 'Foy's' however and this name was officially adopted in the early twentieth century and retained, even after the Foy family sold their stake in the business.

The Rooftop Fun Park was a Christmas gimmick that began shortly after the Second World War. Foy's central Melbourne store was already known for it's elaborate Christmas decorations, including a giant beckoning Santa that featured on the facade annually, and the Fun Park expanded on the idea of Foy's as Christmas central. It was widely promoted in the local media:

The Rooftop Fun Park featured rides, a playground, a petting zoo, sideshows and even (at one time) boats. A few pictures remain of the park in operation:

Photos of a family at the park form the 1960's. You can just make out
the skyline in the background, which shows the elevation of the park.

It's difficult, if not impossible, to imagine children being allowed to ride horses on the roof of a city building in our contemporary, more regulated, age.

Sadly, the fun came to an end in the late 1960's. The Foy's chain was taken over by David Jones and the iconic Melbourne building sold to Woolworth's, relegating the Rooftop Park and the giant Santa to history. A Telstra shop occupies the street corner today.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Melbourne: A History in Posters

Victoria formally separates from New South Wales and becomes a stand alone colony; July 1, 1851.

1860's advertisment.

1878; Steam Biscuits.

1894 advertisment.

1905; electricity joins the commodity market courtesy of the Melbourne Electric Supply Co. Ltd.

1907: Poster for Wirth's Circus, a long running attraction that stood on the site now occupied by the Arts Centre.

An advertisment for land in Brighton in the first decade of the 20th century.

World War One recruitment poster that was used in Melbourne. Will YOU help us?

1918; Cattle sale in Pascoe Vale (AKA Pascoevale).

1930's era Kodak ad with a sparkling depiction of Melbourne by artist James Northfield.

1931; A Great Depression era poster for a demonstration for unemployed rights.

1930's beer advertisment for 'Foster's Lager' depicting the Abbotsford Brewery.

1934; The International Tennis Championships at Kooyong, featuring Baron G. von Cramm!

1934-35; The World's Greatest Air Race, organised to mark the centenary of Victoria's (unofficial) founding.

Circa 1935.

Movietone News poster advertising their coverage of the Melbourne Cup in 1940.

1940; Public announcement advising that as coal conservation was required for Australia's war effort, public train services would have to be curtailed.

Early 1950's; poster for protest against the Victorian Government's Housing Commission. With entertainment provided by... Bert Newton! Established in the 1930's, the Housing Commission was charged with providing cheap Government accommodation to the needy, and for breaking up the 'slums' that dotted the city's poorer areas. The Commission was given powers to 'reclaim' houses and land to aid these objectives, which inevitably lead to conflict with the properties original owners.

Poster for the 1953 Melbourne Film Festival, the first to be held in Melbourne City. The festival had been established the year before, but the initial event had been held in the rural town of Olinda.

The Olympic Games come to Melbourne.

1959; American evangelist Billy Graham brings his Christian crusade to the MCG. An estimated 130 000 people attended to hear him preach, an all comers ground record to this day.

1960's tourism poster promoting Melbourne as a holiday destination. Note the Windsor Hotel depicted on the right.

1960's poster for the Melbourne Royal Show. Nine day train ticket anyone?

WEG Poster, depicting 1964 VFL Premiers the Melbourne Demons. Drawn by artist William Ellis Green and produced by Melbourne's Herald (now Herald Sun) newspaper, the WEG poster is a traditional footy souvenir released at the end of each grand final and much sought after by fans and collectors. Green drew the posters from 1954 to 2008 (when he passed away) with the tradition now continued with new artists.

1973; Contemporary art exhibition at Toorak Galleries.

1977; Music night at the Brunswick Recreation Centre, 'C'mon, let's go to the Bug Dance!'

1979; Samuel Beckett production at the La Mama theatre, Carlton.

1980: Skyhooks play Bombay Rock, a Brunswick music venue that burnt down in 1991. $3.99 cover charge!

An early 1980's rally against nuclear power, at one time among the biggest issues in Australian politics.

1988: Rally Against Thatcher, presented by the Monash gay Collective and the Australian Aid for Ireland Foundation.

1990; Mayday rally at the Melbourne Trades Hall.

1992; American alt-rock band Nirvana play the Phoenecian Club (supported by Tumbleweed and The Meanies!). if you ask around, you'll hear that pretty much the whole city was there.

Shane Howard at The Continental Cafe, Saturday 28 September, 1996.

Shades of the arrival of electricity in 1905; the internet comes to Melbourne in 1996. Don;t be afraid, it's for everyone.

2001; Melbourne International Comedy Festival poster.

2005; The Beastie Boys play Festival Hall.

2010: Rally to protect the local live music scene. Gentrification in the inner suburbs had caused several well established live music venues to close.

2011: The Occupy Movement comes to Melbourne.

2013; Advertising posters for The Greens in the inner city electorate of Melbourne. Greens candidate Adam Bandt (pictured in the poster to the right), successfully defended the seat he had won at the 2010 election.