About this record
The file of which this document is a part was transferred to the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia in 1984-85.
This confidential two-page report details sightings on 15 July 1960 of an unidentified flying object (UFO) near Wewak, a nuclear weapons testing range some 24 kilometres from Maralinga Village, South Australia. The report was written on 24 July 1960 by security officer JJA Hanlon, and originally formed part of a Department of Supply file on the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) in South Australia.
- This document outlines the comprehensive investigation into reports of UFO sightings in the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA), where in 1959–63 more than 40 top-secret nuclear weapons tests, code-named Vixen, were conducted under tight security. The Wewak site and nearby Taranaki mentioned in the report are situated in the 270,000-square-kilometre WPA, which includes the Maralinga and Emu Field testing sites.
- There were a number of reasons for the thoroughness of the investigations – control of unwelcome public interest, national security and scientific curiosity. Several dozen witnesses were interviewed for a number of reports associated with the Wewak sightings, including Commonwealth Police, WRE staff, armed forces personnel, a 'native patrol officer' and members of the public.
- At the time of this report tests were underway at sites within the WPA, and WRE was also developing a space program at the Woomera Rocket Range. From 1952 to 1963 the British Government, with the agreement and support of Australia, conducted nuclear tests at three sites in Australia – the Montebello Islands off the coast of Western Australia and at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia.
- UFO sightings became common during the Cold War (1945–90) against a background of political and military tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States and its allies. The anxiety and paranoia generated by espionage, weapons and satellite tests found expression in Hollywood science fiction films depicting humanity under attack from hostile aliens determined to destroy the American way of life.
- Scientific experts who were consulted for this and other reports on the Wewak sightings offered a range of explanations for the phenomena, ranging from flying saucers and satellite cones to a meteor, the effects of static electricity on the weather balloons at Wewak, and a 'reflection of distant vehicle lights on a low inversion layer'.
- By the 1970s, UFO sightings had become so commonplace that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), charged with the responsibility of investigating such phenomena, provided pro-forma questionnaires to members of the public who reported seeing a UFO, and summaries of recent sightings.
Learning resource text © Education Services Australia Limited and the National Archives of Australia 2010.