During the winter of 1909, much of south east Australia was abuzz with reports of mysterious lights flying through the skies leaving witnesses baffled as to what they were and from where they had come. Some thought them planets, others thought them lanterns attached to kites, while one witness thought they might be “Japanese airships”. But were any of these explanations plausible? The lights were seen night after night in areas hundreds of kilometres apart, and many appeared to exhibit behaviour that would rule out any conventional explanation … for 1909 anyway.
Did Australia’s first UFO flap occur in the winter of 1909?
Following sightings of mysterious lights seen in the skies above New Zealand, reports soon appeared in newspapers across the country of similar unknown lights observed in the heavens above Australia. One such sighting, by a reliable witness it must be said, appeared in Broken Hill’s The Barrier Miner on 9 August 1909.
“The Rev. B. Cozens, of the Port Melbourne Seamen’s Mission, tells an interesting story regarding the mysterious lights which appeared in the air over the Dandenong Ranges on Saturday night.
“Going outside at 10 o’clock, he saw, half a mile up in the air, two revolving lights moving over the ranges. They slowed down, dipped, and rose up again, then changed from white to red and to blue. Mr. Cozens called his wife and three neighbours. They all watched the lights until midnight, by which time one had almost moved out of sight over the ranges. Again at 2 o’clock Mr. Cozens saw the second one, which almost crossed the ranges. Five more appeared in the distance, moving in the direction taken by the other two.”
The following day, another report of the strange lights appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.
“A good deal of excitement was occasioned tonight by the appearance of a mysterious light or an illuminated body to the south-east of the town [of Moss Vale]. Quite a number of people gathered in the main street, and speculation was rife as to the meaning of the strange illumination. Above the large light some large body was distinctly visible, as the rays of light were reflected upon its surface.”
Passengers on the Melbourne express also witnessed the light, which had been seen the previous two nights flying above the Southern Highlands and the coast between Mittagong and Wollongong.
The report concluded that what the witnesses had seen was probably a balloon or airship. This may be a plausible explanation in this case as there is no description of how the lights moved, which, as in many other cases reported, would rule out such an explanation.
Then, just two days later, on 12 August 1909, The Gippsland Times in south east Victoria published a similar account of mystery lights spotted in that state.
“Shortly after seven o’clock last night, a mysterious light was seen in the Western horizon. It resembled an acetylene or electric light of particular brilliancy, and those who watched it jokingly remarked that they – for there was a smaller light accompanying it – belonged to an airship, for they both moved across the sky keeping the same relative distance. A little later a dense cloud obscured it from view.”
On 13 August, yet another sighting. This time, the mystery lights had apparently crossed Bass Strait and were flying the skies above Tasmania.
“A mysterious celestial light was seen to the east of Macquarie Plains, between 5 and 6 o’clock this morning. It swayed to and fro for some time, and then moved off and disappeared in a north easterly direction,” so reported The North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times.
That very same day, the mystery lights had travelled much further north.
Residents living along Sydney’s coastal suburbs observed the strange lights in the night sky. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that: “Considerable excitement was occasioned along the coastal suburbs last night between 7 and 8 o’clock, when residents were afforded an excellent view of the nocturnal mystery of the air, at present creating such a stir in all parts of the State. The lights were plainly visible in the north-west, and after several sharp movements to the east they slowly disappeared south.”
What is interesting about these reports is the movement of the lights. In Tasmania they were reported to move from side to side for some time before moving off and disappearing while in Sydney, the lights made a number of “sharp movements” suggesting somewhat fast, erratic behaviour. These descriptions would appear to rule out planets or other known astronomical objects as possible explanations.
An explosion like a rocket
The lights were widely seen in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. It was reported that they were visible in Goulburn for a week. The reports from Goulburn also seemed to defy explanation. In fact, they appear similar to many early UFO reports.
On 19 August 1909, The Mercury reported on The Mysterious Lights: “Goulburn has had a week’s display, during which the light has, according to report, been observed to move ‘up and down and sideways,’ and once gave a pyrotechnic exhibition, several stars falling about it.”
The report went on to add that: “Mittagong and Moss Vale also saw the strange light on several nights, and Narrabri, in the north-west, watched it perform a series of evolutions on three successive nights, moving with the rapidity of an airship, at a high altitude, and eventually disappearing south.
“Nearer Sydney, an Ashfield resident watched a light in the eastern sky with glasses last Thursday night. There was an ‘explosion like a rocket,’ and it became extinguished.
“Thus, so far, is about the sum total of the testimony from those in the east, the north, and the south, who have seen the light, which has been variously described as resembling ‘a ball of fire,’ ‘a buggy lamp,’ ‘a 50-candle-power gas jet,’ and ‘a Japanese airship’ (whatever that may be like). It is reported to have travelled sideways, up and down, and round in circles, and it has also remained stationary.”
While many reports could be accounted for by natural occurrences, such as Jupiter and Venus in conjunction and even Mars, as these planets were all bright in the night sky during this period, the varying descriptions of many of the mystery light reports appear to defy easy explanation.
Lights moving erratically, brilliant, multi-coloured lights, explosions or flashes in the instant before an object disappears, and even objects spewing fiery material are all observations reminiscent of many modern UFO sightings.
Perhaps the following editorial, published in The Mercury on 23 August 1909, best sums up the mystery lights of 1909.
A fiery chariot travelling fast and changing its course
“People everywhere are seeing visions. Every fine night somewhere fiery cars are seen flashing across the sky like a Greek goddess on a mission to earth. These visions have been seen in England, Ireland, America, Scotland, South Africa, New Zealand, New South Wales, and now in Tasmania.
“Recently the scientist has come along to explain that the head-lights seen in the sky are Jupiter and Venus in conjunction. But many of these ‘appearances’ are not of very recent date, and the observers of them retort that planets do not, so far as the human eye is concerned, move eccentrically.
“The New Zealand and New South Wales reports say that those who saw the mysterious lights there describe the object as that of a fiery chariot travelling fast and changing its course. In the north-west of this State, and in the Huon district the ‘mysterious lights’ have been seen, but probably Venus and Jupiter had something to do with them.
“Recently the Minister of Defence offered a bonus of £10,000 for the first Australian flying machine suitable for use in war. That announcement disclosed the fact that an astonishing number of inventors in these States were at work upon aviation. These inventors doubtless are working in secret, and possibly many of the objects seen in the air at night have relation to their experiments.
“It has been playfully suggested that the Martians are endeavouring to send signals to the earth. Within the short space of fifty years the progress in our knowledge of the universe has been immense, and we seem to be standing upon the confines of new regions ready to be explored and exploited.
“The mysterious lights of which the world is humorously talking may be the forerunners of further journeys of the human intellect on scientific roads and by-ways not yet in sight. Day by day it is becoming more difficult to scoff at any pretension or any prediction. Accomplishment so soon follows now that it is not safe to prophesy as to what will happen in the future, and it is, perhaps, not wise to regard even those mysterious lights too flippantly.”