Monday, January 25, 2016

AUSTRALIA DAY SPECIAL: Randolph Stow, Visitants and the call of the UFO part 2

In Part 1:
Randolph Stow was one of our great writers and I encourage you to embrace the literary legacy of Mick Stow and the highly anticipated 890 page biography "Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow” from UWA (University of Western Australia) Publishing by Suzanne Falkiner. 
Randolph Stow was one of the great Australian writers of his generation. His novel To the Islands – written in his early twenties after living on a remote Aboriginal mission – won the Miles Franklin Award for 1958. In later life, after publishing seven remarkable novels and several collections of poetry, Stow’s literary output slowed. This biography examines the productive period as well as his long periods of publishing silence.
In Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow, Suzanne Falkiner unravels the reasons behind Randolph Stow’s quiet retreat from Australia and the wider literary world. Meticulously researched, insightful and at times deeply moving, Falkiner’s biography pieces together an intriguing story from Stow’s personal letters, diaries, and interviews with the people who knew him best. And many of her tales – from Stow’s beginnings in idyllic rural Australia, to his critical turning point in Papua New Guinea, and his final years in Essex, England – provide us with keys to unlock the meaning of Stow’s rich and introspective works.
Suzanne Falkiner kindly shared some extracts of her Stow biography and aspects of her wider research.
I had written to her on 24 August 2015:
I am very much looking forward to your bio on Randolph Stow.  Part of my interest stems from his wonderful novel "Visitants" which I mentioned in my own book "The OZ Files - the Australian UFO Story" (1996, Duffy & Snellgrove).
You may be interested in my posts on Bill Gill and his 1959 experience:
It is fascinating to see the multiple witness enquiry literary template that exists in both Randolph Stow's "Visitants" and John Fowles "A Maggot" - both with "alien contact" threads - 2 extraordinary books that weave "the other" in fascinating ways through their narratives.
I recollect Randolph had a UFO sighting with William Grono in 1966.
I would be very interested to learn of what Randolph Stow's private papers expressed on his thoughts about the 1959 Boainai events, which he learnt about upon his return and the other reports of that period.  Does he elaborate on his own experience?
Best wishes,
Suzanne replied the next day:
Dear Bill,
Stow did elaborate briefly on the events in his unpublished papers, and kept a cutting about the Gill experience. I attach the refs. 
However, if you don’t examine the papers yourself in the interim, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t quote from the unpublished text attached until after (or at least nearer to when) my book comes out (February 2016), and then credit it if you do.
I think the key to Stow’s approach is his comment that it's not whether such objects did or did not exist, which he couldn’t have any firm opinion about, ‘but why so many people want to believe that they exist.’ 
He applied the same precept to the 12th century stories of the ‘Green Children’ and the Merman of Orford, etc, written in Latin by chroniclers as if they were history, that he explores in The Girl Green as Elderflower. He draws a parallel here to Trobriand creation myths (and Christian myths), but maintains an open mind. 
Hope this helps!
All the best, 
At the same time Suzanne shared extracts from her forthcoming biography. 
Stow was in Papua at the time and while he did not hear of the sightings at the time, he was made aware of a similar event on Kitava (part of the Trobriand Islands (the customs and people of that island group were described in Malinowski's classic study "Argonauts of the Western Pacific" (1922)) and a strange disappearance. Stow incorporates both into the novel and the sightings of "star machines" are a recurring thread in the novel.
Suzanne’s extracts cover both of these aspects – Stow’s encounter with Kitava locals who described their “star machine” encounter, ostensibly shortly before their meeting and some months after the Boianai sightings. 
She explains that the Kitava information served as “the kernel of a second plotline in “Visitants.”  She quoted from Stows papers held at the National Library of Australia – Stow’s typed notes on Trobriand myth, magic and ‘cargo’: 
“One night we were visited by a group of men who wanted us to settle an intellectual dispute. The question was, whether or not the war with Japan was over. We told them that it had ended fourteen years earlier, and wondered why they were interested. They said that a ‘star’ or ‘machine’ had been passing over the island, and they wanted to know whether it was a Japanese or Allied ‘star’. They said that they were frightened, but they laughed as they said so.
We assumed that they had seen a satellite or space probe (though it should have seemed obvious at the time that they would never connect such a small pocket of light with a war-machine) and fobbed them off with some photographs of rockets in an old magazine. They [were] dissatisfied, and said that the rockets were the wrong shape—sketching a shape with their hands. But I was too tired and too much the know-it-all Dimdim to pay much attention.”
Suzanne also quotes from Tony Hassall 1982 interview with Stow – “Breaking the Silence.”  I was already well acquainted with this fascinating interview through Professor Hassall’s excellent book “Randolph Stow” (UQP 1990).  It had been originally published in “Australian Literary Studies” (1982):
No doubt there was a lot of talk about Boianai at the time, but I didn’t hear of it. …I thought they were talking about a Soviet Lunik, which was in the sky at the time and I dug out a copy of Time magazine, or something which had a picture of rockets on the cover, and said: ‘it’s like that, it’s like a bullet’. And they said: ‘no, no, it’s not like that’, and made a shape of it with their hands, which I think was, as far as I can remember it, a disc-shape. But I can’t actually swear to that now. Anyway, they told me that it certainly wasn’t like a bullet going through the sky, it was a machine that had a big light, and it chased some men along the path, when they were coming home from fishing, and they were frightened. And I suppose that I just put that aside; as I couldn’t answer the question I just forgot about it until years later…
In her book Suzanne elaborates: 
Six years on, at Point Barron in Alaska, Stow recorded, in an American magazine he came upon an account of the ‘New Guinea episode of 1959’ — a similar sighting of a flying object, some five months earlier in late June, at Boianai on the New Guinea mainland about 150 miles southwest —and found himself trying to recall every detail of the conversation. 
She notes:
“This was an extract from Jacques Vallee’s Anatomy of a Phenomenon (Henry Regnery, 1965), describing a sighting in June 1959 by Reverend William Booth Gill and 37 local people at Boianai, in Goodenough Bay, and in which the astronomer made a plea for statistical analysis of the incidence of sightings. See also NLA MS 10.128 Papers of Randolph Stow, Box 6, Pkt 23 - printed report on Reverend Gill’s 1959 sighting of a UFO at Boianai.”
Suzanne further shared: 
“In the same typed-up account found among his unpublished notes, Stow mused on the topic of faith, belief and rationality, particularly in relation to ‘cargo cults’, or ‘Vailala Madness’, as a particular variety of the Millenarian movement was called.
It is a tragicomic business, and the temptation, especially for a writer of fiction, is to emphasise the comic elements and to treat the cultists as a crowd of savage idiots. But we Dimdims are by no means always rational in ‘spiritual’ matters….The people of Kitava on this occasion conducted themselves like scientists—and the ‘miracle’ of Our Lady of Fatima might be considered a major event in the history of cargo-cult. 
Was missionary work allowing Fatima to leak into Kitava thinking or was this Stow just wondering about Fatima 1917 in general in this belief context?
There were Methodist and Catholic missionaries on Kiriwina at the time, but Mick makes little mention of the RC one, whereas the Methodist one, whose wife was a nurse, lived near the ADO station at Losuia and was more of a friend. No other mentions elsewhere in Stow's papers or correspondence of his being aware of, or interested in, any other incidents or sightings, or again of the Boianai or Kitava sightings. Or indeed of Fatima. 
In terms of the Fatima books originally published in Portuguese if Mick had ever encountered them they would not have challenged him.  He had a command of the language that supported his intriguing wider speculations on the madness that may have informed the Batavia tragedy.  But as Suzanne Falkiner notes Stow probably didn’t go down the deeper “rabbit hole” that is the wider UFO mysteries intertwined with these matters.
Suzanne and I did meet briefly at the special Stow event, which was a wonderful celebration of the life and legacy of Mick – Randolph Stow.
“What interested Stow more, Stow told Hassall in 1982, was not whether such objects did or did not exist, which he couldn’t have any firm opinion about, ‘but why so many people want to believe that they exist.’ 
In response to Suzanne’s kind sharing of this research I expanded in my 26 August 2015 email:
Hi Suzanne,
Thank you for sharing this information.  It seems to replicate much of the material Tony Hassall aired in 1982 and 1990.
I have Tony Hassall's 1990 "Randolph Stow" (UQP) which features "Visitants" and his detailed interview.  I was going to quote from that in "The OZ Files" (1996) but in the end I only referred to "Vistants" and brief background on Mick. 
Given that Mick didn't offer "any firm opinion" on UFOs but key was "why so many people want to believe that they exist" the nexus of belief, fact and fiction seemed to be important to him.  
Given that Rev. Bill Gill wrestled with the very same dynamic, I thought the evolution of thought he went through was worthwhile drawing to your attention:
“…. my understanding of the evolution of Bill Gill's thoughts on his sighting.  Not really belief, but anchored in fact, and apparently privately mediated by his faith.  But he put that out there as just an idea for thinking about. Perhaps the glowing "radiance" "sparking, etc that surround the "men" and the object led him privately in that direction.  Publicly "aliens", "Americans" or "aliens", he did not know, but he was certain of what he saw.
Perhaps that’s where Mick resonated.  Your reference to Bill Grono's belief that he saw a weather balloon with Stow at Greenough in 1966, doesn't seem to sit well with Mick's description of "a point of light making a falling-leaf, and then going away and vanishing with great speed, and then coming back at great speed from another direction, and going through the falling-leaf motion again" (Stow to Hassall) all this about 45 minutes, and they just gave up watching it.  This appears to be a remarkable "weather balloon", unlike any I have investigated over decades of research.  Perhaps Bill's response was mediated by belief, rather than the facts of the event? 
Was there an actual date, apart from year - month, day, time? Direction?
I note that Bruce Bennett wrote in the Westerly (55:2, 153) that when Stow died in 2010 he had "some half-century of memories of this region of England (Suffolk) to supplement his still vivid memories of Western Australia."  
I have read Bruce's interview in both the Westerly & Tony's anthology and was left wondering (after Bennett in Hassall, 375) if the interview had been in 1983 rather than 1981, whether the nexus of belief, fact & fiction may have played out differently, given the Harwich & East Bergholt Suffolk location and the mix of memories of place.  
I suspect while Mick may not have favoured "News of the World" as reading material, locals of Suffolk would no doubt been agog with the front page of 2nd October 1983, which went global and was reported upon even here in OZ:
There seems no evidence that Stow revisited the dynamic of "Visitants" published in 1979 with its famous 1959 sighting as a prologue.  Only slightly removed and certainly in close proximity in sense of place and time and maybe belief - December 1980 Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, aired by the "news of the World" in October 1983.
I suspect at least that Stow would have heard about it? 
I was struck by reference to "Our Lady of Fatima" in Stow's musings about it "might be considered a major event in the history of cargo-cult" by "the people of Kitava.  Is there an accurate date to Stow's encounter with locals on Kitava (presumably between September 1 and November 1959)?  Was there a sense that the locals were telling Stow about something that had just happened, maybe only by days?
Was missionary work allowing Fatima to leak into Kitava thinking or was this Stow just wondering about Fatima 1917 in general in this belief context?
He may have wondered even more if had been exposed to recent writings on Fatima (2005, 2006, 2008, all before Stows passing in 2010, published earlier in Portuguese.
These are very intriguing recent works and in part extend Vallee's research in his 1975 book "The Invisible College - What a Group of Scientists has discovered about UFO influences on the human race". Therein he had a chapter focusing on Fatima: "A morphology of miracles."
Stow had "an open mind."  Had he come across all this - Fatima "re-envisioned", Rendlesham Forest 1980 in Suffolk, one can only wonder in light of "Vistants" and its cousin "The Girl Green as Elderflower"?  
"Visitants" is considered by many as one of Stow's best books and possibly one of the finest novels in "Australian" literature, therefore these connections are I think are of merit and worth sharing. 
Although the Saturday event appears to be "sold out" I plan to dally at the library to see if I can get my foot in the door.  
Perhaps we can have a chat there if we cross paths.
Best wishes, 
Suzanne kindly responded with the following additional clarifications on 26 August 2015: 
Dear Bill,
Thank you for all that interesting information. I hope I’ve answered your queries below:
Suzanne added:
Bill Grono told me that he himself believed it was a weather balloon that he saw with Stow at Greenough.”
Was there an actual date, apart from year - month, day, time? Direction?
I agree the weather balloon theory seems unlikely, especially as Bill Grono saw the object or light shooting up into the air as well (do weather balloons have lights?). Nearest I can date sighting is sometime between about 7 January 1966 (approximate date of Stow's arrival back in WA from USA, after 3 week sea voyage from 17 December 1965) and 4 February 1966 (the date he mentions the trip north in a letter, after returning to Perth), and probably more towards the end of that period than the beginning. It was their last night staying in the holiday shacks on the Greenough river before their return, and after they’d had 'a few drinks’ (which probably would have been rather more than a few), and presumably quite late, ie after they'd had dinner, as Stow wanted to wake the guy in the neighbouring shack to see it also, and he wouldn’t be in it. I imagine the shacks would be looking out to sea, but that’s a guess.
Is there an accurate date to Stow's encounter with locals on Kitava (presumably between September 1 and November 1959)?  Was there a sense that the locals were telling Stow about something that had just happened, maybe only by days? 
Stow was on Kitava, on and off between visiting other islands, between 16 October and Friday 13 November 1959. No indication of when in this period the men told him about the object. No indication either of whether it had been a recent sighting, but presumably it was, as other patrols had recently passed through.
Suzanne’s kind sharing and my revisiting of “Visitants” and particularly its curious sister novel The Girl Green as Elderflower immediately alerted me to one more Suffolk mystery that may have (but probably didn’t?) become known to Stow – the strange incident of the Aldeburgh flying platform which took place in the middle of World War One (1914 – 1918).
Stow had a literary connection with Aldeburgh through his appreciation of the near-forgotten poet George Crabbe (1754-1832), who is perhaps more widely remembered through Benjamin Britten’s opera “Peter Grimes,” which was based on a chapter in Crabbe’s lengthy piece “The Borough”.  While the Suffolk town of Aldeburgh is not mentioned by name it is generally understood that Crabbe’s birth place of Aldeburgh is its basis.  Britten founded the Aldeburgh festival in 1948. Stow was in good company for Crabbe’s work was admired by the likes Byron, Tennyson, E.M. Forester, Jane Austen and Walter Scott to name a few.  Stow mentioned Crabbe and Aldeburgh in an interview by Bruce Bennent in 1981 (Westerly, No. 4, December, 1981).
While Randolph Stow was living in England (either London or Leeds) during the period 1966 – 1969 the son of the Aldeburgh flying platform witness from World War One sort to share his mother’s fascinating story beyond the circle of family and friends where it had circulated since it happened.  His letter appeared on page 16 of the Daily Mirror of August 8, 1968. 
There are some similarities to Father Gill”s Boianai sighting. “Return to Magonia – Investigating UFOs in History” (Anomalist Books) gives an excellent analysis of the Aldeburh Platform incident and gets into the kind of mythic aspects Stow might have been interested it. 
We can’t be certain Randolph Stow became aware of the Rendlesham  Forest case via the “News of the World” account or the Aldeburgh Platform story via the Daily Mirror letter.  We can be sure he was intrigued by UFOs, had first hand testimony given to him from native witnesses, and had his own sighting in 1966 with his friend Bill Grono. This was in the period of the well publicised Queensland “Tully flying saucer nest”. There were also  sightings by farmers in remote parts of Western Australia. 

Discover the literary legacy of Randolph Stow and read of his life – a great Australian, a “Visitant” here in OZ, Sussex and Papua New Guinea.  For a little while he was intrigued by the UFO mystery and became focused on “why so many people want to believe that they exist.”