Thursday, February 28, 2019

John Pinkney – UFOs, “Alien Honeycomb” & the Australian Lord “Flying Saucerer” – some timely lessons from the past?

I only recently learnt of the passing of John Pinkney (He passed away peacefully on 28 August 2018 aged 84) and the following article is a look at part of his long and colourful part in the UFO story in Australia.  It begins with the “alien honeycomb” story – surely a cautionary tale for our current hunt for mysterious alloys, meta-materials and UFO “ejecta.” Following that by way of a tribute is a fascinating story of John’s encounter with the Australian Lord “Flying Saucerer” - Governor General Lord Richard Casey. 

Given the current controversies and intrigues about mysterious “alloys”, “meta-materials” and such, in the custody of the likes of the Pentagon, Robert Bigelow and others, and “the Artifact” – a center-piece in Diana Pasulka’s new book from Oxford University Press “American Cosmic – UFOs, Religion, Technology”, being examined by people like Gary Nolan, Jacques Vallee and Hal Puthoff & Luis Elizondo of TTSA, and others, it is worthwhile to retell this cautionary tale. In the absence of detailed analytical data prosaic possibilities need to be carefully considered before “alien” associations are obsessed with.  Should the results merit extraordinary claims lets see the detailed data. What follows is what happens if caution is not followed along with attempts at verification and peer review.
John Pinkney (1934 to 2018), journalist, writer (including the vampire novel “Thirst” which was the basis of the 1979 film of the same name), puzzle-maker and co-founder of the Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society with Peter Norris & Kevin Arnett back in 1957.
John had a long career in journalism. His October 1978 headline story on the Valentich story in the Australian newspaper drew a lot of attention. He started writing paranormal and unexplained mystery columns that appeared in the magazines like Pix-People. Through those he would get a lot of stories from readers and these would provide content for his many later books (such as “Haunted” (2011), “Great Australian Mysteries” (2003), “A Paranormal File: An Australian Investigator’s casebook” (2000) and “Alien Airships over old America: Plus 18 other tantalizing mysteries” 2011)). But it was his first UFO book in 1980 “Alien Honeycomb – the first solid evidence of UFOs” that really caught my attention.

As an industrial chemist it quickly became evident to me that a prosaic answer was likely.  In fact, he and I undertook a debate on the topic within the pages of the magazine he then wrote a column for – “the Great UFO Debate” – the editor’s title to our exchanges over 2 issues, although I had concluded that the material had nothing to do with UFOs – a position that put John and I in conflict at the time. 

If only John had considered a fascinating and sobering anecdote in R.V. Jones remarkable book “Most Secret War”. During the Swedish “ghost rocket” flap of 1945-46, then Director of British Scientific Intelligence, stated, “since there had been allegedly hundreds of (ghost-rocket) sorties, there ought to be at least several crashed bombs already in Sweden, and yet nobody had ever picked up a fragment.  I therefore said that I would not accept the theory that the apparitions were flying bombs from Russia until someone brought a piece into my office ….”  It turned out that the Swedes had several pieces of a “bomb.” “When I asked whether it had actually crashed, the answer was that it had not, but that various pieces had fallen off it,” Jones wrote.
These fragments were forwarded to British Intelligence.  Among them was “a lump 2 to 3 inches across that was hard, shiny, grey and porous.” Although Jones knew what it was, he sent it to the Chemical Analysis Section at Farnborough.  Many people in intelligence believed in the reality of the Russian flying bombs, and jumped upon the resultant analyses of one of the fragments: “… one of the lumps consist of more than 98 percent of an unknown element!”

Jones got in contact with the head of chemistry at Farnborough, who confirmed the startling result.  “I then asked him whether he had taken a good look at the lump, and whether it had not struck him as being remarkably like an ordinary piece of coke.  There was a gasp from the other end of the telephone as the penny dropped.  No one had stopped to look at the material, in an effort to get the analysis made quickly, and they failed to test for carbon. The other lumps had similarly innocent explanations.”

(a title I owe to Queensland researcher Paul Hebron)

"Alien Honeycomb - the first solid evidence for UFOs" by John Pinkney and Leonard Ryzman was published during 1980.  It professed to tell the story of a UFO explosion near Greenbank, Queensland, which led the authors to recovering some of the debris.  They claimed it contained "unknown elements and configurations".  The book revealed no details about chemical analyses and the authors resisted any attempt at confirmatory, independent analysis.  They were only prepared to have their material examined by the United Nations.   The story that allegedly connects the debris to a UFO is fragmentary and dubious.  In fact not enough information was given to verify a clear correlation.  Subsequent investigation indicated the original discovery of the material by locals was covered by the Brisbane Telegraph on November 13th, 1970.  The authors tried to link the debris with a sighting of a "flare" like "UFO" back in about 1966.

Pinkney and Ryzman indicated that most of the material was retrieved by RAAF officers, and then clandestinely dispatched to Pentagon testing laboratories.  They presented absolutely no evidence to back that statement up. The only reference to "Alien Honeycomb" I found in the RAAF files were internal memoranda from 1980. DEFAIR CANBERRA wrote to HQOC - SOINT on August 1st, 1980, regarding "Confirmation of Data in Book 'Alien Honeycomb'":
"The text of the book is sufficiently vague to make tracing information from service records a very tiring and difficult task.  A check of files held at Air Force Office has proven negative.
"Unfortunately, a 'no comment' or 'no information' response from the RAAF is only going to encourage this type of journalism. Accordingly, it is requested that HQOC initiate a check of records (including those of HQ AMB (Amberley - B.C.)for data which could relate to this matter". 
A telex dated September 5, 1980, and categorised as "unclassified/routine", from HQOC to DEFAIR Canberra, stated:
"Further to ref A the following is retrans of info received from HQ AMB. Quote:
"1.  Summaries of unidentified aerial sightings prepared by Dept of Air between mid 1968 and mid 1969 have been checked for mention of the case.  No mention of that particular sighting appears in the summaries.
"2. This is unusual because it is our understanding that the summaries were comprehensive and not edited lists of reported sightings.
"3. Unless requested by command the HQ does not propose to take this matter further".
I didn't see any evidence of a dark, pervasive coverup there.   Other RAAF files refer to retrieval of mundane debri, but none refer to the Greenbank "alien honeycomb".  More likely the key to this affair is languishing, not in a UFO or UAS file, but in aircraft accident files.

As an industrial chemist and someone who was promoting serious research into possible physical evidence for UFOs, I was interested in finding out more when the book first appeared. The authors did not assist independent research into their material.  Based on visual assessments I had concluded the material was AEROWEB high strength honeycomb, some of which is made from fibreglass - a clearly human-sourced material.  Soon other researchers, such as Paul Hebron, of UFO Research (Queensland) (to who I owe the heading “Not so alien honeycomb”), had acquired samples of the material from the site in question.  A researcher working for sceptic Dick Smith received some of the "alien honeycomb" from the same person who provided the authors with their material.  A clear relationship was established between this material and the material held by Pinkney and Ryzman.  Dick Smith financed an analysis through Unisearch laboratories, and not surprisingly confirmed that the "alien honeycomb" was not so alien - it was fibreglass!  So much for "the first solid evidence of UFOs."  More compelling examples of unusual debris or material related to UFO events have been documented.  However, in this case it was clear that the material had nothing to do with UFOs.  
From my personal collection of Greenbank "Alien Honeycomb"

And now John Pinkney’s encounter with our Lord “Flying Saucerer” and some of John’s more erudite journalism. I sought John Pinkney out to verify this fascinating story. 

“Guess What? UFO Men have been talking with our Leaders”

In 1972 there would be potent echoes of Lord Casey’s high level deep engagement with the UFO enigma.  It would be the 82-year-old political warrior’s last tilt at the alien UFO sirens that had ensnared him in their toxic and bewildering embrace since the 1950s.  One of the last great Anglo-Australians, Richard Casey, an Australian federal minister for External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs) (and minister in charge of the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and ultimately Governor General of the country), had developed a passion for flying saucers during the 1950s.  He used his highly prominent position to get answers – answers that came to him via his Australian embassy appointees around the world, through scientists from the CSIRO and from his connections with the clandestine intelligence world in both Australia and Britain.
The Australian Lord "Flying Saucerer"
Richard Casey
Here before him was a startling story in one of Australia’s leading newspapers of record, the Melbourne Age. Using his connections Lord Casey knew he would simply have to find out if the article had any substance.

The article in question dated Saturday 7 October 1972 was headlined “Guess What? UFO Men have been talking with our Leaders”and was by John Pinkney, a piece for his regular column “Pinkney Place.”  It began eruditely enough, for John Pinkney was an accomplished wordsmith. The “charabancs” he refers to here were an early form of bus, used typically for pleasure trips, but John is using the term as a cosmic pleasure machine of transport :
“UFOs, the cosmic charabancs of inscrutable star-beasts are becoming as commonplace as rice pudding.
“For so long have these celestial soar-abouts been tracked on radar at 25,000 mph and up, photographed, watched by awestruck crowds, and goggled at by pilots and passengers, that their novelty is swiftly wearing off.
“Man has begun to itch for some fresh trick – such as a landing and disembarkation in Bourke Street.  The mystery is becoming an irritant.
“According, however, to Hoyle (namely Dr. Fred, the English astrophysicist) the saucer enigma is no mystery to Earth’s major Governments.
“At a special press conference, Hoyle claimed that the island universe folk, who had sped here in their careening kayaks, had been keeping man under benign surveillance for millennia.
“And that they had already introduced themselves to Nixon, Heath, Chou En-Lai and their ilk.
“Whether Mr. McMahon scored even a small, chipped saucer, Hoyle did not record.
“Administrations, alleged the scientist, were keeping quiet about the star creatures’ presence, for fear of drowning their populations in waves of cultural shock ….”

The article had a point to make:
“When the white men swarmed like a grey virus among the Aborigines, they smashed tribal modes which had survived for tens of thousands of years.
Awed, the black man gazed up at the monumental peaks of the invaders’ technology, and was lost … just as were the Red Indians and Maoris.
“And that’s what could happen to us if flying saucers landed.
“But ultimately, everything floats in the black, interstellar gulfs of conjecture.”
“With solicitor Peter Norris (now head of the UFO Research Group) I toured Victoria for two years, tape-recording the experiencers of saucer-sighters.
“Not all of our approximately 1000 interviewees found Hoyle’s alien galaxy denizens kindly.”

John Pinkney described a Fern Tree Gully schoolteacher being paralysed with fear as “a milky, road-spanning light, which, as she stood, turned bright yellow.”  Then there was the New Guinea missionary and natives who saw a UFO and “clearly recognizable men emerged” and waved at them – of course a reference to the famous Father Gill sightings.  Several of Norris and Pinkney’s “screened 1000” experienced electrical car failure.  Pinkney concluded, “I have spoken to too many witnesses (who can’t all be neurotic liars) to entertain the faintest doubt that UFOs do exist.”  He then pondered the origin of the visitors – from space or “the fearsome fruits of a fifth dimension.”

Casey, who had in the 1950s and 1960s, been one of the political elite and “their ilk,” immediately dispatched personal letters to his brother Dermont Armstrong Casey, an archaeologist, and to Lieutenant Colonel E.H.B. (Ted) Neill, chairman of Directors of the Age newspaper.  

Of his brother he asked, “What’s all this about? I’ve asked Ted Neill if it’s a leg-pull or what. Does it ring any sort of a bell with you?” Dermont Casey responded in a letter dated 12 October, “Dear Dick, I really have no idea at all as to why the Age publishes such silly rubbish … But from some of the rather strained school-boy humour in it – I can only think that it is supposed to be frightfully funny and ‘clever.’ He then ridicules “a quite stupid book published recently that has received a good bit of notice and publicity – called The Chariots of the Gods.  It is about the doings of extraterrestrial beings who are supposed to have been on the Earth in the past.” As an archaeologist he saw it as having “not a scrap of real evidence” that things like the Easter Island figures and the Pyramids were made by them.  Casey’s brother did write he hadn’t actually read the book, just some notices on it.

Lt. Col. Ted Neill’s letter of 13 October followed, assuring Lord Casey that the piece was not a “leg-pull” and that while he often wrote in “a highly imaginative way,” John Pinkney was formerly on the Age staff, but by then freelanced as a regular contributor, with 2 TV columns, his Saturday column and a daily puzzle feature “Murgatroyd’s Mind Stretcher” which Pinkney prepared in conjunction with some university scientists and mathematicians. Neill then quoted the 10 May 1971 Hoyle press conference details that informed Pinkney’s column.

Hoyle was knighted in 1972 for his work in theoretical physics and the study of the Universe.  Apparently his 1971 press conference didn’t weigh against him with British government and royalty.  He was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1971 to 1973. In his popular 1983 book “The Intelligent Universe – a new view of creation and evolution” which argued for an extraterrestrial origin of life on Earth via panspermia, he no longer endorsed his alien UFO relevations.  He wrote, “If there were any truth to the UFO stories something of a drastic consequence would have emerged unequivocally by now.  Although vastly more romantic and exuberant, I fear that UFO stories are just as misplaced as the (ghostly) medium stories of my boyhood.”  There seems a big disconnection between his 1971 statements and the 1983 book quote.

Sir Fred Hoyle had stated on 10 May 1971, “The only reason I called this press conference is that no Government in the world would release this information.  They fear panic among the people, and think that if the people know that some intelligent force is controlling them, they will no longer listen to them.”
“They (the aliens) are so different from what we know that to try and describe them in language that everyone would understand would be impossible.
“They seem to be totally free of any physical restrictions such as bodies.  They are like pure thought and can be anywhere at any time they please. The weirdest thing about it is that at times they actually appear in physical forms.  In this way they have been responsible for almost all the legends in different countries, which are scoffed at today.”

Neill wrote, “At the end of his press conference he said that his scientific colleagues agreed that enough of this information must be divulged to the public to soften the shock when the full revelations came, and that “A little at a time, more facts will be released (by us) until everyone has access to all the information.”

Neill added that Hoyle clarified the nature of the aliens, quoting, “It is not an alien intelligence from another planet.  It is actually from another universe which entered ours at the very beginning and has been controlling all that happened since.”

Beyond Neill’s briefing of Lord Casey were further rather astonishing statements by Dr. Hoyle at the same press conference:
“Human beings are simply pawns in a great game, being played by alien minds, which control mankind’s every move…
“These alien minds come from another universe, one with five dimensions…”
“These super-intelligent entities are so different from us that to apprehend them or to describe them in human terms, is impossible…”
“They have been here for countless eons and they have probably controlled the evolution of Homo-sapiens. All of what man has built and become was accomplished because of the ‘tinkering’ of these intelligent forces.”

Casey replied to his brother Dermont writing, “…I’m afraid I don’t agree with you about the Pinkney article … his quotation from Hoyle, I believe, has unusual sense.  I’ve since looked again at Harlow Shapley’s book (“Of Stars and Men”) who is the American equivalent of Hoyle (at Harvard) who in effect says the same thing as Pinkney quotes Hoyle as saying – i.e. in addition. “that there is some element yet to be found and formulated in our human assessment of what makes things work – i.e. in addition to the accepted four (Space, Time, Matter and Energy). He (Harlow Shapley) says “that a fifth entity exists we can’t scarcely doubt.  It must be a cosmic force and not merely human or earth bound.”  I suppose you might use the word “supernatural” for this fifth sense, although I don’t think either Hoyle or Harlow Shapley used it. When you get Hoyle and Harlow Shapely saying practically the same thing, you can’t laugh it off.  There are, each of them, the accepted tops of scientific thinking in the world, particularly in this field.”

Dermott responded, “It seems to me that what Hoyle has said is not very different from what many people think about God….” Then cautioned his brother Dick, However, it seems to me that this conception is only an hypothesis which trys to provide an explanation of things in an absence of any real concrete evidence.  But all this is all a very long way from Pinkney’s statement, that extra terrestrial beings have been operating on Earth and that they have been in communication with men.”
Casey had a meeting arranged to talk with John Pinkney at the Melbourne Club for 5pm Tuesday 24 October. He described some of that meeting in a letter written the next day to his brother Dermont:
“The only peculiar thing about him is that he has very long hair, so I had him on the verandah of the Club so that sight of him wouldn’t offend some of the more orthodox members!  His main interest is clearly in U.F.O. on which he is inclined to concentrate.  Of this I’ll ask the Defence Department if I can meet (in Melbourne) one of the R.A.A.F. Committee on investigation of U.F.O. and hear what he has to say.
“One mildly interesting thing that Pinkney had to say when I asked him what his plans and expectations were as regards U.F.O. – was “I don’t really suppose I’ll ever know more than I know at present” – which was a modest and sensible thing for him to say.”

Lord Casey was advised that Squadron Leader R.R. Roddy, Command Intelligence Officer for H.Q. Support Command, RAAF, Victoria Barracks, St. Kilda Road, Melbourne (which covered responsibilities in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and parts of New South Wales) had been requested by his superior in Canberra to arrange to talk with him about UFOs.  Roddy dealt with counterintelligence and security – an interesting skill set for someone briefing  a person of Casey’s stature. Casey agreed to a meeting on 31 October 1972.

Squadron Leader Roddy gave Lord Casey a briefing including the standard description of Australia’s official involvement in UFO investigations:
“The investigation of reports of U.F.O.s in Australia is carried out by the Royal Australian Air Force, Directorate of Air Force Intelligence, at the Department of Air in Canberra.  A considerable amount of effort is spent in investigating each report and the majority of observers are interviewed by selected by selected RAAF personnel. 
“Between 23rdJanuary and 30thDecember 1971, the RAAF received 595 U.F.O. reports. Department of Air has assessed that 93 percent were explainable by present scientific knowledge.  Six percent of the reports did not provide sufficient information to permit proper analysis and evaluation.  One percent of the reports were attributed to unknown causes.”

The situation in the United Kingdom and the USA, mediated by the Condon Report, revealed similar statistics. The briefing also stated, “U.S. and Soviet space exploration has found no evidence to support the theory of life on planets in our solar system.  It seems that the Mariner series of space exploration to Mars has proved it a ‘dead’ planet.  The only other source of extra-terrestrial life, then, would have to be in another ‘solar system’.  It would seem, therefore, that whilst it may be possible for extra-terrestrial life forms to visit Earth, it is improbable.”

Roddy gave Lord Casey three summaries of U.F.O. sightings occurring in Australia between January 1960 and December 1971. The Department of Air used the more neutral term Unusual Aerial Sightings (UAS) for UFOs or flying saucer sightings.  In a letter to Sqd. Ldr. Roddy dated 6thNovember 1972, Casey thanked him “for being good enough to come see me to talk about U.F.O’s – and for your frankness in telling me about them.  It is (as you will know better than I do) a matter of quite considerable public interest, as is reflected in the prominence given to it in the Press by “so-called” sightings.  However you personally leave one in no doubt that you can find no reason to indulge in fanciful (non-material) explanations.”

With that, in his twilight years, Casey’s decades long journey through the mystery, that is the allure of the UFO, came full circle.

In the end, the ebbing flying saucer interest of Casey himself was enriched by the vision of an extraordinary woman (Maie Casey had a UFO sighting of her own in September 1967 – she saw a “bullet-shaped” object flying near her Berwick home), who Australian Prime Minister According to Diane Langmore “Glittering Surfaces – A life of Maie Casey” (1997) Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies once described as “Lady Macbeth”, because of her driving ambition for her famous husband – Lord Richard Casey. Lord Casey died on 17 June 1976.

Lord Casey’s 1972 UFO redux is documented in the National Archives of Australia (NAA) File series M1148, barcode 31415782, under Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) with the file title of “Department of Air: unusual aerial sightings: summary 3, January 1970-December 1971; correspondents include Lieutenant-Colonel E H B Neill.”

I reviewed my account of John Pinkney’s meeting with the Australian Lord “Flying Saucerer” Casey with John several years ago in a round of cordial conversations although the passing of time had dimmed his recollections.  He was pleased to hear that I was researching this curious piece of Australian UFO history. John’s embrace with the UFO and alien sirens was long, colourful, controversial and entertaining. John Pinkney could always tell a good story and write a great yarn. It was the dance with facts that made our paths cross, but even that was entertaining.     


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Blogger Sou West said...

Two points about the excellent blogpost spring to mind:-
Firstly, the events described and exchanged between the Governor-General and others occurred after the Westall (suburb of Melbourne) schoolyard UFO event of 1966. Yet there is no mention of it. In particular, the electrocution of the schoolgirl that touched the Westall craft, her subsequent disappearance, and the involvement of people from government agencies, the imperative for all witnesses to hush the event up, all point to a mundane earthly, rather than alien event. Rather, a test flight of a U.S. experimental craft which possibly employed electrogravitics for levitation and/or propulsion. As to the possible origin of the technology, author Nick Cook touches on a lot of electrogravitics history in his book The Hunt for Zero Point (2002), including the Second World War, Thomas Townsend-Brown, also Silesia and Projekt Reise in the Eulengebirge Range of the Sudeten Mountains.
Secondly, there is the work of Jacques Vallee, (1969) Passport to Magonia: from folklore to flying saucers, an astronomer turned student of folklore who realized that rather than nuts and bolts discs from other planets, we may be dealing with an earthly or rather interdimensional phenomenon, but a real one, at that. And that our collective traditional knowledge and culture may provide more clues about little green men (or elves and leprechauns) than peering through a telescope.

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