Tuesday, September 21, 2021

James Kibel (1940 - 2021) - "He lived in a 'phenomena soaked' world."

James Kibel in the Melbourne Age, December 1972, and in 2008 (a photo I took of him)
I was saddened to hear of the passing of James (Jim) Kibel.  My condolences to his family. 

A family friend of his once told me about Jim, "He lived in a 'phenomena soaked' world," adding "I remember (him) very fondly and think of him as someone who in his own way added colour to an often hueless world." 

I shared two interests with Jim Kibel - sinology and ufology. He had fascinating things to share about both areas - China and UFOs - things deeply rooted in personal experience. Jim shared many of his experiences - his fascination with China, his extensive business experiences there, his awareness of a secret history of UFOs in China, and across the world.  He told me over the decades many fascinating stories.  He shared with me his interest in writing books about both of these areas.  I suggested he initially focus on his story of China, and followup with his UFO memoir after that, mainly because of the fantastic nature of much of what he shared about UFOs.  The notice above suggests that maybe neither were written.  He had so much to share in both areas, and of his own personal experiences. I offered to help him, if he wanted that, but that was not to be.  I hope that his rich experiences in both areas - China and UFOs - may some day appear.

He had a significant role in opening up Australia's connection with China. His father, the wider Kibel family and himself were notable players in this area, particularly given the long family business connections. Government files confirm much of this, but it would be wonderful to have Jim's detailed take on this, rather than the material captured through the lenses of media coverage and government.  Some of this was described in Patrick Mullins 2018 book "Tiberius with a telephone - the life and stories of William McMahon" - "the oddly compelling story of a man regarded as Australia's worst prime minister,"  James Kibel offered McMahon the possibility of trail blazing a country connection with China, but McMahon failed to capitalise on the Chinese overtures that were offered. Instead it was Australian opposition leader Gough Whitlam that eclipsed McMahon, leaving the latter to witness the US president Richard Nixon's visit to China, and to suffer attacks by Whitlam, on how he mishandled and misrepresented the Chinese offer that James Kibel had facilitated. Jim was a member of the first significant Western trade delegation - in 1973 - from Australia to China. I wondered what he thought about the recent deteriorating relationship between Australian and China.

Jim Kibel appears in this photo of the 1973 delegation to China

In UFO circles James Kibel was best known for the daylight UFO Polaroid photo he took back in April 1966 - "the Balwyn photo" - that in some ways controversially anticipated the Westall school UFO sensation 4 days later on April 6th. Many regarded the photo as a hoax. I do not have that certainty, and there is much that suggests it may be a legitimate UFO photo.  He and members of his wider family also had other UFO experiences, some very strange and confronting. 

I hope that James Kibel's wider China and UFO legacies can be shared in all their complex, controversial and fascinating detail.  He lived a full and fascinating life.

With Shane Ryan's permission I have added his excellent tribute to Jim Kibel.  In the 2016 Studio Ten Westall special I had the opportunity to provide commentary of Jim and his photo: https://www.facebook.com/Studio10au/videos/790335881100325

(Above) Ita Buttrose interviewing Jim Kibel in 2016
& (below) Bill Chalker talking about Jim & the photo in the same programme

VALE: JAMES JOHNSON KIBEL. Further to Bill Chalker's fine tribute to James Kibel earlier today, I also wanted to mark the passing of Jim Kibel. Jim and I corresponded by email on and off over several years with regard to his sighting of a UFO above his parents' house in Balwyn, and the Polaroid photo he snapped of it, on 2 April 1966. We also discussed what he knew of the Westall sighting four days later and what connections there might have been between the two events, if any. Jim actively avoided any publicity and only rather reluctantly agreed to be interviewed by Ita Buttrose for Network Ten's "Studio Ten" special on Westall in 2016, and then for James Fox's film "The Phenomenon" in 2017. Jim always maintained that his Polaroid photo was genuine, and that although he couldn't be sure, he suspected that there was some link between what he photographed at Balwyn and what was seen by so many at Westall. It was this link, he believed, that caused the RAAF, and others, so much concern, and brought them to his home to meet with him, especially after his photo was "leaked" to "The Herald" newspaper and published on April 12, 1966. Jim was a rather mysterious character in many ways, and none more so than when it came to the original Polaroid photo, and having it analysed, which in more recent years he never did agree to. I finally met Jim in person when James Fox and James Rigney and I met him in September 2017. We met at Jim's beloved sanctuary, namely Melbourne's Athenaeum Club in Collins Street (as pictured in the photo in Bill Chalker's post) and after some discussion and imbibing of beverages (where having three men called James at the one table led to some mirth!) we walked to the nearby Treasury Gardens, adjacent to Victorian Parliament House, where he was filmed and interviewed. This was the first and only time Jim would give a full face-to-camera interview. [The photos below show James Fox and myself with Jim in the gardens, and me holding the Polaroid photo at the bar in the club, and of course the photo itself.] Like seemingly all genuine UFO events, some mystery and doubt still attaches itself to the events surrounding that Polaroid photo. I never doubted Jim's sincerity however, nor his strong belief that what happened four days later in the skies above Westall was real - and that someone in power somewhere did not want people to know about it. Thank you Jim for being part of my journey and part of the Westall story. Rest in peace.

Shane Ryan & Jim Kibel in 2017
Jim Kibel and James Fox holding the photo in 2017.
Their interview would appear in James Fox's excellent
documentary "The Phenomenon"
Further from Shane Ryan:
James Kibel was a well-connected businessman, and he had a particular focus on China and on fostering better relations between Australia and China so as to encourage trade and other exchanges. In the early 1970s he was involved in the efforts made by the Australian Government - both Liberal/Country Party and then Labor Party governments - to facilitate trade between the two nations. In this photo supplied to me by Jill Fraser
 ("Studio Ten", Network Ten), Jim can be seen hosting future Australian prime minister Bob Hawke pool-side at his home in Balwyn (location of his 1966 UFO sighting). I don't have a date for this photo but it maybe the mid-1970s when Bob Hawke was president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and federal president of the Australian Labor Party.
From Bill Chalker: A great picture of Jim Kibel with (then future Australian prime minister) Bob Hawke.


Blogger Jan Aldrich said...

Sad for his family's loss. In the 1960s we exchanged press clippings. He had a clipping service covering Australia, New Zealand and England. Many clippings in the CUFOS files credit him as the origin. Jan Aldrich

8:58 AM  
Blogger Bill Chalker said...

Thanks Jan for this. There was a lot of material. In meetings with Jim he showed me a lot of material from the 1960s and 70s, along with information about experiences and sightings, much of it fascinating and strange.

7:37 PM  

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