Thursday, April 25, 2024


(created by Bill Chalker from George Pedley's sketch of the UFO
and a photo of the "flying saucer nest") 
(1966 - George Pedley points at the direction he saw the UFO - Pennisi archive)
What played out at Horseshoe Lagoon in northern Queensland Australia on the sugar cane farming property of Albert Pennisi on the morning of January 19 1966 was an extraordinarily potent testament to the case for a UFO reality. The term “saucer nest” entered “UFO lore” and left its indelible mark in the history of the UFO mystery.  The famous Tully “UFO nest” affair of 1966 is one of the best known accounts of an apparent UFO landing report.  1966 has always held a special place of significance for me. 1966 was a watershed year both in Australia and abroad, but most of all, it was a remarkable touchstone for the argument in support of a UFO reality. The year saw in Australia some remarkable cases that argued powerfully that there was an actual UFO reality – there was something real and tangible in our skies and it was landing amongst us!

The classic UFO landing at Horseshoe Lagoon near Tully, far north Queensland, and witnessed by 28-year-old banana farmer George Pedley, and the activity that followed ensured the locality was the centre of an extended UFO milieu that continued for many years, particularly in 1969, 1972 and 1975. The area was also the site of controversial experiments in UFO detection through remote sensing and filming.


The Tully incident has been mentioned extensively in the UFO literature over the years, and yet surprisingly many inaccuracies and misconceptions have developed.  These problems became more critical when the famous incident once again became the focus of attention, this time due to the English “crop circle” controversy.  The prominent schools of thought on the crop circle formations adopted the 1966 Tully incident as a classic example of their perceived explanations for the circle complexes.   Their claims about the relevance of the Tully incident as the progenitor or a classic example of crop circle phenomenon were flawed and generally unfounded.  Doug and Dave, the notorious “circle” hoaxers, also cited the Tully incident as the inspiration of their crop circle creation escapades.   Instead of being an example of a wind vortex effect, “spaceship” landing site, the result of occult paranormal forces, “plasma vortex” evidence or hoaxed “saucer nest”, the Pedley “nest” was a remarkable example of a UFO physical trace case.  The choice of “UFO” is deliberate in that an unidentified phenomenon was apparently involved.   A definitive explanation currently eludes us.


The central focus of the Tully “UFO nest” story was Horseshoe Lagoon on Albert Pennisi’s property near Euramo about 8 kilometres south of the Tully township.  The lagoon and Albert’s property are on the strip of flat coastal plan. Tully itself is nestled between Mount Tyson (674 metres) to the immediate north west and Mount Mackay (724 metres) a little further to the east.


It is from the peak of Mount Tyson that something spawned the aboriginal legends of the Chic-ah-Bunnah.  The peak is recorded as the “landing place” of Chic-ah-Bunnah.  Gladys Henry records the striking tradition in her 1967 book on aboriginal folk tales “Girroo Gurrll: the First Surveyor and Other Aboriginal Legends”:

(from Gladys Henry's book)

“The Chic-Ah-Bunnah was a spirit in the shape of a man, and was always sighted rushing through the air.  He emitted a strange blue light and was blinding to look upon.  When he took off from the earth there was a frightening bang and a roaring rushing noise. He ate glowing red coals and only came to earth at certain places.  The three known places in the area were Goodarlah Hill on the Murray River, the large rock at the back or western side of the crest of Mt. Tyson (Mt. Bulleroo) and another rock away up the Davidson Valley.  The creature was frightful to behold and had a long, hideous nose.  Kitty Chilburrah was said to have seen one personally while on Palm Island, and the local witness, a little girl named Jaa-Jin-oo (the little eel), claims to have seen one in the last few years.  There is no evidence of the chic-ah-bunnah having done anyone harm.  He merely instilled a great fear in the hearts of the beholders.”


Jack Muriata, a respected Girrigun tribal elder, described an encounter with the chich-ah-bunnah, he experienced way back in 1932, when he was a 9 year old playing one moonless night with friends on the banks of the Tully River.  Jack told his story to Frances Whiting who included the tale in a story on the Tully UFO saga that appeared in the Queensland newspaper “The Sunday Mail” 20 January 2002:

“Our mothers and grandmothers used to tell us not to go too far from camp in case the Devil Man came calling. Devil men, we Aboriginals call them, or chic ah bunnahs.  White people call them UFOs, and if you get caught by one, our grandmothers told us, you will die.

“One night I was with my friends and we wandered too far from our camp to the river.  We were playing in the dunes when this great big ball of light, so bright, you have never seen such a light, came flying down from the sky above us. It lit up the whole river, and then it zoomed down low along the banks, like it was looking for us.

“My friends were yelling, ‘Run! Run!’ and we all took off as fast as we could back towards camp and our mothers. “You don’t want to get caught by the devil man.”


Another early UFO report came from near Euramo, the closest village to Horseshoe Lagoon.   In September, 1959, Max Menzel was driving a tractor when he spotted “a brilliant, large, conical craft, approximately 30 feet long”, which seemed to be hovering over the top of sugar cane, just 100 feet away.   A nearby house was illuminated in a vivid red and orange light.  There was a proliferation of sightings through 1965, including an apparent night time landing on the slopes of Mount Mackay on November 29th. Activity surged for months in the wake of Pedley’s experience.  The Tully district seemed to be haunted by UFOs. One of the most prolific sources of UFO stories from the Tully area was local witness Claire Noble.  She had reported on extensive activity that preceded the famous Pedley sighting of January 1966.


The response to Claire Noble’s reports of UFOs up until January 1966 drew mixed responses from locals.  Albert Pennisi had been farming in the area since 1947 and knew something of the local stories and was inclined to believe the observations that Claire Noble and others were making in the months leading up to January 19 1966.


Amazingly Albert and his wife saw something very unusual on the property just before purchasing it back in 1947.  They saw large revolving beams of light that appeared to shine up from the sky some distance away.  Climbing up onto a shed to get a better view Albert saw what to him looked like “a battleship” traveling across the sky.

Bill Chalker with Albert Pennisi at the 2006 UFO Research Qld conference where Albert gave a talk 

UFO Research Qld (known as the Queensland Flying Saucer Research Bureau back in the 1960s) collected a large amount of data on sightings in the region. Lee Paqui’s 3 part report “Tully Revisited” carried in the group’s publication during 2016 (supplemented in a video lecture available on the group’s You Tube page) revealed some intriguing reports of seemingly very large objects: “(In) 1964, a family of tobacco farmers near Kuranda saw a bright star-like object approaching their house from the north-west. Coming closer the object grew larger, although the light it emitted became more diffused. The object stopped when it came near the house and turned off its external light system to reveal an enormous cigar-shaped mass floating  a few hundred feet above the ground. Many rows of small round portholes were visible as an internal light ‘rippled’ along them. After a minute or more the external light came on again and the object receded into the distance. Approximately 20 minutes later the object appeared again from the opposite direction and repeated the same performance. This object was seen by ten people. 

“In 1965, approximately 12 months after the above incident and in the same area, a Mr O’Brien and his family were visiting a neighbouring farm at 9.00am when they observed a large cigar-shaped craft floating out of a mountain gorge about eight miles (13 kilometres) to their east. Following the object out of the gorge came nine smaller discoid objects in groups of three. The enormous cigar-shaped object floated between the witnesses and the nearby mountain range, and was estimated to be about one mile (1.6 kilometres) in length. The craft cruised slowly for about 20 minutes, at one time passing behind a cloud bank whereupon the glow of the object clearly showed through the cloud. During this time the nine smaller discs were seen darting in and out of the gorges. This was a daylight sighting with 12 witnesses.” 

A "vision" montage of a photo of the MV Mittagong with a photo of a "Zeppelin" superimposed 
(since the witness "Laurie" made reference to the UFO looked like a huge "Zeppelin", at least some of the time)

A previously unreported Tully area sighting, in either late 1965 or early January 1966, by “Laurie”, a 22-year-old seaman serving in the Merchant Navy (ANL) on the bulk iron ore carrier MV Mittagong, was brought to my attention by Maree Baker (President of UFO Research NSW, Sydney) back on August 31, 2023. I spoke with him on the same day, prompted by my long time interest in the Tully story. Laurie was prompted to called when he saw the documentary series Close Encounters Down Under cover the Tully affair in its first episode. After 57 years he decided to talk of his fascinating experience.  Maree also passed the report onto INUFOR (Independent Network of UFO Researchers) coordinator Moira McGhee who included the story in her book “The Good Old Days – UFOs and Aliens in the early Twentieth Century” published in 2023. 

I found Laurie to be clear and certain of his recollections.  He engaged me with the line, he would be an “OBE” in another 3 weeks – “Over Bloody Eighty” – but he remembers the event like it was yesterday.  The memory had never left him as it had a very profound effect on him. The Mittagong had taken its cargo of iron ore across the top of Australia and was beginning its passage on auto pilot through the Whitsunday Islands. It was a beautiful evening, not totally dark yet.

Laurie was a junior officer and had been in the officer’s lounge for dinner. He and his ship mates had a game of Monopoly underway.  There were no drinks available and he had offered to go to his cabin to get some bottles of beer. Accommodation was at the stern of the ship.  The bottle run required him to go back on deck and climb up a ladder to get to his cabin at the base of the funnel.

As he got to the top of the ladder, which was about 60 to 70 feet above the waterline, he paused to take in the darkening sky and the sea around him. What a beautiful night we are getting, he thought.  The twilight was a blaze of stars.  Laurie could see 2 large peak island astern to the south.

He then saw a “shooting star” or a meteor, of to his right, a white light, a single white dot, coming down at about a 45 degree angle, nice and clear. With the horizon to his left, the ocean to the left, Laurie saw that the white light stopped above the ocean, with no apparent deceleration, just a sudden stop.  Then suddenly it seemed to “transform”, it became an enormous bright red orange object, which resembled an airship, like a very brilliant red zeppelin, still out to the left above the ocean.  It started to move left to right, towards the mainland, but without any apparent reflection on the ocean surface.

The object was enormous, like a Zeppelin, longer and thinner, with a clear and distinct edge, perhaps like a disc, sideways. Approaching one of the peak islands, 5 to 6 kilometres away, the nose of the object disappeared behind the island, entering a 3 kilometre passage between the islands.  The whole thing passed the second island, heading to the mainland, with no noise noticeable, at at a substantial speed, similar to a jet airliner. The object was so large, that as it passed the island, its front appeared on one side, while its “tail” section was still visible on the other side.  Its apparent width was so large it took up nearly all the space between the islands.

Laurie was getting agitated, realising he was there alone on deck, with the officer of watch not present as the ship was on auto pilot.

It was still there, then suddenly the orange red object became a single white light, which arced up, moving in an enormous arc, up and over to the mainland, with the same high speed, like it orientated itself.  The thing seemed to have the ability to make itself invisible, except for a single white light, travelling into a dark sky. Laurie realised he had seen a craft manned by some sort of intelligence, knowing nothing like it, clearly a very advanced technology.  Why did it show itself so much over the ocean, he wondered? He knew now, beyond a doubt, we are not alone.  He even wondered were they our ancestors.

Laurie was hit with over whelming knowledge. They knew he was watching.  He felt very vulnerable, naked with lots of eyes. The whole experience apparently lasted a couple of minutes.

After it vanished into the dark night sky, Laurie returned to the officer’s lounge. You’ve been a while. I saw a UFO, he said.  They all laughed. Later, the second officer checked the charts in the chartroom, confirming the location of the sighting, with the nearest inhabited area being the town of Tully.  What had he seen? A ‘mother ship’, the size of a Zeppelin, triple or 4 times that size.

When the Mittagong finally got back to home port, Port Kembla, Laurie took a break, going home to Manly, to his parents.  He found some of the recent newspapers stacked at the rear of the house.  There were the reports of UFO sightings off north Queensland.  Tully was in the news.  Still, he never reported it, he saw the debunking of the Tully sightings, decided to stay silent.  He wanted to get back to life.

Interestingly, there was another ANL vessel that had a UFO sighting during 1966. I found the report amongst Defence scientist Harry Turner’s files.  The report would subsequently also be found in JIB files.  This interesting report from crew of the Australian National Line vessel "Lake Boga" of the Queensland coast near Pipon Island on 30 December 1966 may have an astronomical explanation, but the look-out" man Able Seaman G. Thomson had a more extended viewing of the spectacle for seemingly significantly more than a minute from about 0450 EST describing it as like "a rocket rising above the horizon, then after about a minute forming "into lines" with varying movements. The ship's radar apparently doesn't detect the formation of lights but picks up that another vessel may have been operating radar in the area. Interesting Harry Turner annotates the report: "Not listed in official identifications."

Laurie’s 1966 Tully area sighting from the ANL vessel RN Mittagong indicated a massive object with extraordinary capacity to relocate and vanish from witness’ observations, seemingly even able to change shape to a very small object.  Perhaps that might account for why such huge objects seem to get few witnesses.

UFO Research Queensland president Sheryl Gottschall described another massive UFO sighting in a Women’s Weekly profile article from March 2024. I quote, “One of her most striking investigations was in the mid-1990s at Twin Towns RSL on the Gold Coast. “Two gentlemen were standing outside the RSL Club when they saw a massive, disc-shaped object appear about 100 metres offshore.  It sat about 100 metres offshore.  It sat about 50 metres above the water, says Sheryl. 

“One of the men was an artist and he sketched what he saw.  They could see the moonlight shining on the object, picking up different facets.  It hovered for a while and then suddenly took off. But as it did so, it silently flew threw the nearby multi-storey buildings.  The witness said it cut through those buildings ‘like they were butter’”

(lower right: Sheryl Gottschall from the Women's Weekly profile; lower left: the view; top left: the artist witness' painting of what he saw; top right: the artist also had a great go of super-imposing an image of the UFO in a newspaper of the locality to convey size & perspective)

Apart from why there were not hundreds of witnesses for such a large object, the seeming impossibility of the object’s method of departure makes one think we are dealing with things that can go from what seems to be a massive solid material state to becoming immaterial. Its certainly a very strange event. 

The Tully Thing is full of surprises, mystery and difficult to determine dimensions.