| On the morning of April the 6th, 1966, the Australian city of Melbourne was visited by an unknown, or at least unfamiliar, object, or objects. The then-outer suburb of Westall was, apparently, a sort of “ground zero” for the aerial oddity(s), where it made an approach to the ground, or, actually landed. Much has been made of the Westall UFO incident, and here is not the place to rerun the generally accepted narrative. Others, be they documentary makers, journalists, authors or researchers, have produced many a treatment on the case already. At the core of the event, a large number of school children, from Westall High School, claim to have personally witnessed the airborne episode, and their modern-day
|By Paul Dean
testimony has been given a considerable quantity of recent exposure. One aspect of the incident which has been insufficiently explored is that of the staff who worked at the school. Other than science teacher Andrew Greenwood, we have heard very little, either then or now, from the teachers who were there on the day, and caught up in the unusual saga.
Recently, I have had an opportunity to exchange communications with a former English and Mathematics teacher who was staffed at Westall High School. A now successful author, Hazel Moir, now Hazel Edwards OAM, offers opinions which are quite different than the general version of high-UFOlogical narrative found elsewhere. Simply put, most (but certainly not all) of what I have personally read about Westall has been reactionary, or, has been presented in tabloid magazines, rushed newspaper articles, short soundbites and so-forth. In conversing with Hazel, I not only got to hear from a teacher, but got to formulate my own questions. In the interests of thoroughness, transparency and studying what happened that fateful April day, I present the content of my discussions with that Hazel. What I discovered was most unexpected.
After reading a late-August 2016 media story on the Westall UFO case, which mentioned Hazel, I contacted her via social media giant Facebook. These initial contacts were on the 25th of August, 2016. I introduced myself as a UFO case researcher who wished to obtain yet-unpublished testimony from persons directly involved with Westall. Following from that, there was no response, and I didn’t persue her further. On the 26th of October 2017, Hazel, who I have established was indeed an English and Mathamatics teacher at Westall High School, replied to my year-old message. Her first communication read:
“Dear Paul, I just found your query relating to UFOs and Westall. I’ve always maintained that there was no UFO landing at the school that day, where I was an English and Maths teacher. Two other former teachers agree with me. The most interesting development from the whole episode has been the community’s desire to have a common, significant memory. It was a new migrant community and the real story lies in the success which many of these former students have made of their lives. For just a few the supposed UFO was the only thing of significance, but others have created many worthwhile skills and projects. These are the facts, really: The supposed site of the landing where the UFO playground is now situated is so far from the back of the original school that students could not have reached it within the break. There was a hyped-up atmosphere that day, of the kind that sometimes occurs with students during very windy weather. Mr. Samblebee, the principal, did tend to be authoritarian, but had to retain order in a new and raw school, and was strict on the day. One student rang the TV station mid afternoon on a slow news day and things escalated from there. I’ve looked at the supposed witness accounts, and most are built on suppositions. e.g. Men in uniform appeared 45 minutes after and the army base is 45 minus away, therefore the army was involved. Not logical.”
Of course, with this, I was somewhat surprised by such a clear, lengthy piece of introductory testimony. With some ado, including the swapping of email addresses, a further appraisal of what I personally study within the UFO field, and a few early “vetting” enquiries, I drafted out several exploratory questions for her to answer as she saw fit. The first question I posed was merely, “What are your general recollections of that day’s events?” Hazel replied:
“During the class time that afternoon, the students were hyped up, but few actually reported real evidence of seeing anything. It was gossip built on hearsay. It was the girl student who called the TV news which set a media frenzy in place. Mr Samblebee the principal tried to quieten things down but he wasn’t trying to ‘cover up’ anything, just keep control in a fairly challenging school. Lots of inexperienced staff like me in our first year of teaching. The 19/20 year-old Science teacher Andrew was interviewed by media and really liked the experience, so stories grew. Because he was the science teacher, more attention was paid. In later follow ups of the story, I always stated the story was being exaggerated, but my comments were always edited because many felt that the UFO story gave them a connection to media fame. They wanted to be part of a story. Two other teachers Roger Adams and Vivienne Clarke agreed with me. A journalist asked me, ‘What did you do after this momentous event?’ I said I left at 4pm to go to my Monash Uni lecture on politics on the Clayton Campus as I was studying as well as working fulltime. He asked why I didn’t stay after school when such a momentous event had occurred. I replied that, ‘It didn’t’.
The flattened grass was part of the area where teenage students messed around between school and the migrant camp. The journalist from the Dandenong Journal agreed that he had reported what students and staff said, but he was cynical about ‘ the little green men’ which was the level the story reached very quickly. I did attend a reunion of Westall High decades later, to which I was invited, and several were being interviewed about the UFO on that afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed my time teaching at Westall and put a lot of effort into my students. I was pleased to see how well some had done. But I was also intrigued by a few of those now adults who wanted the UFO story to be fact because it gave them kudos.
My belief is that the real story is the success of a migrant community and their desire for a common history and the reactions to the UFO story is part of that. I also attended the opening of the UFO playground (funded by Kingston Council and an excellent playground) where one of my former students asked me to keep quiet about my UFO qualms because she stated, ‘It’s my only chance to be famous and you’re not going to take that away from me.’ As a professional writer of fiction, I was asked by the documentary-maker, not to write about the subject as he wished to do so himself. I think it’s possible there was some type of flying object which went across the area, but it didn’t land.”
The second question I posed was, “When specifically did the alleged Flying Saucer incident come to your attention?” Hazel’s reply was:
“Just after lunch. I had an English class who were fairly hyped up. Usually I had a good relationship with my students, but they couldn’t settle. Several were talking about something seen from the oval. Only later was the ‘Flying Saucer’ label used. In the afternoon break, the staff talked amongst themselves, but most comments were hearsay. Students had asked Andrew Greenwood the science teacher to have a look from the oval. I’m not sure if he actually saw anything but he was the one interviewed on the evening TV news.”
Importantly, at least to me, my third question was, “Can you what discussions did you have with other staff members?” Hazel replied:
“Until we saw the TV news coverage, Roger Adams and Vivienne Clarke (two other English teachers who agree with my view) dismissed the hype as something comparable to a windy day escalation of student wind-up. Since 1966, I’ve had several conversations with staff. Some support the view it was a UFO or maybe a military experimental flying object off course. A few claim to have seen ‘suits’ in the school after hours. We didn’t. Neither did we hear any American accents of supposed CIA/FBI undercover agents. The location is what I have the most qualms about. Where the current UFO playground is established is where it was supposed to have occurred. That is a LONG way from the back of the school oval of the secondary school. Students could not have got there and back at lunchtime, as they were supposed to be within the school grounds.”
The fourth question I asked was, “What discussions did you have with students?” In her reply, Hazel stated:
“Within the school, students discussed their part in the afternoon, but as the media stories grew, there was a kind of ‘repressed memory’ exercise, where some began to remember things they hadn’t mentioned earlier. One student did leave a month or so after this, and that fact was picked up by one correspondent who claimed she vanished. Not so. Genuine transfer to another school which happened a lot with a transitory migrant camp community as parents got better jobs elsewhere. We did attempt to discuss in class the need for evidence before you claim something.”
Following that I wanted to make sure any contact with Principle Samblebee was covered, so the fifth question I posed was, “Did you have any discussions with the principal about the events of that day?” Hazel’s reply was:
“Mr Samblebee attempted to ‘dampen down’ discussion and wanted us to return to normal classes. Whenever the local media picked up on the story, there’d be a resurgence of interest within the school and the local Clayton/Westall community. The enthusiasm of the documentary maker Shane(?) (who was always polite in his exchanges) kept interest in the subject. He was not present at the supposed UFO incident, but his wife/girlfriend lived in the area.”
My sixth question, which aimed at potentially finding earlier interview accounts to study, was, “What interviews you have done over the years with anyone about the incident?” Hazel replied:
“Yes. The Dandenong Journal. I have had various researchers contact me across the years, but when I claim it probably wasn’t a UFO, my comments tend to be cut. The documentary maker was the most persistent interviewer. But the eventual documentary was comment on comment rather than facts.”
With that, I queried ‘which documentary maker’, to which Hazel gave a weblink and a brief reply. The weblink she gave was www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rlHgNDGvRE, and her statement was simply:
“Doco maker Shane ? (sorry forgotten his surname) very charming and polite man. Canberra based now.
My seventh question, was, “What you think happened that day?”
“Possibly there was some kind of flying object, viewed by a few people. I seriously doubt it was a UFO. The most interesting story is why a school and broader community want to believe it, and the speed at which a story can escalate. Much of the ancillary comment on social media about what might have happened was rarely substantiated by facts. It was on a slow news afternoon that a junior secondary student rang the TV news room. And then everybody wanted to be part of it. The real story is the subsequent sense of community created by this fiction. I’m in favour of scientific research. And posing hypotheses which then need to be proved. And of thinking outside conventional frameworks. But I need proof. Evidence. Not just opinion. And frankly the Westall UFO sighting being listed as fact, worries me. Makes me wonder about some other ‘facts’.”
Moving away from the incident itself, my eighth question was, “Have you any notes, diaries or other documentation from 1966 about the incident?” Hazel replied:
“I gave it a passing mention in my memoir ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake; Being an Author’ (Brolga). Frankly I didn’t take notes in 1966 because I didn’t think it that significant.”
I wrapped up this series of enquires with a ninth question, “Do you care if I publish any of this one day?” Hazel thankfully stated:
“You’re welcome to publish. Happy for you to use my name. Can’t find many photos from that era. But will email you the one I have.”
Thus, with a reasonably voluminous quantity of information to deliberate over, I thought wise to clarify some of Hazel’s answers. In a more loosely arranged format, I came back to Hazel on the 27th of October, stating:“Hi Hazel. I’ve read through your answers, and these will be detailed enough for me present in some sort of report. I have a few follow-up questions. One that springs to mind is this: The girl who rang the TV station… How would this be done from inside (or outside?) a school? Surely she didn’t get permission?”
“No, I think she probably wagged it to ring outside early in afternoon.”
I then asked a question, which had already been somewhat covered, to help further nail down a footprint of previous interviews, “Other than the documentary maker, Shane Ryan, have you been interviewed by anyone in the last few years?” Hazel responded by stating:
“At the Westall High School reunion, there were several journalists but the major involved one was the ex-Dandenong Journal reporter because he’d been on the spot on the day. He was quite skeptical and regarded it as a news gathering assignment not a fact finding mission. He said his job on the original story was to collect quotes as it became a front page suburban story.
Later, one of the ex-Year 7/8 students of mine had become a police officer, and it was she who tracked me to invite me to the reunion as my name had changed from Moir to Edwards. She tracked me via my former car’s number plate (the car then held by my daughter). So I must have encouraged a few research skills amongst my students! I think there were a few Age stories at various times (usually around anniversary dates) but most of the interest was drummed up by Shane Ryan who had managed to raise some funding for the doco. On the reunion day, Shane Ryan filmed me in the school corridors, talking about the supposed UFO, but that footage was dropped. I’d suggest you look at the geography of where things were supposed to have occurred. The Grange with the tall trees, was a LONG way from the actual school.”
With that, I asked, “So… the original Dandenong Journal reporter back on the reunion: Was he skeptical in 1966 or skeptical during the reunion? Or both?” Hazel stated:
“Both. I managed to ask him his views at the reunion. He didn’t say that on camera though.”
On the 1st of November, 2017, I thought it time to send Hazel two school-issue photographs from 1966. One photograph was of the Westall High School staff, and the other was of Hazel’s class of 1966. Regarding the staff photograph, she offered this:
“Many thanks for the Westall photos. I recognise the staff. I’m in the middle row fourth from the left. The two other sceptical teachers were Vivienne Clarke (pale outfit alongside me) and Roger Adams was the guy on the right-hand end with the glasses.”
Concerning the class/student photograph, Hazel stated:
“In the student photo, the blonde girl in the second row from the top left-hand side was Cheryl and think she was involved in phoning the TV News.”
On the 2nd of November, 2017, I asked a new round of questions focusing on Science teacher Andrew Greenwood. I bundled my Greenwood enquires into a single passage of questioning, asking, “How well did you know Andrew Greenwood in 1966? Have you any recollections from those days about him? If so, what? Also, have you ever spoke about the event with him post 1966?” Her reply was:
“He was a fairly inexperienced, young science teacher and liked to be friendly with the students. I didn’t have any contact with him afterwards.”
From here, my interviews with Hazel Edwards OAM continue. Obviously, there are more questions to ask, more facts to yield. I am leaving others to decide what to make of this bevy of new information. I have made it a priority to have Hazel’s statements published, here and now, for the purpose of demonstrating that written testimony from persons involved in a UFO case can be more valuable than anything else, and to encourage researchers to publish, with some haste, their research work. Finally, I am perusing now five other staff members, or at least their families, regarding the case.
Finally, regarding the other two teachers whom Hazel mentions, Roger Adams and Vivienne Clarke, quick search of the Westall Flying Saucer Incident Yahoo groups, turned up a message (Number 634) dated the 30th of April 2006, from Shane Ryan to the group, which read as follows:
“Dear list members, Another Westall High School teacher, Ms Hazel Moir (now Edwards), has told me she remembers one of her students, named Cheryl, talking to the TV news crew that day, in a very excited way. I wonder if anyone else has a memory of a student called Cheryl, talking to Channel Nine?
Hazel’s take on the story is that it was an insignificant thing that has snowballed over the years! I wonder? She remembers the commotion, teachers going to look and seeing nothing, and nothing more being thought of it by the staff.
Yet another teacher, Mr Roger Adams, has also given me a very similar account to Hazel’s. Like, Hazel, he said, they weren’t the type of teachers/people to believe such a story. He remembers Andrew Greenwood’s story, but doesn’t remember there being much support for it.”
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