A TASMANIAN SIGHTINGS LOGBOOK
By KEITH ROBERTS
Source: International UFO Reporter (IUR); V31 No2, pp 17-18
Keith Roberts is founder of the Tasmania UFO Investigation Centre. This article originally appeared in the Australian Ufologist in 2004. It has been slightly edited and updated.
In their Journal of UFO Studies article, "Australian Ufology: A Review" (Vol. 2. 1990, pp. 19-44), Keith Basterfield and Vladimir Godic mentioned the Tasmanian UFO Investigation Centre (TUFOIC) as having continuously recorded the level of sightings in Tasmania since the group's formation in 1965. This database was compared with the only other continuous record for Australia, maintained by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). However, the RAAF ceased recording sightings in 1980, whereas TUFOIC has continued its log up until the present.
I initiated TUFOIC's logbook in 1969. Research through earlier records was made to complete the information since the group's founding in 1965. The logbook now covers more than 40 years of reports and records well over 4,000 sightings. The log provides the date and time of the report, witness and contact detail, then a brief note on the sighting and the results of the investigation.
Some similarities can be noted between TUFOIC's data and that collected by the RAAF. Both sets of figures show an increase in reports during the years 1973-1978, a time of heightened activity around the world. Also, both sets of figures note the decline in unexplained sightings in 1979-1980. It is a pity that the RAAF closed its investigation of UFO sightings at this time.
There are also differences in the data that may be more obvious than the similarities. TUFOIC tended to have a higher unexplained percentage, especially in earlier years; by the late 1970s, the RAAF had a higher unexplained percentage. The RAAF also recorded peak years about 1967-1969; no such peak is noted in the Tasmanian reports.
Probably some of the differences are due to the variation in sighting collection and investigation procedures. Moreover, during this period the RAAF was covering the whole of Australia. That there was no peak during 1967 to 1969 in Tasmania could be because the Centre was in its formative years; also, activity in that part of Australia was possibly at a lower ebb than elsewhere.
As noted, the Centre's unexplained percentage in early years was well above that of the RAAF. The Centre tended to receive many older cases which were added into the existing records, not something the RAAF probably did. As is the case elsewhere in the world, the stranger events are reported to a UFO group rather than a public authority. Many interesting cases surfaced years after the event, most of them usually uncovered during investigations into some other mundane event. The result is that unexplained cases would be added to earlier years while few, if any, explained sightings would be added to those figures.
The unexplained percentage of reports investigated by TUFOIC during the past 41 years is 18%. However, this figure increased during years of intense sightings in the mid-1970s and in 1996. The last few years have been 50% below the average in sightings.
Astronomical explanations are the greatest stimulus for a sighting, about 34% of cases being covered by this explanation. Aircraft account for 12% and come in second on the list, with satellites accounting for a further 9%. Reports with insufficient information cover about 10% of cases. The remaining percentage is made up by a spectrum of events such as flares, balloons, ground lights, weather, noises, and hoaxes, just to name a few (see Figure 1). The greatest change in recent years among identified cases is the increase in red or orange tights, reported mainly in urban locations. We have no doubt that these cases are balloon or garbage bag hoaxes.
The most reports in the log book for a single year is 193 in 1976; this works out to be a call to the Centre every two days. This was a very busy time for those who do the investigation in their spare time. On the other hand, the lowest number of calls in one year was 46 in both 1984 and 1990.
The year with the highest number of unexplained UFO sightings was 1974 with 58. At the other end of the scale is the year 2002 with a meager 4 unexplained events.
Statistics can of course be used to prove just about anything, but TUFOIC's logbook and TASCAT Database do illustrate that the peak years for Tasmanian UFO sightings were the 1970s. Over 50% of all close encounters and 42% of nocturnal lights cases occurred during these years. The most recent CE2 report to the Centre was, until recently, in 1997 (one has recently been received from 2005). The last known vehicle interference case occurred in 1990. The bulk of the Centre's unexplained (43%) cases were reported from 1971 to 1979. with another peak (12%) in 1996-1998.
As expected in a breakdown of unidentified cases (Figure 2), nocturnal lights are reported in the majority of sightings. Daylight discs seem to be more a feature of earlier years, the Cressy sighting by the Rev. Browning in October 1960 being a good example. Close encounters have been reported in diminishing numbers in recent years, and Tasmania does not seem to have a great many CE3 cases.
A breakdown of close encounters by five-year periods illustrates the increase and decline in this type of case over a 40-year period (Figure 3). The period prior to 1964 covers all the previous years.
Tasmania, of course, is not a particularly large part of the world: maybe it didn't take too long to check out the island. Maybe global warming has something to do with the drop in sightings, or has the public become bored with it all? Do witnesses now only have an expectation that UFOs are large, brightly lit objects and nothing else is worth reporting? Could it be changing life styles, media coverage, or even the way that UFO sightings are perceived and investigated that has changed our view of what is happening?
One thing that will not change is the data collected over nearly 40 years: it shows the highs and lows in the UFO phenomenon. Maybe, as in other fields of study such as the weather, we need to collect information over a much longer period prior to making any predictions with confidence about when (or if) the UFO phenomena will peak again.