If ufology is to become a ‘mainstream’ science, then we need to conserve, analyze, and develop UFO data.

UFO ARCHIVES – an Underrated and Vanishing Resource

If ufology is to become a ‘mainstream’ science, then we need to collect, conserve, analyse, distribute, discuss, and develop UFO data and materials, the same way that established scientific disciplines do.

However, many ufologists prefer to look for a ‘killer incident’, such as a Rendlesham or Roswell, which will embarrass their governments into developing a publicly-funded program to do the job for them. While many important UFO incidents have been promoted for this purpose (both in New Zealand and overseas), not one has succeeded – governments remain beyond embarrassment. Meanwhile, the piles of data and materials which ufologists attract along the way (and often at considerable personal cost), continue to grow.

Conserving and maintaining large amounts of UFO data creates a very real problem for researchers. Any ‘mainstream’ record-keeper or archivist will tell you that there are three major forces or ‘Furies’, confounding all record conservation efforts. These three “Furies” are: Fire, Flood, and Female relatives.

And ufology is no exception. During the ‘noughties’, Californian bushfires destroyed all of Rosemary Decker’s UFO records, accumulated over six decades from the early Adamski era to the present. Rosemary was considered “a living treasure” and resource by MUFON and died several years ago.

And yes, I do have a vested interest in the fate of large UFO archives, for I have an extensive UFO archive of my own. My parents, Fred and Phyllis Dickeson ran a nation-wide UFO group in New Zealand for 28 years from 1954 until 1981. I have now inherited their New Zealand and Australian ‘stuff’, as well as their interest in the topic. While some ufologists might see this as a wondrous thing, it is a dubious honour for I have boxes and boxes of UFO ‘stuff’, and all of it is getting older.

As a more localised example: Riley H. Crabb (born 2 April 1912), edited the Journal of Borderland Science from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s – during the 20th century’s ‘New Age explosion’. He was a tireless promoter of Forteana and more – Nikola Tesla, Atlantis, Lakhovsky multi-wave oscillators, hollow earth theories, free energy technologies, UFOs, and so on. Riley played an important and creative role in formative ufology by encouraging practitioners to consider a wide range of less-orthodox possibilities for their developing interest, and his influence persists today.

On retiring in his seventies, Riley left the United States and settled quietly in Paihia, Bay of Islands, in northern New Zealand. He believed that in Paihia, he would be as far away from any impending nuclear holocaust as you could humanly get.

Prudence Buttery, a Christchurch ufologist (in southern New Zealand), heard about Riley’s relocation in 1993, and spoke to him by telephone several times about ‘the good old days.’ When she telephoned Riley after the Christmas holidays, in February 1994, she spoke to his widow – Riley had died on 20 January 1994.

During their conversation, Mrs. Crabb informed Prudence she had consigned Riley’s private research collection from the Borderland years to the Paihia Municipal Dump two days previously, in a dumpster. She had not thought anyone would be interested in such unusual material, and was, quite frankly, relieved to see it all go!

Such losses are common in ufology – enthusiasts frequently accumulate large amounts of material, obsessively, eclectically and often haphazardly, to a point where it becomes something of a family embarrassment. There is a problem deciding what to do with their ‘stuff’, when the collector ages, relocates, or dies.

There is also the problem of scale: on several occasions I have been presented with one or more large scrapbooks of unsourced, undated and disordered newspaper clippings by extremely grateful family members. While a little of this material is useful for research purposes, most must be put aside, until I can find the necessary time to sort, order and assess it properly. Such ‘random’ UFO material has been stripped of most of its CONTEXT, and it takes a lot of time and effort to restore essential details for an event, such as time (year, month date, time of day), place (town/city, latitude, longitude) and source (the newspaper and its publication date). These small-scale collections are manageable to a researcher, but larger collections demand much more attention and resources.

New Zealand has both a long history of civilian UFO investigations and a long history of losing UFO data. Sargent Harold Fulton, serving at Royal New Zealand Air Force Base, Whenuapai (Auckland) started his Civilian Saucer Investigation (CSI) group in late July 1952 as a direct response to the US Washington DC flap of July 19/20 and July 26/26, 1952.

Fulton had a long interest in Fortean-type phenomena and believed Flying Saucers most probably come from Mars (as did many other early ufologists). When the Adamski Correspondence Groups burst onto the world scene a few years later in the mid-1950s, with their focus on Venusians and Saturnians, Fulton was initially cautious, then very anti-Adamski, adopting a strong preference to an emergent NICAP. (Did you ever wonder why Adamski avoided discussions about Martians?)

However, the developing Space Race focussed public attention on more prosaic matters: mankind had now taken to space, and if there were any aliens lurking in Our Solar System, then Our Government agencies would soon find them.

CSI’s membership dropped hugely during 1958 and 1959, from almost 500 to about 50.

As Director, Editor and mentor for CSI, Fulton had an extremely close attachment to his organisation. When posted on a tour of duty to Singapore soon afterwards, he shut down CSI completely. He wrote that he could not find anyone of a similar or suitable mindset, so placed CSI “into recess” and assimilated the organisation’s accumulated materials and samples as his own, personal property. Most of this material was then forwarded to NICAP in the United States, to stop any “Adamski-ites” (such as my parents) from getting it.

We can still access an important fraction of Fulton’s material, published in his fanzines, Flying Saucers, and Space Probe. However, we must assume his original database material (sighting reports, correspondence, photographs and newspaper clipping files) has been lost in America somewhere. It is definitely not available for research and review purposes; certainly not in New Zealand.

Most of Fulton’s early material predates the Sputnik era and the US-Russian Space Race. It often came from local Air Force sources and witnesses who had been highly-trained Defence personnel in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. When such witnesses saw “an object the size of a Lancaster Bomber, flying at about 30,000 feet,” you can be reasonably sure their estimates were accurate, because their survival once depended on it.

During the early 1990s, I did attempt to trace what had happened to the Fulton Collection; the best I could find was that it may have been part of a larger collection of boxed material that someone had once seen on someone’s garage floor in Illinois, in the 1970s.

(When Harold Fulton returned to New Zealand from his overseas service a few years later, he took on an active, lower-profile role in ufology. All the UFO database material he accumulated thereafter was passed on to Murray Bott’s archive [MUFON], in Auckland.)

Finally and more recently, when Harvey Cooke (Chairman, Tauranga UFO Investigation Group, TUFOIG) died in December 2007, after five decades’ interest in UFOs, his material was divided amongst several group members. TUFOIG has since taken on a more introverted and esoteric focus, so this material appears to have been lost to UFO researchers as well.

(I have other examples of how important local collections have been “lost” to researchers.) Ufologists DO have very real, ongoing, problems passing on their data; and its loss or wastage occurs constantly and in a variety of ways.  It is appropriate to ask what material are we losing, and is this old material worth saving?

Most old UFO material comes in the form of books, mainstream magazines, newspaper cuttings and fanzines. These have their strengths and limitations:

  • The earliest UFO books were printed cheaply in small runs, by minor publishing houses (mainstream publishers were reluctant to deal with UFO material). The paper is poor quality, fairly acidic and degrades over time. It turns yellow, becomes brittle and flakes easily (as do most cheap paperbacks of the period). These books contain much good information but lack indexes, so important information is hard to access.
  • Mainstream magazines occasionally printed general articles on UFOs. These tended to be loosely researched, emphasising the strange, but you can get some great graphics (sketches and photos), well beyond the reproduction techniques available in fanzines.
  • Newspaper articles are usually poorly researched, provided usually to separate paid advertisements on slow-news days, and tend to condescend. The paper is very poor quality (acidic newsprint). Important facts such as dates, times and dates are optional. And one clipping without a publication date and newspaper name looks like any other.
  • Fanzines often contain detailed and original UFO sighting material from New Zealand groups from the 1950s to the 1980s. Some were only ever produced as 10-30 copies for localised group distribution and may have fewer than 5 copies surviving. (Other editions, like my parents’, possibly have up to 50 copies left of 500 ever printed.) Complete series are extremely rare. Most never made it to centralised (state-run) archiving facilities in Wellington, or to regional libraries for example, and are completely off-radar.

(If you’re lucky, you may also have personal correspondence, original photographs with notes and negatives, UFO site samples with field notes, and reels of magnetic tape. These items require more-specialised attention.)

As shown by the early Fulton material, these resources can provide an incredibly rich source of UFO data. While each generation of ufologists wants to rediscover, reinvent and validate ufology, when you start reviewing the old UFO stuff, you start to realise how ‘modern’ and relevant much of it still is. Also, how few current ideas and trends in ufology are actually ‘new’. The old UFO data is a badly-neglected resource that we need to revisit.

For example, the Royal New Zealand Air Force released its UFO “X-files” via the internet, in two parts, during 2010 and 2011. This followed lobbying by local UFO groups, initiated during the 1980s, and intensified more recently under UFOCUS NZ.

On closer inspection, the released RNZAF material is highly disorganised. Most file data covers the early years of NZ ufology. It seems to show that, most probably, there has never been a concerted or consistent effort by NZ Defence to objectively investigate the UFO phenomenon. Any ‘official’ efforts have been entirely piecemeal, and undertaken (somewhat reluctantly) to calm the general public during outbreaks of media hysteria over potential “invasions from space”, and “space-monsters”. And because New Zealand UFO groups are still having difficulty unravelling this RNZAF material into something researchable, their initial response, and that of the local media, has been very, very muted (see Footnote 1).

The value of the RNZAF material can be greatly enhanced by comparing and contrasting it with the civilian data of the same events, to enhance its context, as done by Bill Chalker with the Royal Australian Air Force material, earlier (see Footnote 1). If there is some kind of hidden Defence agenda, or if important material has been withheld, this could become evident when we examine the RNZAF and civilian data streams side by side.

To this end, for some years, I have been developing an internet-accessible database, or timeline, based mostly on early New Zealand UFO fanzine material. The database content is text-based as far as possible, with in-text jpeg files for pictures/diagrams where these happen to exist. My priority is to preserve as much of the original data as possible, by presenting text and graphics that look very much like what was originally produced. It includes much ongoing commentary from the researchers, as well (some of this is good, some has ‘dated’; but all is valuable/ essential for a serious archive — you get some sense of what people were actually thinking at the time, and that’s fascinating).

(1) The New Zealand result compares favourably with the earlier, limited (pre-internet) release of the RAAF’s UFO “X-files” in August 1979: Australian groups were excited by the public release proposal, and the RAAF became concerned its Canberra offices would be overrun by interested ufologists. Australian groups clubbed together, providing letters gladly authorising Bill Chalker to represent them in Canberra at the Defence Department and indicating Bill would funnel material he got, back to the groups. (I have seen copies of two of these authorisations, held by Paul Sowiak.) However, once Bill discovered how awful/ disorganised the RAAF material was, he spent several years reviewing the material, comparing it with civilian data, to come up with something useful in the Oz Files. In the meantime, the infighting between local ufologists caused by this delay, contributed to the demise of UFO groups in Sydney, during a less-inspiring phase in Australian ufology.

In late 1991, UFOR(NSW) was reformed as a public group in Sydney (by Moira McGhee, Paul Sowiak, and myself). Paul spent four days in Canberra in 1992, accessing the RAAF files for UFOR(NSW). They were still disorganised, and any access to basic, official UFO report data remained difficult.

The notion of providing ongoing UFO researcher accessibility to original material is essential for this New Zealand UFO data project, and with suitable editing to improve its presentation, the internet offers an excellent platform to do this.

When Colin Norris, an important, early-South Australian researcher died in late 2009, his UFO archives (enough to fill a small room) went to Adelaide University.

Colin had announced this would happen years previously and UFO groups there had voiced huge disappointment with his decision.

Critics believed that material would be lost forever to the public, and only made accessible to Sociologists, University staff, etc. years afterwards, once it had been processed.” The critics overlooked the fact that Colin’s collection would require a huge commitment of resources by the University and his data had not been generally available previously, anyway. There was no guarantee it would become generally available even if bequeathed to a UFO organisation (as shown by my Tauranga example). By accepting Colin’s collection, the University should ensure that it survived intact for someone further down the line, at least.

The New Zealand database should be generally available via the UFOCUS NZ website, in due course:

Data is organised within sections, in Year then date order; usually one year per section. Each Year/section is fronted by a map of NZ which has a number for each event (in numerical order for that year) placed near to where the incident took place. This lets people look for incidents near where they know they live, or near where they wish to look).

The next few pages list all incidents for that year, in numerical order, with date and location (latitude and longitude) details.

The full, ‘recreated’ text/graphic material follows (including references to the source fanzine.)

Where possible, I’ve prioritised similar entries duplicated over several fanzines, according to the investigator’s proximity to the original event (having got to the witnesses, or the UFO site – and knowing the area directly, they’re in a better position to assess the event). As a general rule, the further away from a place an event is reported, the less detail is presented.

Old fanzine material does not respond at all well to Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. Hand-typed (cyclostyled) material quality varies hugely, page by page, and within a page, and does not upload well (only 1-5% is retrievable by OCR in many cases; the rest is garbage). Most text has been re-entered from scratch, and some sentences are grammatically flawed (they don’t make sense!). You will get to access as much original material as possible, warts and all.

Researchers can use normal text search procedures if they want to follow up on specific phenomena or features (as you do with Google) – the UFO material available is too diverse to limit to just a few dozen data fields, as with a purely technical database (also, you lose the sense of a story and its ‘human’ context, and it gets boring.) The free-text approach works better when I cannot anticipate every future researchers’ data requirements; each user will have to mine and massage their own data from what has been placed on record.

Months have been spent incorporating latitude and longitude values, wherever possible. New Zealand has at least twenty-six Stony Creeks, so I have tried to locate events as precisely as practicable. You can then use Google Earth (or similar), to zero in on a location for a better view of the environment.

Initially, I thought there might be 2500, possibly 2800 accounts for this database.

There are actually closer to 6500 accounts, and that is probably about 75% of what could be out there. I hope to include additional material in an updated version later (otherwise I’ll never get anything out there at all. A two-year project has already taken eight years!)

I also hope to follow later with a similar Australian database of about 20,000 cases (current estimated numbers only).

I would like, ultimately, to provide an on-line graphic of every fanzine page I have, so that researchers can view everything, in its full context – I haven’t started to scope this part of the project yet, but assistance will be required:

“Special, ongoing concerns” include:

  • Large numbers of letters that should be included in the database – key correspondence with George Adamski, Fred Stone (South Australia), and Edgar Sievers (South Africa), for example. Letters were the communication of choice then, and my parents wrote and received 6-8 per day, for 28 years – I posted most of theirs on my way to school, each morning. Carbon copies of some 15,000 of 130,000 (approx.) letters involved, survive.
  • There are 400 old ‘crystallised’ reel-to-reel magnetic tapes which require individual attention. Each must be warmed to 40° (or 60°) Celsius (slowly, in an oven, over several hours) to soften it slightly for reading by a special reader, so any retrieved data can be stored on modern media. A tape can be read twice in this way, before disintegrating.
  • Photographs and negatives: My father was a professional photographer for some years, so there are significant numbers of these.
  • Approximately 600 newspaper clippings about the 1909 Kelso Airships (which I personally collected during family visits to southern New Zealand in the 1980s and 1990s). Once these reports are deconstructed into specific, local events and cross-checked, you find there were two (and possibly, three) airships involved.

I have started on some of the Australian material, and this is creating new challenges. For example, Fred Stone was an important and very active South Australian ufologist, who was also an important advisor for many early New Zealand investigators. He took up nightshift work as a hospital orderly in Adelaide to leave his days free to pursue UFO research.

Fred documented his reports in fanzines such as Panorama. He found during his night-work that the thin card used to separate X-ray film sheets, made perfect covers for his UFO publications. When initially retrieved from the wastebasket they were a light grey colour one side and beige on the other. They looked good and took black ink quite well (though the oily ink smeared for months afterwards). However, these grey sheets were chemically impregnated to help preserve the X-ray film, and darken all over to full black, in time. Now, whenever you open a package containing Fred’s fanzines, a ‘blast’ of pungent formaldehyde vapour is released. This has accelerated the chemical breakdown of any ordinary paper nearby. The interior pages are often yellow, brittle and flake easily (they shatter!).

I have to cut the staples out of the spine of each fanzine first, using a surgical scalpel and tweezers. Each page can be ‘stabilised’ to stop shattering, by placing a sheet of thin, clear plastic film (used to cover/protect school exercise books), sticky-side down on top of it, and pressing evenly. This lets you lift off each page in one piece, so that it can be scanned (on both sides), and saved as a computer graphic. This time-consuming process retrieves the data, but destroys the original.

So, is all this effort still really worth it? I happen to believe so, for some of the old material produces some very ‘modern’ surprises. Several witnesses appear to report abduction-type experiences, four or five decades before abductions were properly known to occur. We have only come to recognise features common to abduction events, recently, and there may be references to rare abduction cases dating back to the 1890s.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all for researchers is the information itself and the sheer number of good UFO reports available from this old material.

New Zealand is a small country, yet it has recorded so many noteworthy UFO events. If this sort of material exists world-wide, then UFOs are a truly major phenomenon, occurring commonly throughout the world.

And the variety and detail within the phenomenon suggests that there are hundreds, and possibly thousands, of different alien species or sources.

Now, in order to make UFOs appear more realistic, manageable, or appealing to the general public previously, ufologists tended to say that only a few different alien sources have been lucky enough to make it to Our part of the universe. Various researchers focus on small greys, or tall whites or blonde Nordic aliens as one-offs, just here for a visit.

The old data suggests that this is a lie, and that Our Universe is putrid with life!

Yet, if this is so, then why hasn’t Our SETI 31 centimetre radio-wave search detected this? Ufologists may have to start proposing complicated excuses, such as: “Our Earth is in a kind of electronic bubble, where alien civilisations can blank their own radio signals, using a methodology similar to the Active Noise Control (ANC) technology we can now provide to neutralise unwanted environmental noise”. (After all, this is possible in theory, and aliens can be technically clever. But, more questions immediately arise, such as; “WHY would THEY want to do this to US?” – and so on.)

Any public credibility ufologists may have enjoyed, is now threatened. Our old data may be true, or just too good to be true; the Universe was never going to be easy!

Meanwhile, some of our present scientific programs to sample distant starlight to look for Earth-like exoplanets with atmospheres, could actually resolve the alien no-show provided by the SETI program.

Whichever way you look at it, our good old data forces us to address our biggest aspirations and our biggest demons in the widest possible context.

Below is a sample of a text record from the upcoming database.

1954 May 24 (Monday, 0700hrs)

TAHORA, North-east Taranaki, New Zealand, (S39°02’, E174°48’)

(Srce: CSINZ Whenuapai, Flying Saucers, Vol.2, Iss.1, June 1954)

May 24th, Eastern Taranaki:  Three pilots of a New Plymouth aerial top-dressing firm saw a number of strange objects flying over Eastern Taranaki at about daybreak this morning. The objects were oval in shape and were seen flying at great speed before disappearing in the clear morning sky. The men were Messrs. R. Ferrier, D.L. Falwasser, and M. Hodder, all of New Plymouth. They had left the New Plymouth airport [S39°01’, E174°11’] at about 6.50 a.m. and were flying a Cessna high-winged to a strip near Tahora [S39°02’, E174°48’]. None of the pilots had ever seen anything like these objects before. The men were reluctant to talk, but this is how one described the incident: “We left for Tahora airstrip and were nearing there when at about 7.00 a.m. we saw some strange objects in the east in the direction of Taumarunui [S38°53’, E175°16’]. We would have been between Uruti [S38°57’, E174°32’] and Tahora at the time and flying at 3,000 feet east from New Plymouth [S39°04’, E174°04’]. Visibility was excellent and. there was no cloud. We all saw them at the same time; they looked so strange we could hardly believe our eyes. At that time of the day we are usually the only people flying. We first noticed three of the objects, they appeared to be hovering at about 7000 feet above us, but as we were flying at 135mph [215kph] at it would be difficult to estimate accurately whether or not they were moving.

The objects were oval in shape and looked like giant discs. They seemed to be orange-red in colour with a reddish flame coming from them. We flew on in the same direction for another three minutes and we saw approximately 12 more. They appeared to be flying in a single line formation. Suddenly, they all climbed steeply and disappeared with altitude.”

All are experienced pilots in first class physical condition and have been top-dressing for four years. The pilots further said: “We are quite certain that what we saw are not aircraft as we know them. We have all seen the most modern aircraft flying in New Zealand today and many flying overseas, and these were nothing like any of them.

President of CSI wrote the pilots for all details, but to date there has been no reply.

The pilots: The pilots were members of Rural Aviation Ltd. New Plymouth. One of the pilots was interviewed by the broadcasting people and his recorded account was broadcast in Auckland Tuesday 25th May as part of Daily Diary program, commencing 6.45 p.m. each evening (Station 1ZB). We are fortunate to have a copy of the recording for research purposes.

The press published a statement made by CSI President [Harold Fulton] to this effect, May 26th:

“The report by three top-dressing pilots of Taranaki that they had seen a number of discs in the sky on Monday 24th, was very much like hundreds of reports from overseas. Most of the -discs seen, fly in-line or V-formation (when in numbers), before demonstrating their characteristic swoop upwards with great acceleration to disappear from view.

CSI is expecting a greater number of reports in June, July and August.

(It is most difficult to get the press to quote or interpret your statements accurately.)

Copyright © Bryan Dickeson 2015

Bryan Dickeson is a staff member of UFOCUS NZ.  His work in the UFO field in both New Zealand and Australia spans over 40 years.


Flying Saucers [Harold Fulton, CSINZ, 1952] Whenuapai, AUCKLAND

Flying Saucers [Harold Fulton, CSINZ, 1956] Vol 4, Number 1, Whenuapai, AUCKLAND

Newsletter Number 30  [Henk & Brenda Hinfelaar, NZSSRG, 1956] Henderson, AUCKLAND

Xenolog No.122  [Fred & Phyl Dickeson, NZSATCU, 1980] Timaru, CANTERBURY

UFOs and Other Mysteries, Issue 3. [John Thompson, Feb. 1981] Blenheim, MARLBOROUGH