I’d intended to start part 2 of this post by picking up the threads of the McDonald-Greenwood interview where I left them at the end of part 1. (And if you’re not clear on what the McDonald-Greenwood interview is, and why it’s crucial to understanding the UFO that made its appearance at an Australian school on April 6, 1966, take a look at the beginning of part 1.)
But I’m moved first to pause, take stock. Try to tell you what it is that I’ve learned from listening to the tape–well, CD–of the interview, which I hadn’t had the opportunity to do when I wrote my first few posts on the Westall UFO.
First, I’ve learned that I was dead wrong when I wrote that Andrew Greenwood, science teacher at Westall High School in 1966, not only didn’t see the UFO land but also “knew of no one who had.” I drew a false inference from Keith Basterfield’s laconic summary of Greenwood’s testimony. I now know for a fact: the students’ stories of getting close to the landed UFO were already circulating in the months, perhaps even the days, after the incident. Greenwood didn’t believe those stories. He may not have known who the kids were with whom they originated. But he’d certainly heard them, or at least heard of them.
Yet he says nothing about “Tanya,” the girl whom her classmates remembered as having raced through the pine grove to the UFO, reached it–and paid an awful price for her boldness. “She was screaming and crying, talking gibberish. … I watched as paramedics tried to get Tanya into the ambulance. She didn’t want to go and put up a fight. I could still hear her screams as it drove away.” If anything like this had really happened–if a Westall student had been hauled off the school grounds in an ambulance after getting near the UFO–there’s no way Greenwood wouldn’t have known about it. No way he wouldn’t have mentioned it to McDonald.
So I was right when I supposed that the Tanya story can’t be true, not in its literal sense. Her former classmate Lance Brown was certainly right when he posted: “In that 2 month period I’d been at school Tanya had been quite notorious to say the least. But when she vanished I didn’t relate it to the ufo, more her wild ways.” The weaving of this famously “wild” young girl into the UFO scenario is a psychological fact, not historical. It’s a crucial clue to what the UFO meant to the boys and girls of Westall High.
(And in case you’re confused, as I was initially, you need to realize that this “high school” extended down through what we’d call the middle-school grades. The kids who experienced the UFO, as Greenwood will tell McDonald, were mostly in the 11-15 age range, with perhaps a sprinkling of 16-year-olds. In other words, just at the dawn of adolescence.)
Second, I was dead right in suggesting there was bad blood between Greenwood and headmaster Frank Samblebe, and that their quarrel–might I say mutual hatred?–was an important part of the Westall story. You’ll read about this in today’s post.
Third, and for me the most peculiar: The story that Greenwood told Shane Ryan circa 2008, how he’d been visited in his home a week after the UFO incident by two Royal Australian Air Force officers who tried to threaten and blackmail him into silence–it didn’t happen. If it did, at least a hint of it would have had to surface in Greenwood’s conversation with McDonald. It doesn’t. If Greenwood’s visitors had succeeded in intimidating him, he never would have agreed to talk with McDonald. If they’d failed, he would have at least given a few hints of how the RAAF had tried to silence him. McDonald gave him enough opportunities to vent on the subject, as you’ll see shortly.
So did Greenwood flat-out lie to Ryan? I can’t believe it. I have to assume that by some internal psychological process the “silencing” Greenwood in fact experienced from his headmaster became twisted into a memory of “silencing” by a higher, impersonal authority–which he identified as the RAAF, ironically, using the suggestions provided by McDonald’s questioning.
So let’s pick up the threads from where I left them …
. . . . . . . . . .
McDonald tries to clarify the time of the recess during which Greenwood went outside and saw the UFO (answer: 11:15 a.m.), whether anyone off the school grounds also saw it (answer: we never had any reports), and how many of the teachers saw it. There were two besides himself, Greenwood says: the phys ed teacher whom he later names as Jeanette Muir, who “says she saw something but won’t say anything more”; and the senior English master, Claude Miller, who was the colleague who went across the fence with Greenwood in search of “UFO nests.” Miller saw the object only at the very end, just as it was going. But Muir was there when it was first spotted.
McDonald: Was the headmaster a woman or a man?
Greenwood: A man.
McDonald: What was his name?
Greenwood: Frank Samblebe. He proceeds to misspell the name as S-A-M-B-L-E-B-L-E, which McDonald tries vainly to pronounce.
McDonald: “And he’s the one who seemed to be quite influenced by some pressures to keep things quiet? Or was this his own … ?”
It’s a leading question, starting off from the assumption that Samblebe was likely to have been pressured from the outside. Greenwood doesn’t quite take the bait. “I think it was [his own initiative], probably, whether or not he was influenced by some pressures or not. We know the Air Force came to the school. Whether or not anything was said to him, I don’t know, because of his own volition he–I know he had a special assembly, lunchtime, because lots of the children were back late, leaping the fence, going to look for it, and told them what a whole lot of rot the whole thing had been, some people will believe anything, words to this effect.”
McDonald, still assuming the RAAF has to be the villain, asks whether the Air Force was there before that recess (meaning the lunchtime assembly). “Oh, no, no,” says Greenwood, they didn’t come for two or three days.
So that couldn’t be blamed on the Air Force? says McDonald.
“Oh, no, no,” Greenwood says again, sounding a bit non-plussed by the question. He reaffirms that at the special “little” assembly at lunch–distinct from the regular assemblies at the beginning and end of the school day–“he spoke about this particular incident.”
And then Greenwood’s voice sinks to a mumble: “I was accused of something, victim [?] of a hangover and a few things, which I wasn’t.”
Let’s try, from these hints, to piece together what happened.
There’d been a serious breach of discipline–students jumping the fence, leaving the school grounds during recess, skipping late morning classes. This happened on Wednesday, April 6. Thursday, April 7, was the last day of Term One. (The Australian school year begins in late January or early February and ends in early or mid-December, which is the southern-hemisphere equivalent of our June.) April 8 was Good Friday, the beginning of Easter vacation. Natural enough for some of the kids to want to grab their freedom a day or two early, and to find any excuse to do it.
More convenient, though, for the furious Samblebe to make Greenwood the scapegoat. Clearly he’d disliked the young teacher from the beginning, which hadn’t been that long ago. (1966 was Samblebe’s first year as headmaster.) Convenient to blame the students’ sudden acting up on the UFO “rot” and on Greenwood, a.k.a. “some people,” who’d filled their heads with that rot. (See part 1 of this post.)
He turned the special assembly into a vicious personal attack on one of his teachers, in the presence of the entire school.
No wonder Jeanette Muir didn’t want to say anything about what she’d seen. There was a silencing, all right, but it had nothing to do with the Air Force or the Australian government.
McDonald, however, found that almost impossible to believe. Because McDonald had come straight from America, and “Air Force cover-up” was an axiom of the 1960s American UFO culture. The most visible and respected figures in American UFOlogy, Major Donald Keyhoe and his NICAP organization (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena), had spent the past ten years lobbying unsuccessfully for Congressional hearings into “Air Force secrecy.” Coming from this background, McDonald couldn’t get it out of his head that the RAAF, no less than the USAF, was bent on suppressing UFO information.
It’s amusing to hear this gap in cultural assumptions play itself out between the two men. Greenwood comes across as mildly bewildered by the thrust of McDonald’s questioning. Yet it must have left an impression on him. That’s surely why, speaking with Shane Ryan some 40 years later, he “remembered” that two RAAF officers had visited him, threatened him under the Official Secrets Act, and threatened to spread false rumors that he was an alcoholic.
Just as Samblebe had done in reality, calling Greenwood a drunkard right in front of his students.
Was Samblebe this kind of a guy? McDonald asks. Greenwood: “Well, I don’t know. He is, rather. I can believe that he would say this sort of thing.”
McDonald: “Why? Because it would disturb the tenor of classes?”
Greenwood: “He’s one of these people that runs his school on the book, and if it’s not in the book you don’t do it, and there’s no UFO sightings in the book. So therefore you ignore them. This would be his style of thinking, I believe. This was his first year as headmaster here, and everything was being done just so. We noticed this on several occasions, that he wasn’t prepared to accept anything that didn’t quite follow regulations. [From which I infer that the Westall kids weren’t the only natives who were restless under Samblebe’s authority, and that, as a newbie, Samblebe must have been desperate to shore up that authority.] I think from his manner in other things you can explain his attitude in this case. He’s that type of person.”
McDonald: “And then the Air Force came, and did he reiterate these things?” (Which, for McDonald, would be a natural outcome of an Air Force visit.)
Greenwood: “Not to the school, not to the school. He just told me that an Air Force officer had been out to the school. I was teaching at the time, and he told me he wasn’t going to interrupt my class so that I could speak with them. [What a way to “silence” Greenwood!] And he promptly told them to get lost, I gather. I gather that they can’t have had much time with him, because I know I was very friendly with the senior master of the school, the second in command, and he said they were only in his office for a very few minutes, and Samblebe came out, fuming, muttering ‘What rot, what rot,’ and all the rest of it. I gather he told them it was a lot of rot. This is all pure conjecture on my part.”
McDonald, who cannot forget that it’s supposed to be the Air Force that debunks and belittles and covers up UFOs, is struck by the irony: “It’s nice to have someone telling the RAAF that it’s a lot of nonsense and sending them packing.” (Laughter from Greenwood, who may not quite get the joke.) “They’re victims of their own propaganda here,” says McDonald; and although he may not know what “propaganda” McDonald is talking about, Greenwood agrees and laughs some more. It will be years before his memories shift–shall we say, become Americanized?–and he begins to “remember” having been himself among the RAAF’s victims.
. . . . . . . . . .
The interview is almost over. Just a few wrap-up questions left. You’re presently teaching where? McDonald asks, and Greenwood repeats the name: Haileybury College. There were a lot of witnesses, says McDonald. Greenwood affirms this: 300 kids, he says, and laughs. “A lot of them were infused [or “enthused”?] with the idea of little green Martians running around, they’d say [or “see”?] anything.” (And they do, years later, talking with Shane Ryan in “Westall ’66.”) But a lot of senior students were there.
What ages? asks McDonald; and Greenwood answers 11-15, some 16. As to the staff, he thinks there were only three–himself, Miller, and Muir–but if there were others they’d shut up and not say anything. (Naturally enough, given what Samblebe had done to Greenwood.)
They talk about Moorabbin Airport’s absurd denial they had any planes in the air, about the failure of anyone in the neighborhood to see the UFO (but it was really hard to see if no one pointed it out to you, Greenwood reiterates). It’s a fascinating topic, says Greenwood, but even more fascinating, if people try to hide things he tries to find out more about them. “Must be my perverse nature.” (All it does is annoy me, says McDonald.) “Curiosity killed the cat,” says Greenwood.
Greenwood’s UFOlogical curiosity didn’t quite do him to death. As far as I know he’s still alive, probably in his mid- to late 70s. But it did put a nasty end to what must have been one of his first teaching positions. His partisans soon avenged his humiliation by Samblebe, tit for tat, on the front cover of a nominally student-produced newsletter called “The Clayton Calendar.” But that can’t have done him any real good.
(Incidentally, some of my conjectures about the “Clayton Calendar” story–that it was the work, not of the student who allegedly wrote it, but of the teacher who oversaw its publication–have now received direct confirmation. Go to the “Westall Flying Saucer Incident” Facebook page and scroll down to Barry Reid’s responses to my post of June 19.)
Or was Greenwood’s UFO involvement the point of contention between him and Samblebe? Or something more like a pretext? We’re given no clue to what Samblebe’s hostility–so intense, so vicious that Greenwood can barely bring himself to speak of it–was really about. But I’ve been in academia long enough to know that entrenched faculties and authoritarian administrators brought in from the outside aren’t usually the best of friends. If Greenwood was really “very friendly with the senior master of the school, the second in command“–who doesn’t sound especially fond of his new boss–that may have been enough to mark him as belonging to the enemy faction. Young, vulnerable, without seniority of his own–the perfect scapegoat.
Much as the UFO came to be interwoven with the fate of “wild” young Tanya, and to represent the sexual yearnings and guilts of a school-full of budding adolescents, it also became entangled with the resentments and rivalries of the adults who ran that school and got their living from it. Its multiple meanings were what gave it its power–a power still devastatingly evident, decades later, in the impassioned testimony of the middle-aged men and women who speak in “Westall ’66.”
The thing in the sky over Westall may have been a weather balloon or a target drogue. The Westall UFO was much, much more.
by David Halperin
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