"LORE OF THE RINGS"
April 30, 2003
The Australian Bulletin Magazine 2003
~ Crop circles - an alien landing evidence, a message from the ~
~ outer cosmos or an elaborate hoax? Anthony Hoy embarks on a ~
~ journey to the twilight zone. ~
When Don White discovered a seemingly inexplicable pattern of
30 circles in a wheat crop on his Victorian farm in October 2001,
he put it down to "some sort of weather phenomenon". "I certainly
didn't give any thought to extraterrestrials or flying saucers,"
he says. And there the matter would have finished had he not
mentioned it to his sister, Ruth Ellis, who farms nearby.
Ellis, who once worked for the Victorian Department of Natural
Resources, mentioned the circles to her former colleagues and
"it sort of snowballed from that point", White says.
Television crews and press photographers suddenly began climbing
all over White's 400ha Corrymeela property, 50km north of Bendigo.
If aliens had arrived - as many of Australia's pseudo-scientists
and UFOlogists preferred to believe - they could have picked a
better time. At one stage, White's lamb- eeding and cropping routine
was being disrupted by as many as 50 phone calls and visits a day.
While all that distraction eventually died down, it is threatening
to blow up again after the inclusion of the Corrymeela case in a
recent ABC radio broadcast about the crop circle phenomenon.
"I would rather the whole thing went away. I'm sick of talking
about it," White says.
Australian crop circles first achieved major media coverage with
the appearance of "saucer nests" in a wheat field near Wokurna,
a community south-east of Adelaide, in December 1973. Soon after,
seven circles up to 4.26m in diameter appeared in a field of oats
at nearby Bordertown.
In December 1989, as many as 90 intricate circles - ranging from
a few centimetres to a few metres in diameter - appeared on land
owned by the Jolly family in the Mallee wheat belt, north-west
of Melbourne. Unusual nocturnal lights were also reported in the
sky, as were strange high-pitched warbling, swirling or screaming
Some sharper UFOlogists have been quick to capitalise on interest
in the phenomenon - mainly at the expense of amateur enthusiasts.
To the chagrin of Australia's legitimate space science fraternity,
one entrepreneurial UFOlogist registered the company name The
National Space Centre, established a 1900 telephone hotline and
charges about $5 a minute to field "inquiries and reports" from
true believers and the curious.
Staff at the only legitimate NASA facility in Australia - the Deep
Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbilla, near Canberra - have
since fielded calls from irate, unsuspecting UFOlogists slugged
as much as $250 by calling The National Space Centre.
More money may change hands if the recent radio broadcast rekindles
interest. The program featured an interview with Nancy Talbott,
a music producer with "a research background" at the University
of Maryland and Harvard and a member of the so-called BLT Crop
Circle Research Team. The name comes from the first initials of
the surnames of Talbott and her two associates, New York businessman
John Burke and Michigan biophysicist William C. Levengood.
The organisation, Talbott claims, is funded by New York
philanthropist Laurance S. Rockefeller.
Crop circle plants examined by BLT associates were covered in a
pure iron glaze associated with magnetic meteorite dust, according
to Talbott. The Corrymeela crop circles, she says, could have
been the direct result of the annual Perseids meteor shower.
"There are pervasive, re-occurring abnormalities in crop circle
plants and soils which are consistent with exposure of these plants
and soils to an intense and complex energy system which emits heat
(possibly microwaves) along with highly unusual electrical pulses
and strong magnetic fields," Talbott told listeners of A Country
She and her colleagues claim to have jointly sampled 300-plus
crop circles between 1990 and 2000. "More than 90% showed the
characteristic anomalous changes in plant tissues, and magnetic
material was consistently documented in those formations where
soil sampling had also been conducted."
The media, Talbott said, was making progress "more difficult" by
labelling the phenomenon as "fringe". "But hard data is difficult
to ignore. And following such data wherever it leads will most
likely lead us - eventually - to an understanding of this most
enigmatic, peculiar phenomenon."
Darren Osborne is editor of the CSIRO's science magazine, The
Helix. Before taking up his post, Osborne served for five years
as public relations officer at NASA's Tidbinbilla complex - one
of three global tracking points for inter-planetary space orbiters
probing Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.
"Tidbinbilla's expertise is often called upon for anything that
is space-related," says the man who in five years possibly fielded
more UFO calls than almost any other Earthling. "It was amusing,
really. We weren't looking out for these things. But I became
an expert of sorts, and certainly came to know which UFOlogists
were serious, and which were downright shonky."
His first crop circle call while at Tidbinbilla turned out to
be a publicity stunt perpetrated by Canberra radio station FM104.7.
Other stunts were staged by self-admitted crop circle hoaxers
Doug Bower and David Chorley. They operated in northern Queensland
before exporting their crop circle expertise to England, where
they conjured up about 250 intricate circles.
Matthew Williams, 30, of Wiltshire, was fined £100 ($256) by a
British magistrate in November 2000 after admitting on the
internet to damaging a farmer's crops near Marlborough, England.
He subsequently made a film revealing the secrets and techniques
of crop circle creators, who use posts, ladders, tapes, planks,
ropes, rollers and even computer-generated designs.
The hoaxers' handiwork was undoubtedly a factor in the popularity
of the Glastonbury Symposium, now in its 12th year and said to be
the largest international gathering of "cereologists", people who
study crop circles (after Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture
"Just because it doesn't sit in a gallery doesn't mean it's not
art," Williams says. "It's a living sculpture. But for some
people it forms a temporary religious site. Some people get very
angry when you tell them, because they really want to believe.
It tells you a lot about religion and belief ... how these cults
Says Osborne: "In my view, the crop circle thing is a furphy.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And a couple
of trampled bits of wheat don't add up to much. The most simple
explanation is the most likely one. And scientists have yet to be
convinced that little green men and/or big-eyed monsters are
leaving impressions in our wheat fields."
Movie-makers routinely use delusion and superstition to suggest
the supernatural - ignoring any reasoned explanation. Such was
the scenario in Signs, the recent movie in which Mel Gibson
played a farmer and former pastor whose faith was tested when
his Pennsylvania cornfield was transformed overnight into what
looked like an alien landing pad.
"At the end of the day, government-related organisations have
not got the resources to investigate pseudo-scientific claims,"
says Osborne. "And people are let down that they don't get the
answers they are seeking. So they turn to the pseudo-scientists
and UFOlogists, some of whom profit from the exercise. It's a
problem that no one really knows how to address."
But Barry Williams, full-time officer of the NSW Skeptics
Association, is prepared to have a crack at addressing the issue.
He dismisses crop circles as acts of art or hoaxes. "It is one
of the strangest beliefs people have ever come up with. If
some inter-galactic entity is really out there trying to send
us messages using ancient Sumerian symbols or representations
of alien DNA, why not write it in English so we can understand
it? Crop circles tend to happen in places where a lot of people
have got a lot of time on their hands - near universities,
Don White doesn't subscribe to improbable UFO theories. All
the same, he is still nervously posting a lookout around
Corrymeela's wheat and canola paddocks.
Dr Ron Barnett
Phenomena Research Australia [PRA]
P.O. Box 523, Mulgrave, Victoria, Australia, 3170
Australian & Asia UFO
1961-2003 - 42 YEARS OF RESEARCH SERVICE