Saturday, September 5, 2009

Farewell Colin Norris, South Australia's "Mr UFO"

This is an appreciative note - rather too late to be an obituary - on the passing of one of Nature's real gentlemen. Colin Norris (1920 - 2009) died in Adelaide on 13th July this year, loved by an extended family and known for decades informally to the media and public as South Australia's "Mister UFO". For over sixty years Colin compiled and collated hundreds, nay, thousands of reports from those who said they had witnessed sightings of unidentified lights, or objects in flight - and less commonly "landed" or even emerging from the sea. Much of Colin's archived material was in the form of tape recordings of witness statements. He maintained for years a newsletter latterly named Australian International UFO Flying Saucer Research.

Here is Bill Chalker's excellent obit.

Those who got to know this man, including myself, judged him to be sincere, modest, practical and open-minded. His interest in the subject stemmed from his time in WWII as turret gunner in Liberator bombers when - as he often recounted - his aircraft was "buzzed" repeatedly by disc-shaped craft. He went on to a technical career including working for Australia's CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Not your average "dreamer"!

In the mid-1990s Colin spoke to a group of more than a hundred on an occasion when I chaired the meeting, in the main hall of Fullarton Park Community Centre. He was a frequent and generous speaker for many groups. Our audience included half a dozen self-styled Skeptics who had come in order to disrupt the evening and (if they could) ridicule Colin Norris, merely because the topic was to do with Unidentified Flying Objects. The speaker's mild mannered charm and openness - I like to think also my chairing style :) - won them over to ceasing the hostile disruption, and over coffee and biscuits later everyone became pals, nobody seeking to force opinions on anyone else. A happy memory.

More rankling is a memory of a conversation with author Keith Basterfield at a time later in the '90s when he, Basterfield, was actively preparing material for publication - also on the topic of reported sightings or experiences (or claimed experiences) especially in South Australia, often involving accounts of car-engines being affected by "close encounters". You know the sort of thing. Learning that K.B. was in the business of sourcing such material, I remarked brightly "Well, you must surely know Colin Norris!" - expecting some admiring response along the lines that he knew Colin to be the Main Man in the field, at least locally, and was indebted to his work as a great pioneer of archived evidence. Not a bit of it. Not only was Mr Basterfield lukewarm in any acknowledgment of Norris's role, but he revealed or let slip that he HAD approached Colin Norris and had asked - or demanded? - to have full access to his records. This sounded to me like saying, You've done the work: now let me publish and take the credit. What a cheek. Colin Norris declined, courteously because that was always his only mode of communication.

The last part of the story tells far more about the other man than about the late Colin Norris. Basterfield, so far as I can determine, appears to have tried to make Colin a "non-person" by failing in his own published work to mention Norris's huge achievement as a documentarist spanning half a century. If I am mistaken in this - and I have not read every word written by K.B. - then some justice may have been done to the real hero in the tale, Colin Norris. But if I am right in my suspicion, then it is a sad and sordid example of petty spite, undermining the validity of the culprit's own research or pretension to thoroughness and truth in this quite interesting area which continues to intrigue the public.

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