A well-documented observation made by two reliable witnesses. The Reverend Lionel Browning admired the rainbow as he and his wife looked out the window of their home in Tasmania.
It was 6:10 pm and the sun was just setting in the west. A curtain of rain hid the Ben Lomond Ridge to the east of them and extended southeast to the south. Mrs Browning suddenly drew her husband's attention to what they both initially mistook for a large plane emerging from a curtain of rain. The Browns estimated the distance to this object at about 4 km. Their first guess that it was an airplane was then changed to a gliding airplane with the engine off, since the object's speed did not appear to exceed 80 km per hour.
Then they realized that this was not an airplane at all, but some cigar-shaped object that had no wings, had several vertical stripes or ridges on its gray surface and some kind of strange protrusion at the "front" end.
They watched as it glided northward for about a minute, then suddenly stopped in the air and hovered above the ground at an altitude of about 150 meters. Then about 12 much smaller disc-shaped objects emerged from rain clouds in the east.
These small disks moved much faster than the large cigar-shaped object, at a speed that, according to the Reverend Browning's estimation, was approaching the speed of a jet plane. He stressed that these smaller objects "bounced like stones on water."
Prior to his observation, the Reverend Browning not only ignored UFO reports, but was extremely negative about the authenticity of most of these reports. However, now he himself unwittingly became an eyewitness to events in which he had previously refused to believe.
The Browning then saw the discs "line up" around a cigar-shaped object that hung motionless as they approached and formed. The diameter of the smaller objects was estimated to be about 6 meters, while the length of the cigar-shaped object was ten times that (60 meters).
Then the whole group began to move south, back into the downpour, from which the large object first appeared, and disappeared from sight, completing the observation, which, according to eyewitnesses, lasted about two to three minutes. These objects were illuminated by the setting sun, and the Reverend Browning emphasized that there was a clear difference in tone between the dull gray of the large object and the metallic sheen of the smaller objects.
The Browning, after briefly discussing the event, which they interpreted as "some Russian contraption," called a nearby airfield to report it.
An RAAF officer arrived and interrogated the Browning. Commander GL Waller claimed that the Browning "impressed me as mature, stable and mentally healthy people who had no reason or desire to see objects in the sky other than those that had a certain form and content." This impression is confirmed by many other people who personally knew the Browning, as I have established in the course of my investigations."
The public explanation given by the RAAF to this sighting irritated the Reverend Browning, and he went to the media to ridicule the military's claims.
The RAAF Air Force Intelligence Directorate in early 1961 gave an official explanation: “The phenomena were the result of moonrise associated with meteorological conditions at the time of observation. …The presence of scud-type clouds moving in different directions due to turbulence in and around the rain storm, near which objects were seen, as well as the position of the moon and its reflections, gave the impression of flying objects."
This "explanation" has a curiously familiar sound to anyone who has studied a large number of US Air Force "explanations" of UFO sightings. Such explanations are reminiscent of the phrase from "Men in Black": "Light from Venus bounced off the upper atmosphere and caused an explosion of swamp gas."
It can be quickly established that the moon was full on the day of the observation at Cressy, and that it should have risen not in the east-east, but a few degrees north of the east. To make matters worse for this official explanation, not only did a heavy downpour obscure the entire eastern sky from the church building, but the highest mountain range in Tasmania was behind these dense clouds and further obscured the just-rising full moon. (Ben Lomond, 6,160 feet summit, is east-east of Cressy, and its ridges extend south and north from this summit.)
Experts with an interest in atmospheric optics and unusual refractive and reflective anomalies considered the official suggestion that clouds subject to turbulent motion could be optically distorted into something vaguely reminiscent of the phenomena reported by the Browning as non-negotiable and considered complete nonsense.
The US Air Force has argued many times that the sun and moon can "bounce off the sides or tops of the clouds." Nothing in decades of optical meteorological observation supports such a notion other than the "false sun" phenomenon, which includes spectacular reflections from ice crystals falling in completely non-turbulent air and visible only from an airplane or from an elevated vantage point.
The sun and moon do not produce anything like clear images bouncing off cloud walls, and all UFO explanations that include such optical absurdities are unreasonable.
There was little scientific evidence in the RAAF's assertion of such a meteorological explanation, unless perhaps the agency felt that the essential features of the Browning story should simply be ignored as unreliable. However, RAA Air Force interrogating officer Waller was apparently not inclined to ignore witness descriptions of their observations and their way of life, as well as the authority was not in doubt.