A close encounter in the suburbs: Oslo Davis seeks out UFOs in Westall
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A close encounter in the suburbs: Oslo Davis seeks out UFOs in Westall

When I was a Christian my Sunday school teacher told me if I heard someone say my name, but I didn't see who said it, then it was probably Jesus calling me. That happened to me a fair bit when I was six, apparently, but I hadn't had that unnerving sensation for almost 40 years, until I went to Westall.

Westall is a nondescript suburb loitering in a void between Springvale and Clayton South. I drove down there on a 34-degree Tuesday morning a few weeks back and parked on Rosebank Avenue, the main drag with your typical B-grade suburban restaurants, milk bars and an oversupply of massage parlours. Greater Westall is all houses and industrial parks. Except for a pretty patch of native bush called Grange Reserve, there's no reason you'd put Westall on your bucket list.

Credit:OSLO DAVIS

But then again, as everyone knows, Westall's ominous claim to fame is that it's the site of Australia's biggest mass sighting of UFOs. Just before Easter in 1966 a UFO-shaped something flew low over the high school and landed in the Grange, leaving a perfect circle of cut, scorched grass before taking off pursued by three smaller unidentified craft. More than 200 schoolchildren saw this extraterrestrial dance before later being told they didn't see anything.

Because of this you'd assume Westall would be cashing in big time on its Roswell-esque notoriety. However, a quick look around revealed a place oblivious to the UFO-tourism goldmine it was sitting on. Where were the hokey UFO museums or shops selling alien merch? Or the posters for an annual interstellar street parade featuring the former child witnesses from 1966 on the backs of utes waving? There weren't even any shops emblazoned with tacky space motifs or UFO-related names. Where were the Alien Burgers? UFOrthodonists? Or Flying Sauces and Spices shops?

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Credit:OSLO DAVIS

Westall was still strange though, in a Twin Peaksy kind of way. And I felt a strangeness being there. In the heat of that Tuesday, the few people I saw moved about like extras on a set, rarely looking up as they performed menial actions: purposefully placing half-eaten chicken burgers in the bin, pressing buttons on the ATM, bringing their arms up to look at their watches. Two youths mooched about in identical T-shirts printed with "Graves RIP 2011-2017". I thought I heard one of them, or someone, say my name.

I went into Westall's only lawnmower shop and asked a middle-aged white guy in tight shorts if he knew anything about the aliens. "Nah nothing, sorry mate. Nothing like them round here." I realised he might have thought I was talking about refugees so I tactfully reminded him about 1966, but he drew a blank.

Same with the Asian-Australian proprietor of the charcoal chicken shop. When I asked him if the UFO brings in the tourists, he put down a crumbed cutlet and looked into the middle distance, eventually saying, "Oh, the UFO from the 1990s?" I corrected him on the date. "Really?" he said. "I'm pretty sure it was, like, 1995." He then claimed to have no idea what I was talking about.

As I left his wife looked at me and said something to her husband in a low tone, but her words were lost in the sizzle of the fryer.

Credit:OSLO DAVIS

Outside, a jittery pensioner struggled to lift himself out of his Toyota Echo, banging his door repeatedly against the polished side of an exquisitely seamless Mercedes Benz. It was a miracle he didn't set off the alarm. I purposefully placed my half-eaten chicken burger in the bin and got up to ask grandpa some questions – was he one of the teenagers who raced across the field in fevered pursuit of the UFO? – but when I looked up he vanished. He may have popped into the massage parlour for a lomilomi, but that seemed unlikely ...

Down at Grange Reserve, ground zero, I made my way under slender pines that groaned in the heat. If Westall was to fess up about the UFO surely it would be here.

Credit:OSLO DAVIS

Infographics on the toilet walls described the Earth's solar system and the lunar landing, suspiciously ignoring the UFO, however someone had built a blue-topped, hard-edged UFO in the playground. It was a cute gesture, but still a lazy simulacrum of the real thing; multiple witnesses have said the silver spacecraft looked as if it "had come out of a mould" and had "no seams, no joins".

Alone and willingly I climbed up into the UFO through its centre hole. It was not the hot box I expected, but there was a perceptible atmospheric shift, like when you go into a soundproof booth and shut the door. And I when I sat down and my pulse settled I heard the distant drone of lawnmowers, which I hadn't heard out on the tanbark. A thin oblong shard of light pivoted on its end into my eyes through an empty bottle of Corona.

Credit:OSLO DAVIS

When I came to my senses it was almost two. Council gardeners pretended I wasn't there as I walked over to a little info panel that explained (finally!) the UFO event. It offered explanations that involved silver balloons and high-level nuclear testing, but the font was quite small and I had left my reading glasses in the car so I couldn't really read it.

Back up at the shops a skinny man carrying a lighter asked me for the time so I lifted my arm up to look at my watch. The youths in Graves RIP T-shirts were still there muttering names. Driving away I saw a crow in my rear view mirror picking up a piece of chicken burger from the bins.

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