Wed, 09 Jan 2008
On a desert highway in Australia's flat, dry centre sits a petrol station by a watering hole where extraterrestrials have been stopping off for millennia, or so "witnesses" say.
If truck drivers or passing tourists find themselves nodding off on the long drive between Alice Springs and Darwin, a pit stop at Australia's self-proclaimed UFO capital might just revive them.
While filling up the tank or their stomachs at Wycliffe Well's roadhouse, they might notice little green men holding out their hands or staring out at them from nearby walls.
That may be no cause for concern because these are probably just statues and paintings put there for the visitors' benefit. But according to locals the real thing is so common around here that people hardly even blink when they see it.
Lights in the sky, blue domed discs, silvery beings - all common stuff in Wycliffe Well, say locals, who see a secret connection with Australia's nearby spy facility of Pine Gap.
Sceptics, on the other hand, say the large number of sightings may rather reflect the high levels of alcohol consumption, for which Australia's Northern Territory is famous.
"When I came down here it was just a common occurrence. It was just one of those things. Even the previous owner just mentioned it to me in passing," said Lew Farkas, who has run the Wycliffe Well roadhouse and caravan park for 23 years and claims around half a dozen sightings of his own.
This tiny dot on the map, 400 kilometres north of Alice Springs, surrounded by scrub land, now attracts international visits from "experts," occasional UFO conventions and constant local media coverage of the unusual sightings in the vicinity.
"It is recognised throughout the world UFO industry," said Farkas.
Suggestions that the sightings could be caused by such normal phenomena as birds and aircraft landing lights are promptly dismissed by the UFO watchers.
"You take that with a pinch of salt. It's a lot of rubbish," said Farkas.
It's a quiet life for Farkas providing food and petrol for the dozens of cars that drive past daily on the monotonous route up the Stuart Highway punctuated only by flat scrub, termite mounds and the occasional dead kangaroo or wandering emu.
"There were lights doing manoeuvres in the sky"
But the night time visitations are more than enough to liven things up, he says, describing the most memorable of his own encounters.
There were lights doing manoeuvres in the sky, little ones dancing around the big ones, doing figures of eight, he said.
Farkas (59) was a physical training instructor in the Australian navy before he took over the roadhouse and says this sighting reminded him of manoeuvres around an aircraft carrier.
"That is how we used to do exercises, in exactly the same way. It looked exactly the same as we used to do at sea," he said.
"Over the years I have had quite a few sightings, mainly lights. I have had a close up encounter where I have actually seen the portholes - just like you read in the comic books of the past."
Farkas claims Wycliffe Well is one of only four or five places in the world where there are constant sightings of extraterrestrials and UFOs, probably the most famous being the Nevada Desert in the United States.
The remoteness of the Australian outback has made it harder for people to become aware of Wycliffe Well, but it seems the news is slowly spreading.
It was truck drivers who in modern times first noticed the unusual goings on, during World War II, when the waterhole gave rise to market gardens that fed the war effort against the Japanese up north in Darwin. Their stories were mainly of strange lights in the sky.
But local Aboriginals also report that extraterrestrials have been visiting the area for thousands of years, hanging out around some of the area's stunning rock formations, such as the Devil's Marbles, a sandstone formation just to the north along the Stuart Highway.
Recently, a group of Aboriginal women in a local community reported their own close encounter. They were sitting around playing cards when a big beam of light appeared.
"There is no airport so they have got to land somewhere"
UFOs apparently also land in the nearby Tanami desert, according to the believers. "There is no airport so they have got to land somewhere," said Farkas.
It used to be easy to tell when there was UFO activity, he said. The electronic banking and telephone lines would go out. But with a change to fibre optic technology that problem has disappeared.
Farkas dismisses claims that he might want to drum up interest in UFOs to boost business at his roadhouse, saying he has plenty of business from the constant stream of motorists passing by.
Barry Williams, editor of Australia's quarterly journal "The Skeptic" which attempts to debunk all kinds of suspect science, has other explanations for the sightings. Many could be of the planet Venus, others would be aircraft landing lights, he says.
"We are not skeptical of people sighting things. We are sceptical of some of the conclusions they come to from what they have seen. They don't stand up to any crucial thinking at all," he told AFP.
Alcohol or aliens?
The Northern Territory in general has the reputation of having a large number of sightings of UFOs, he said, which he suggests might be connected with the local drinking habits.
"I don't know whether this is in any way connected with the fact that the Northern Territory has the biggest beer consumption of anywhere on earth," he said.
Keith Douglass, a cleaner at Alice Springs hospital who follows UFOs on the side, says he has been up to Wycliffe Well about half a dozen times but has never seen anything.
Nevertheless, he has heard lots of tales, for example of an Aboriginal woman who was chased by a UFO.
"It is a flat disc with a blue dome. It has been sighted around Alice Springs a couple of times. It chased this lady into town. She saw it again up at Wycliffe Well," he said.
"Wycliffe Well - that's been going for years."