A little bit of gravitas

What goes up, must come down.

It’s a saying commonly attributed to Sir Isaac Newton who they say came up with the idea right about the time an apple bounced off his head. Where other people might have been inspired to think about whether they would have an apple for lunch, the father of modern Physics turned the incident into gravity’s universal law.

What goes up comes down. It’s one of life’s maxims don’t you think?

Balloon landed in the grounds of Streeton Primary School at Yallambie last week.
The balloon deflating on the school oval.
What goes up, must come down.
Balloon flying over Yallambie, February, 2016.

As if to prove the old boy Newton right, last Saturday morning as I travelled along Yallambie Rd past the Primary School, something drifted past the corner of my eye and descended into the school yard. This “Unidentified Flying Object” soon identified itself as a downward travelling hot air balloon, but whether it landed due to a shortage of propane or a stiffening breeze was unclear.

Recreational ballooning is not exactly unknown in this area as the scenic nature of the Yarra Plenty valleys has drawn balloon tourists from the earliest times. The following description of a balloon landing at Heidelberg comes from a time about when Thomas was building his homestead at Yallambie and one can only imagine the excitement such events may have caused in the 19th century in the era before heavier than air flight.

“…I then threw out our anchor attached to its rope. It dragged along the ground for a long distance, and was brought up by a stump, giving us a regular jerk, and flinging my companion over the edge of the car, but he stuck to his rope. The balloon now lay along the ground bumping up and down while we tugged at the valve keeping it open. Two men came up and promptly laid hold of our ropes, acting in a very intelligent manner, quite indifferent to some English peasantry when I have encountered in like circumstances. We sprang out of the car, and also laid hold of the ropes, the valve lying open of itself. ‘Where are we,’ inquired my companion. ‘Heidelberg,’ was the reply, and indeed with all our ideas of tumbling along with the hurricane we had only reached eleven miles from Melbourne.“ (From the Melbourne Herald, page 4, 16 Nov, 1875)

A balloon that landed in trees on Mount Eagle (Eaglemont) at Heidelberg, c1900. (Source: Heidelberg Historical Society web site)

Fast forward into the modern age and with an International Space Station, robot trips to the planets and space telescopes looking into the inky depths of space, the heavens have become almost a common place. To find another time when the firmament caused similar wonderment we need to look to another time more than 50 years ago when, with the Space Race drawing to a close, eyes turned skyward to see – well who can say? Yes, there was the odd migratory duck, runaway kite and even the occasional Vietnam era helicopter gunship going around up there but there was something else too. Sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects, the UFOs of our popular imagination, experienced an upsurge.

The Apollo Parkways Futuro house before removal. (Source: JazzGav Burge, Facebook)

Enter into this astronomical atmosphere Ray Dean, a real estate agent from Greensborough, who began selling land at a new estate north of Yallambie called Apollo Parkways. With that other Apollo, NASA’s Project Apollo making news at the time, Dean had the bright idea of installing a futuristic looking, portable Futuro House on the edge of the vacant sub division. Looking for all the world like a flying saucer grounded by a dodgy Dilithium Drive, the Futuro was in essence a red fibreglass prefabricated building, the moulds for its construction having been imported directly from Finland, a sort of harbinger of today’s Tiny House movement. It was used as the Apollo estate office and became something of a local landmark for a while, painted yellow and perched on top of a hill on the corner of Plenty River Drive and Diamond Creek Rd for more than a decade. It was later removed to another field in South Morang where it sat slowly falling to pieces and, in the face of a suggestion that it be included on a heritage register and returned to Greensborough, being dismantled in 2018 and put away into storage. All the same, you might have been forgiven for thinking for a while back in the 70s that the top of Greensborough hill had become the home of little green men.

The Futuro house may not have qualified as a real flying saucer but if you look further afield and to another school yard, another Apollo era story blurs that line. I’m talking this time of the so called ‘Westall Incident’, not a local story but a famous tale all the same that gets aired whenever the subject turns to regular bona fide UFO sightings in Melbourne.  In Westall near Clayton in April 1966, over 200 students and teachers are reported to have sighted “a grey saucer-shaped craft with a slight purple hue and being about twice the size of a family car,” fly past the boundaries of the local school before landing in a neighbouring paddock.

The story has some credibility given the great number of eye witnesses to the event and the local council eventually built a children’s playground on the paddock in honour of the story, a playground with a central installation that to my mind looks suspiciously like a Futuro House. But what really happened in the school yard over there in Westall that day? One suggestion is that the Westall UFO was an escaped RAAF target drogue, a sort of wind sock usually towed by one plane for others to follow. Another suggestion is that the object was a rogue high altitude balloon, escaped from a joint US-Australian initiative to monitor atmospheric radiation levels following British nuclear testing at Maralinga earlier in the decade. Many of the witnesses to this day still maintain however that they saw a flying saucer.

This island earth as seen from space by the Apollo 17 astronauts.

Some people will tell you the “Truth is out there” but I’m thinking maybe it just hasn’t been found yet. Conspiracy theorists say Apollo never happened but maybe the only proof positive is that, given our truly insignificant place in the universe, the answers to some of life’s riddles may never be known.

Seen from a mindset of standing on this planet on the down side of up, it’s small wonder that the occasional distortion does get caught in the eye.  On a cosmic scale, accelerated masses of sufficient size can cause waves in the curve of space time but for most of us it’s more about getting a little bit of perspective in the way we view the world and for that matter, anything else that lies out there in the great beyond. Heavens above, the world is in need of some perspective right now as unseen hands grasp for the last dunny roll in the shops and the media rejoices in spreading panic of a killer plague. Yes, a little bit of gravitas wouldn’t go astray but what we really need is some karmic balance and the knowledge that with every high in life, inevitably there will be an equal and opposite low.  Not every balloon in life will turn out to be a flying saucer and not every flying saucer will turn out to be a balloon. Now doesn’t that bowdlerize something a certain learned physicist once said?

One thought on “A little bit of gravitas”

  1. Pingback: Listen | Yallambie

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