Daniel and I were three months into a working holiday around Australia. Our wonderful, sugar and spice adventure was about to change into a nightmare with an unforseen and terrible, bone-chilling encounter.
We headed west into what is known as the channel country because the rivers there consist of a series of shallow watercourses or channels, snaking out over the treeless plains like thousands of arteries. A long journey lay ahead through sparsely populated country. We had to negotiate one of the loneliest roads in the outback, 360 kilometres to the next town. With temperatures in the high thirties (around100 degrees Fahrenheit), and a rough, dusty road to slow us down, we decided to pull up along the way and camp the night.
Glorious gold of sunset immersed our grandiose landscape in the soft light of gloaming only to be consumed by encroaching darkness. The road we travelled and the fence beside were the only signs of human habitation. In peaceful, silent solitude we lay down to sleep.
I felt Daniel’s vice-like grip on my shoulder and a violent shake. “Quick,” he rasped, in a hushed but urgent voice. “There’s something out there. Look!” It was midnight.
Annoyed at being woken up in this manner I reluctantly gazed into the shadows expecting to see a kangaroo or a stray bullock silhouetted against the starlit sky. Instead, I saw a light; an orange orb of light the size of a basketball, not more than one hundred metres away.
“Could be a motorbike,” I suggested.
“Can’t be,” Daniel replied, “there’s no sound.”
“Someone with a lantern?”
The mystery light hovered and shimmered about a metre above the ground sometimes glowing brighter, sometimes dimmer. It bobbed and bounced and jerked about in unpredictable movements.
The strange incubus suddenly changed direction and came straight toward us. In panic mode I crawled to our vehicle trying to stay out of sight. I snatched the .22 calibre rifle from the back seat and a twenty pack of bullets. I took a crouching position behind the rear wheel. Shaking with terror, I tried to marshal my thoughts. I cocked the rifle and clicked the safety catch off.
The unearthly thing floated and fluttered even closer. Whether by mistake or from sheer panic, I squeezed the trigger and the rifle crack echoed across the wide open plains. The ghost light did not respond. I fired again and again. Still it came closer.
“Let’s get out of here,” Daniel said. He packed up camp while I kept watch. Just as we were about to leave, a remarkable thing happened. The light suddenly disappeared. So did we; as fast as our vehicle could go.
When we drove into the petrol station at the small town of Boulia, the attendant said, “You fellows look like you’ve seen a ghost.” We assured him we had, and recounted our experience.
“Boys,” the attendant said, “you’ve just met your first Min Min light.”
He explained how these mysterious lights appear at random throughout the channel country. He said Aborigines run and hide, believing them to be the spirits of their dead ancestors. Most others, he said, do exactly what we did; shoot at them.
“Theories abound,” the attendant assured us, “but no one has a clue as to their cause. I think they will remain a mystery for a long while yet and continue frightening the daylights out of the likes of you two blokes.”
Footnote: Professor Jack Pettigrew of the University of Queensland has finally solved the mystery of the Min Min. The actual source of the light, he says, can be hundreds of kilometres away. The unusual terrain of the channel country makes these sightings possible under certain specific atmospheric conditions. To prove his point, the professor set up an experiment and produced his own Min Min.
Science has solved an ancient mystery, but I, and I suspect thousands of others, prefer to think of the Min Min enigma as eerie, unexplained, bullet-proof ghost lights.