Written by Montanna Macdonald 

Paranormal Investigator Craig Powell recalls the time he witnessed a Min Min light in the dead of night. 

“There is the old wives tale, hundreds of years ago, you know you don’t follow the Min Min lights, or you will get lost. But you wanted to, everything in your body was telling you to follow it, go towards it, see what it is.”

You may have heard of the spooky Australian folklore about the Min Min lights around the campfire, in Aussie shows like McLeods Daughters, Slim Dusty songs, or maybe you have witnessed this hair raising phenomena yourself. With hundreds of sightings around Australia for thousands of years, perhaps these lights are not a myth? 

 

Often reports of Min Min sightings are in outback regions of Australia at night. 

Witnesses report a silent circular fuzzy light, quarter the size of a full moon that dances in the dark sky. They claim these balls of glowing light can appear in colours of white, yellow, red, green and even blue, with an edge that looks like a swarm of insects. 

The erratic nature of a Min Min light is what often frightens those who spot one. Known to suddenly divide into two lights and appear like headlights in the distance, then frantically looking to move closer, further, up down and around the horizon. Some claim that Min Min lights have followed their movements as they drive, then disappear. And, as the old folktale goes, those who follow the Min Min light often never return. 

This mystery has been around for thousands of years, Australia’s First Nations people say these lights have appeared more frequently since settlement. 

It is unclear when sightings began, and due to the oral traditions of these indigenous stories pre-settlement, there is not a substantial amount of written evidence of sightings and indigenous names for these lights. Aboriginal studies researchers such as Larrakia man and Senior Lecturer at Charles Darwin University, Dr Roman, have found consistencies in light descriptions among Indigenous communities. For example, the lights being like snakes, which could be connected to the Indigenous belief of the rainbow serpent, and that they have a ‘guardian role’ on sacred sites. 

The name Min Min was adopted in 1918, named after the small Min Min settlement and Hotel in between the two Northern Queensland towns Boulia and Winton. The story goes that a stockman was riding his horse down the Kennedy development road past the now burnt down Min Min Hotel when suddenly a light appeared above the graveyard that was behind the premises. Boulia is now a major tourist hotspot for Min Min sightings.

photo credit Boulia Shire Council

These lights are not just in Boulia; there are sightings predominantly on fine winter nights among the Channel Country of South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory and in the Kimberleys in Western Australia.

The lights have been spotted all year round, including above seashores. Not only in Australia, but similar mysterious lights have been seen in Saudi Arabia, called Abu fanoos. Similarly, global folklore lights exist, such as ghost lights, ignis fatuus, the Celtic will o’ the-wisp, Mexico’s brujas, South America’s luz mala, phantom lights and fairy lights. 

Paranormal Investigator Craig Powell shared with Ponderings his own Min Min light experience when on a field research trip in the notorious NSW Pilliga Forest.

This is what Craig had to say:

“This light appeared, but the light started pulsating, and it would get really bright, and it got really dim, and then it would start dancing around through the bush. At one stage the one light broke into two lights. They would change colours from like a bright white to an orange type colour. It would look like it would come down the gorge towards us, and then it would look like it was heading back away from us.

So we sat there, and we watched these two lights dancing around the forest. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen.

If we go out on a night hike, we travel that route during the daytime hours, so we get our bearings, and know exactly what points we want to stop.

You take yourself back to the daytime where we were sitting, and you think well what’s down there? And it was like a big cliff so these lights would’ve been coming up halfway up on a cliff.

You think about it; there is no way a possible person could get to that position, especially at night time, it was really odd. The light seemed to disappear at one point, and then we just continued on our way back to camp.” 

Now it wouldn’t be a mystery without a few hypotheses. 

What is a Min Min light? Can it be debunked with a scientific explanation, or is this phenomenon a conspiracy of the unexplainable?

In different Aboriginal legends, the Min Min lights are elders protecting the country. First Nations people in the Channel Country don’t regard the Min Min lights positively, but also not harmfully. 

Conspiracy theories for the Min Min lights also include you guessed it…aliens, UFOs and ghosts. However, polymath and neuroscientist Professor John Pettigrew has several hypotheses. 

Bioluminescence from birds, insects and fungi is a possible theory. 

Still, no one has ever caught or observed these proposed organisms maintaining the intense illumination and circular shape of a Min Min light. Another is burning marsh gas, which is a well-known phenomenon causing what is called the will o’ wisp, but this natural occurrence lacks the shape, height and brilliance of Min Mins. 

The most probable theory is the Min Min lights is a refraction phenomenon, otherwise called an inverted Fata Morgana; a mirage. A Fata Morgana is where light in the day can be reflected from a hot ground layer of air, like when you see the sky reflecting on a hot road when driving. 

Similarly, an inverted Fata Morgana mirage is where at night, a temperature inversion can occur, where a cold ground layer of air can refract light due to a gradient increase in refractive index, meaning the light can appear above the horizon. It can travel over the horizon for hundreds of kilometres with possible magnification, reduced dispersion and dissipation. 

JAX Tyres for Ponderings

Natural atmospheric light and human-made lights like headlights can cause phenomena. 

Pettigrew in 1992 made his own Min Min light. On a cold calm night, he drove his car 10km North of his camp where it is not viewable from the campsite. As the headlights were on, campsite observers confirmed via radio the headlights were causing phenomena with the characteristics of a Min Min light. When the headlights were off, the light also vanished. 

A Fata Morgana mirage is also common overseas, where sea cliffs in Ireland can be seen clearly in the middle of the North Atlantic sea, even though they are hundreds of kilometres away from their location. 

Documentary filmmaker Don Meers created the critically acclaimed AustrAlien Skies series, with the third 2019 film dedicated to the “Search For The Min Min.” This documentary is a must-watch, exploring the varying theories with balanced scepticism and in-depth research. Don also appears to catch the Min Min phenomena on camera. 

When Ponderings asked Don about how it felt to finally catch a Min Min light, he said:

 

“We were on location for many days, staying up through the night, camera-ready, resting and filming through the day. So you can imagine it was quite exhausting. By the time we actually saw the light, it was like a rocket taking off. It’s an instant hit of adrenaline after many nights of nothing. Your brain just goes into overdrive.” 

 

Don believes the majority of sightings are explainable, being misidentified causes like distant headlights or mirages. Still, he also explains:

“Temperature inversions need specific climate conditions to manifest. One main factor is that they can usually only happen in winter and surrounding cooler months, and because of climate change, scientists are noticing a significant drop-off. So I think that they can explain a lot but not all and that more research is needed. I think there are a lot of plausible explanations for Min Min lights, but there is still an outlying percentage that is unexplained as yet.”

 

You can watch the series across the major streaming platforms including iTunes, Google, Amazon Prime, Hulu and more. 

 

The Min Min lights remain one of Australia’s biggest mysteries, and whether you are the sceptic, the witness, or the mystically minded, remember, if you ever find yourself in the Australian wilderness in the dark, you won’t find the lights, they find you. 

Some extras: Want to listen to the Slim Dusty Song? Click here

 

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