8 December 2023

Mapping Santa’s trail of dazzling light shows across Goulburn

| John Thistleton
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Home adorned in lights and festive characters.

Adorned in lights and festive characters, this Kinghorne Street, Goulburn home is a consistent source of wonder and surprise. Photo: Darryl Fernance.

Suddenly it’s summer and a resurgent Christmas spirit has gripped Goulburn, spreading the joy in lights and sunset explosions of inflatable Santas, reindeer and kangaroos.

To the many talents of author, journalist and champion of the arts Chris Gordon we can add one more, Goulburn’s Christmas cartographer.

Around 2010 when he was working as a digital editor for Fairfax Media Chris appealed for addresses of Christmas light displays from which he created a Google map.

Working alongside long-serving photographer Darryl Fernance who was photographing the lights, Chris wanted to help people find them.

As the project took hold, contributions of addresses started to wane, so Chris hopped in the car with his wife Janet who wrote down the addresses which he later transferred to the map. From there it evolved into an annual routine.

“When my son Bobby was old enough, he became my co-pilot and he looks forward to it every year,” he said. “It’s a bit of fun, has become a father-son tradition, gets us into the spirit and hopefully is useful for others,” he said.

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While carols in the park and cathedrals have been around for a long time, the lights are a more recent phenomenon.

“I think one of the first house Christmas displays I remember, probably before it became so popular, was up on Verner Street hill. It was a bit of a trailblazer,” Chris said. “The house at the top end of Kinghorne Street is also a long-term, regular favourite.”

He said over some years whole streets joined in the Christmas spirit. Then as people moved away or people had other priorities it dropped off a bit.

“Hazelwood Place was a street like that, and Paradise Place. And you’ll still see good houses and lights in those places, just not as many,” he said.

“I haven’t been around very far this year yet, but Ivy Lea Place is looking a great one-stop shop Christmas street, and Eastgrove is probably the most consistently Christmas-decorated suburb,” Chris said. You can see the Goulburn Christmas lights map via the Google Maps viewer.

Now retired, Darryl says Goulburn’s Christmas light displays have expanded noticeably from the time when he could capture all the homes over three or four nights. Now it’s almost impossible to get around all of them.

“When we first started photographing Christmas lights about 1990 we were shooting in black and white,” he said. “Back then only a few houses put on large displays as they were using tungsten filament globes. Some places used 25-watt coloured globes called festoon lights in red, yellow, blue and green,” he said.

He recounts a woman enlisting neighbours to help her on Taralga Road, and her subsequent impressive displays at other properties she moved to in Kinghorne Street, the north end of Auburn Street and later Caoura Crescent.

Bobby and his father Chris Gordon adding to their Google Maps program: Goulburn Christmas lights.

Bobby and his father Chris Gordon adding to their Google Maps program: Goulburn Christmas lights. Photo: Janet Gordon.

The advent of LED Christmas lights lowered the running costs and displays improved. Then small solar panels attached to water resistant transformers further cut costs to a minimum.

“Christmas lights are only photographable from about 8 pm in Goulburn and people with mains-powered displays often turn them off at 9:30 pm or 10 pm, so the window of opportunity is limited,” Darryl said.

“Rain or even light drizzle can put a stop to photography because of moisture on the lens and people not turning their displays on,” he said. “I have spent many nights holding an umbrella over a camera on a tripod to try and get some good shots.”

A blow-up reindeer in front of a house.

Overshadowing a home in Goulburn, this reindeer is typical of the lengths people go to in the lead up to Christmas in Goulburn. Photo: John Thistleton.

Darryl has his own display. “I am running a 100 per cent solar display on my place, which includes laser and projector lights. The colour variety is infinitely greater than what was available 30 or so years ago.”

He says enthusiasts are adding to displays with blow-up, fan-forced figures and other objects, mostly lit by internal LEDs. On the other scale there are lots more miniature village ornaments and small dioramas to add interest.

The more the merrier this Christmas.

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