If you’d driven through Grenfell by night close to Christmas, you’d have had every reason to stop and stare. Even now, next week and for years to come, there’s reason to gawk.
And that’s pretty much what the locals want you to do, with efforts of a blossoming committee of people bringing light and love to the significant historic town, just two and a half hours north-west of Canberra.
For vivid is the night sky in Grenfell these days as centrepiece historic buildings in the tiny birthplace of poet Henry Lawson bask in a dazzling kaleidoscope of colour.
Deliberately fashioned to mimic and better its city counterpart, Sydney’s Vivid Festival of Lights, the stately streetscape and the town’s new crowning glory – the captivating Heesco-painted silos – are illuminated every evening from sunset until 9:30, all year round.
Yes, it’s a 365-night light festival to behold as the ambitions of the Grow Grenfell group gently, but judiciously, have borne fruit just 18 months after forming one June 2022 night at the Grenfell Bowling Club.
With the goal of attracting much-needed tourism and growing the existing town population of 2573 people, they’ve already secured significant government grants and town support for their efforts.
Grow Grenfell chairman Jeff Gallimore said the “Grenfell Lights, 365 Nights of the Year” project was selected by the group as its core focus.
“Rather than look at any number of different projects, we set our sights on establishing the Grenfell Lights as a modest version of Vivid for people to come and view,” he explained.
Shop windows, restored signage, and now the celebrated silo art – part of the national silo art trail – now give visitors an after-hours experience of the town, thanks to determined efforts towards something different.
“There aren’t too many silos in Australia with lighting because it costs money,” Jeff said.
But a trip Jeff and his wife made to Rochester, Victoria, in 2023, where simple white lights illuminate the work of famed mural artist Jimmy Dvate, cemented the idea that to have a point of difference, high-tech lighting was the way to go in Grenfell.
Lighting engineers were consulted, with Grow Grenfell finally settling on Brisbane’s John Buchanan to create a custom design that allows the light cascade to be changed at the tap of a phone.
“Our brief to him was we want state-of-the-art; we’d rather spend money on less installations,” Jeff said. ”So with his help we have installed 10 lights, which have come out of Italy, all programmable, all coloured and able to be altered to different themes, which we can choose on our phones.”
Launched just before Christmas, the Grenfell Silos Lightshow has proven a huge drawcard, with scores of drive-bys and visitors remaining in town thanks to a campsite 300 metres up the road.
“I think a lot of people just thought it’d be floodlights and they’ve looked up there and it’s not – it’s this light-scape that comes across the silos which changes subtly during its 15-minute cyclical run time,” Jeff said.
The 15-minute program will vary throughout the year. Right now, it demonstrates the passage of a day, from dawn to midday to dusk.
“The thing that amazed me – amazed a lot of people – is the way Heesco’s artwork takes on a whole new character,” Jeff explained. “Certain colours pop out at you, pull the landscape out toward you. It’s really quite dynamic.”
Phase three of Grenfell Lights, 365 Nights of the Year will focus on a select few of the town’s many heritage buildings as John Buchanan works with the Grow Grenfell executive to configure individual lighting stories for each facade.
“We only want to do four or five buildings but, again, we want to do it properly,” Jeff said. “And we’re really excited about this because there’s not going to be a set of lights across all buildings, every building will be a bit different but extreme care will be taken in what we choose for each building.”
All of this ultimately raises hopes for a biannual Festival of the Lights in the town.
What has worked for Rochester in attracting visitors who stay rather than pass through that town, giving rise to economic benefits in two new cafes and a craft shop, has shown glimmers of stickiness in Grenfell, with some new kids on the block in live-music venue The Cordial Factory and Bulla Creek Brewery, on the road to Young.
But developing business prospects are in the wind and Jeff is betting a case of good champagne the town will show signs of visible growth in two to three years’ time.
Meanwhile, there’s ample parking at the Grenfell silos for all sizes of vehicles, and visitors are encouraged to stay.
Or take a leaf out of the book of the Grow Grenfell committee vice-president, who recently threw a dinner party down there.
For more information on Grenfell silos, visit: https://www.australiansiloarttrail.com/grenfell