Barry O’Mara has been shining Christmas lights on the Yass Valley for the past 30 years. It started at his home and just grew. Today, with his SPIN (Supporting People in Need) Foundation, it has expanded to Riverside Park where the group had transformed it into a winter wonderland.
They installed cascading lights in the tree canopy, following the river along the bank – a stunning display that has already attracted hundreds of locals to the site. The display also includes a lit water fountain, floating lights and a 15-metre-high LED Christmas tree which doubles as a Vinnies Yass giving tree.
That was until earlier last week. Coming home from a Christmas party last Saturday night, Barry, a former Yass Citizen of the Year, disturbed two young men. They ran off when they saw him and, although nothing was disturbed in the park, it left Barry with a bad feeling.
“I came back the next night to find that all the lights in the lower branches of the display had been smashed. Then, on the Monday, all the lights that had been draped around the trunks of the trees had been pulled out and smashed.
“The lights themselves were not that expensive,” he said. “But the volunteer hours people put into installing them was incredible. If people wanted the lights that badly I would have given them to them. But this was just pure vandalism.”
In years gone by, SPIN has installed the Christmas light show at the Yass Showground, but this year, it decided to try something different.
When the display opened at the beginning of last week, the crowds exceeded all expectations. “We expected about 50 people,” Barry said, “but hundreds turned up.”
He said there was always a risk of installing such a display in a public area and had said to himself that if vandals ruined it for the people of Yass, he would give it away.
But that was until he saw how the town reacted when news of the vandalism spread. Hundreds of locals offered their time, lights, donations, whatever they could do to bring the display back to life.
“It wouldn’t have been 10 minutes after we posted what happened that I heard from Graham Shaw of Shaw Winery asking what we needed. I told him it was too late to order new lights – so he offered us $1000 to help.
“We have had so many generous offers like this from people since the news got out, so we’ve decided that this vandalism will not beat us.”
After Barry posted the news on social media, the responses were quick. “What if we all get together as community and come down and bring what lights we have at home to help replace the damage?” one message said.
“Please don’t stop doing this, your hard work is appreciated by so many more than those who would seek to destroy it. I’ll be bringing my family even if it is diminished. I’m sure others will support you too.”
SPIN members have been working around the clock – and between the storms – to bring the Christmas show back to life, but will pack most of it away at night to deter any more vandalism. It will be on display nightly at Riverside Park until Christmas Eve.
“The support from the community has been fantastic so we will soldier on,” Barry said. “It just means more work for our volunteers.”
The vandalism has been reported to police along with a description of the alleged offenders.