Springfield’s light lady
Special Christmas Edition Story
By Taylor Clyne
TUCKED away in the back hills of Springfield on an unassuming country road is every child’s Christmas dream.
By daylight you’d never know what festive wonderland awaits you but come nightfall during December the Bowen’s house is lit up in a dazzling and detailed display of Christmas spirit.
What started close to three decades ago as a bit of decorating for the children has grown into the most iconic light display in the North-East.
The lady behind it all, Joanne Bowen said her addiction to Christmas started with just one set of lights and some plastic Santas on the front of the house.
“Christmas comes first in our household, it’s the best time of the year. I do it because I like to and I love seeing the lights, I used to sit over at the neighbour’s house and watch my own lights,” she laughed.
Joanne said it was the year 2000 when her display kicked up a gear,
“They had a competition in Scottsdale, so I decided to go big and I covered the whole roof in lights.”
Joanne of course won the competition and with it a $500 voucher to Woolworths which she kept to buy more lights and make her display even larger.
And that she did. During the past thirty years Joanne and her three daughters, Aleta, Simone and Deyarna have created a wonderland of Christmas for the entire community to enjoy.
“I’d hate to put a figure on how much we’ve spent, definitely over $20,000, it’s not cheap but I’m not silly about it. Some years I spend a lot and others I don’t but each year I try to buy one or two new things,” Joanne said.
The process of installing the display begins on Scottsdale Show weekend in November every year and takes roughly three weeks to complete.
“I bash nails and screws into anywhere, I used to get up on the roof and screw every row where you see lights.
“The shed is like a Christmas light supermarket, we have every box numbered and we number the transformer, so I know which plug goes where.”
“The girls help me, it’s a big job. We’ve learnt to secure them down really well after having a few years where the weather's blown everything over.
“In about September, October people start asking what I’ll create, and I think 'oh god,' then you get to bed and all of a sudden all this stuff goes through your head of ideas and the next thing you wake up and you’re putting them up.”
At last count there were more than 20,000 light globes in the display covering the entire roof of the house, each window, the whole front fence and every spare space in the backyard.
Joanne said in terms of the power cost, they don’t notice the difference.
“It cost more to buy the lights than it does to run them,” she said.
“I did once get a letter in the mail with $10 in it to go towards the power and a note that said, ‘thank you for the enjoyment that you bring.’ I’ve still got it.”
The light show is not the only attraction at the Bowen household during December. During Christmas week Joanne’s daughter Aleta dresses as Santa and greets visitors up until the big day.
“The last 18 years we’ve dressed up as Santa for the five days before Christmas to hand out lollies; some nights Aleta will sit out there until midnight or until I drag her inside.
“Christmas week is always very busy; one Christmas Eve we had more than 300 people visit. “The backyard gets so full you can barely move and the traffic banks up,” Joanne said.
Joanne had Aleta’s Santa suit custom made, it cost $400 and it is the real deal.
“Mum had it made because we are quite short, we did it for a bit of a joke to begin with and then it became a bit of a tradition,” Aleta said.
Over the years Joanne has even dressed up the family cat.
“I used to put a bell around her neck and dress her up, people tried to steal her,” she laughed. Talking decorations this year, Mrs Cox’s Scottsdale Primary School class have contributed to one of Joanne’s window displays with handmade letters to Santa.
“The kids decorated the letters and I have them in the window all flowing out of a box so that when the kids come to look, they will see their letter – I might need to pop a milkcrate under there so they can actually see them.”
Joanne said lights had come a long way in thirty years,
“I’ve still got my very first original lights in their box, I think they were about $70.”
“Some years I’ve bought every store in Tasmania out of a certain decoration, if I see something I like I’ve got to act fast or it’s gone.”
Joanne explained that the beauty of the display is that there is something for everyone,
“It’s not just for kids, it’s for everyone. We had Aminya come for a visit the other night and once I had a lady say to me, ‘I need to steal a child to come and have a look’, I said you don’t, just come.”
Reflecting on three decades worth of festive cheer, Joanne extended a sincere thanks to everyone who has come to have a look.
“20 years ago, it wouldn’t have mattered if nobody came to look because I used to do it for myself but now, I think I’m doing it for the community.
“I still like it but it’s definitely getting harder.”
Daughter Aleta said she would take it on,
“I tell her she can’t give up, that’s why I help because lots of people love it and, in our house, Christmas will always come first,” Aleta said.
The amazing light display will remain until January 10, 2019 before the Bowen’s begin the annual process of packing up.
“If we all work together to get them down it takes three full days,” Joanne said.
“All of it is worth it if the community get some joy out of the display – it just makes you feel like Christmas and there is not enough of it about.”
On behalf of the community, thank you for creating a special place for everyone to revel the true meaning of Christmas – joy.