A West Australian Handshake: City of Light

by | Mar 23, 2023

It was twenty years ago today

It felt wonderfully apt to be speaking (launching, after a fashion!) City of Light at the 20th anniversary of A Night With Our Stars. This event began as a twinkle in the eye of Jenny Woodroffe in 2003, and its light has been kept burning by Joanna Andrew, Jan Nicholls and Kris Williams since.

Dianne Wolfer and I were so delighted and amazed to have been presenting at the first and the latest events; Sally Murphy (also present, if not presenting) and I tied for the most presentations at 12 a piece. The publishing game is not for the faint of heart, and to be still standing after so long is humbling and gratifying. Having such a vigorous group of book lovers connecting our books with our readers through their tireless, consistent and unpaid work is deeply appreciated. Thank you, CBCWA, and all who have sailed in you!

And it is amazing that our community has grown so much, thanks to Frané LessacDianne Wolfer and their development of the WA children’s publication scene through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The warm, nurturing and professional community that has grown is a reflection of Frané and Dianne, and those who have taken on leadership roles since. Hats off to you, Frianne.

Looking back, looking up, looking forward*

Apart from nostalgia and wonder, I was also blown away at ANWOS by the number of people who remember the events I describe in City of Light – the orbit of John Glenn, the first American, over Western Australia in February 1962.

Perth, Rockingham, and areas up and down the coast were permitted to keep their lights on all night so that John Glenn could see us from space.

At that time, street lights were turned off at 1am. Leaving them on was seen as an expensive and wasteful fantasy, as Jenny Gregory details in her 2003 history of Perth, City of Light.

It may surprise some that the event which was immortalised in The Right Stuff almost didn’t happen.

The wastefulness and fantastic argument, seconded by the US Consul, was set against a more romantic one that Perth might relieve ‘the loneliness of John Glenn’s orbital flight’ as argued by the Daily Mail.

The West Australian reported that a visiting American billionaire offered to pay the bill; journalist Bill King lobbied Premier Brand, who was enthusiastic and was also willing to open the state purse if it came to it.

In the end, the City of Perth Council unanimously voted in favour of leaving on the lights on, the children of Western Australia got to stay up late and make the earth glow, and John Glenn thanked everyone for leaving the lights on.

City of Light is published by Wild Dog Books.

ANWOS originals

ANWOS originals


*Subtitle homage to Amanda Curtin’s beautiful blog

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