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Saturday, July 24, 2021

One man’s six-week labour of love to bring light to his community

Setting up the annual Christmas light display isn’t a casual weekend of work for Fisher resident Andy Staines – it’s up to six weeks of late nights and long weekends.

When Canberra Weekly visits the family home on Ballarat Street, Andy’s youngest of three daughters, Sophie, says he was up tinkering with the display until 4am that morning.

Andy says he’s still contemplating a few more finishing touches.

“If you put them out too early the sun deteriorates everything, so I kind of leave it as late as I can and still try to get everything up – which is why I’m still putting stuff up tonight!”

The display on Ballarat Street takes up every inch of the corner block. Image: Rosa Ritchie

It started out with a few simple lights surrounding the Christmas tree before snowballing into something else entirely.

“I saw a single string of blue lights and hung them across the front of the house, and after Christmas I said to my folks, ‘If you see any lights could you just get them if you see them on sale?’”

A few inflatable friends. Image: Rosa Ritchie

His parents found white lights, which set the colour scheme.

“When I put the blue with the white I thought, ‘Gee, that looks really good!’”

That was 10 years ago, and since then the display has expanded to cover every surface on the property.

“One year I thought, ‘I’ll just put a few things out in the garden.’

“When that got a bit full a few years ago, I went, ‘Hang on, there’s a whole side footpath there!’

“So I started to put stuff out there, and it just keeps getting out of control.”

After what was a “rubbish year” for many, Andy says he “went a bit overboard” in 2020.

When he pulled the decorations out of storage on the first weekend in November, they still smelled like smoke from the bushfires.

He bought a few new inflatable friends to replace those ready for retirement, added a wintry projection to the front window and built a massive Christmas tree for the garden.

The decorations come from around the world, and Andy says the American stuff is the best … “but they also need their own transformers”.

The new tree is made of lights attached to a base Andy built using an old circular trampoline frame and a six-metre flagpole.

“It took some pretty significant concreting underground,” he says.

Not wanting to take any risks from a safety perspective, Andy used 60kg of concrete and 100kg of concrete blocks to hold the pole in place. “It’s not going anywhere.” 

While he erected the flagpole, his middle daughter, Mia, held the ladder.

Santa waves over the balcony on Ballarat Street. Image: Rosa Ritchie

Although he argued he doesn’t have a creative bone in his body, Andy crafted the beautiful star himself, using a few rope lights that previously adorned the windows.  

“As soon as you lose a couple of lights in those, everyone feels compelled to point out that there’s a light or two not working.”

So, he reshaped them around the star.

“And fortunately, it turned out pretty bright!”

Every night, the Staines family puts out a collection bucket to raise money for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, which creates joyful experiences for seriously sick kids.

They know first-hand what it’s like to receive support from Starlight, after Mia spent a month in hospital in 2014.

Her younger sister, Sophie, says she hopes to raise more money than last year’s $800 worth of small change.

“Every year we get more and more determined,” she says.

“We’ve got to give back.

“I feel so awkward asking people for money but it’s all going to a good cause – every single cent goes to Starlight directly.”

Moving with the times, the Staines ordered an electronic card reader to process donations into the Starlight bank account instantly.

Standing in the driveway, Andy calls out as cars crawl to a stop, parents lead small children by the hand and teenagers take selfies in front of their favourite spots.

“Come back every night! Come hit us up for a candy cane!”

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