Darkness at night is a fundamental generator of natural awe and wonder.
For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars — pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time.
I live on a beach, or so close it makes little difference. I live near several beaches in fact. At Point Lookout, we count not only the great 30-kilometre-long Main Beach but also Frenchman’s and Deadman’s Beaches held between rocky fingers, the sheltered pretty cove of Cylinder Beach, the expanse of Home Beach fringed by ti-tree, and beyond it the long stretch of Flinders reaching to Amity Point.
At Point Lookout we hear constant murmurings of the sea, sometimes soothing and gentle and at other times roaring surf.
One of the best things about the beaches is the night. You stand at the brink of the island, on the ‘outermost’ edge of the continent, and look out across darkness.
‘Night is very beautiful on this great beach. It is the true other half of the day’s tremendous wheel; no lights without meaning stab or trouble it; it is beauty, it is fulfillment, it is rest. Thin clouds float in these heavens, islands of obscurity in a splendor of space and stars: the Milky Way bridges earth and ocean …’ Beston, op cit
The beauty of the night serves many purposes. The dark not only furnishes our own existential excitement, sense of immanence and glimmerings of wonder. It also regulates the nocturnal existences of myriad creatures. Among these are the endangered turtles that nest on island beaches; they lumber out of the surf under cover of night to lay their eggs in the dunes. After weeks of incubation, the little hatchlings emerge from their sandy nests and hobble towards the dawning horizon and the waiting embrace of the waves – unless that horizon has been perverted by artificial lights somewhere nearby, in which case the hatchlings become disoriented and struggle not to the ocean but towards the light-spill of a beachside amenities block or a vagrant street lamp. That happens here.
When we have pointed it out to the Council and complained that over-lighting, light-spill, light pollution are genuine hazards to wildlife, and equally despoilers of human enjoyment of the night sky, we are rebuffed by the engineers’ immutable logic of Australian Standards. It seems there is an Australian Standard covering every aspect of life, diminishing the special experiences of different places into singular dull conformity. Beaches, roads, paths, lighting. We cannot escape the smothering oppression of Australian Standards.
In a place like Minjerribah/Stradbroke Island, such oppression is a crying shame.
For years, people on the island have pleaded with Council to be able to experience the nighttime ‘splendour of space and stars’. It should not surprise me (but it does) that protecting the night sky does not rate mention among the things the Council is prepared to deal with.
Yet there are places where the nighttime sky is valued and protected by appropriate planning legislation. Just not here.
In September 2007 I and a friend did a small survey of street lights at Point Lookout along the seaward edge of the township. We listed redundant street lights, those shedding light into the sky, those pointing onto beaches. From that incomplete sample we identified ten lights to be removed, 26 lights to be baffled (although wildlife people tell me that even baffled lights can confuse turtle hatchlings) and 19 lights needing sulphur globes instead of the more intrusive white or blue. The Council was not interested, then or now. Nothing was done.
The implacable momentum is towards tacking on even more lighting at Point Lookout. It’s an arms race of infrastructure in the name of Australian Standards.
But the funny thing is that Council is not obliged to replicate the mainland here on Stradbroke. It has other, smarter, island-friendly options to choose from in ensuring public safety.
Exploring options other than Standards requires exercising imagination.
The authors of Australian Standards evidently never stood on a beach and gazed upwards and wondered. Apparently neither have those who run Council.
Consider Henry Beston’s invitation:
‘Learn to reverence night and to put away the vulgar fear of it, for, with the banishment of night from the experience of man, there vanishes as well a religious emotion, a poetic mood, which gives depth to the adventure of humanity. By day, space is one with the earth and with man — it is his sun that is shining, his clouds that are floating past; at night, space is his no more. When the great earth, abandoning day, rolls up the deeps of the heavens and the universe, a new door opens for the human spirit, and there are few so clownish that some awareness of the mystery of being does not touch them as they gaze. For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars — pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time. Fugitive though the instant be, the spirit of man is, during it, ennobled by a genuine moment of emotional dignity, and poetry makes its own both the human spirit and experience.’ Ibid (My emphasis)
I must not believe Redland City Council is so overrun by clowns that it can justify not undertaking its solemn obligation to protect the darkness of the night, denying the many-splendoured magic of the island.
It’s simply not right.
City Plan Submission about darkness at night
Redland City Council should understand and protect the value (commercial as well as experiential) of viewing stars in a clear dark sky and protect fundamental generators of natural awe and wonder – such as the night sky (or the skyline).
Light pollution has deleterious effects on nesting turtles and subsequently on hatchlings, disorienting them as to where the ocean horizon lies. If not attended to, the adverse environmental impacts of light pollution will diminish the tourism potential of Minjerribah/Stradbroke Island.
In its new City Plan, the Council should recognise the problem of light pollution and take steps to preserve the value of our dark night skies in places like Point Lookout through appropriate regulation of new developments.
More immediately, the Council should audit street lighting to identify lights that are unnecessary and ones poorly located, and places where lights spills onto beaches.