Valuing darkness – on North Stradbroke Island

Henry Beston Photo: Thornton Burgess Society

Henry Beston Photo: Thornton Burgess Society

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.

Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod, 1928

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

Night Sky by Picture Life Photography

Night Sky by Picture Life Photography

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

Darkness at night can increase tourism Photo:

Dark sky designation can increase tourism Photo: IDSA

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.


Jackie Cooper – 25 November 2015

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4 thoughts on “Valuing darkness – on North Stradbroke Island

  1. I own a sailing boat, Lady Lonsdale, and I too value and appreciate the beauty of darkness. It is one of the great pleasures to sit and observe the clear night sky redolent with natural light. And then there is the loom of the cities – like an ever encroaching invader determined to obliterate this natural light.
    Ever tried to recognise the same stars you see out on the Bay when you return to suburbia? They are drowned in artificial light – the light of blinding ‘progress’.

  2. This article was posted on the Coochiemudlo Coastcare page, but my comments there were deleted.

    I can understand that the proponents of Redlands 2030 feel short changed, However I did think that the sentiments expressed then were far too general. Passionate righteousness is not much help, nor is knee jerk negativity. I also thought the selection of members was questionable..

    I think Jackie Cooper’s approach is snide and her (his?) allusions are facile. I cannot believe that the Council officers (engineers? She lumps her prejudices together) are as intransigent as she claims, unless there has been a serious breakdown in public relations.

    Development is bound to occur and is necessary. To me, Redlands 2030-somethings are hypocritical to be greedily counting their capital gains from increased services while publicly decrying any change. A hundred years ago the global human population was just over 1 billion and it is now approaching 8 billion. Include the animals and plants we eat and the impact is huge/. That impact will not be handled by reactive sentiments but by full scale, well thought out development. The problem for Australian communities, it seems to me, is that there is not a lot of capital about for serious development and so suburbs sprawl and encroach.

    The Redland 2015 plan with its overlays seems more promising to me than does Redland 2030 rhetoric.

  3. When we first moved to the Redlands over thirty years ago, we were entranced by the velvety black skies with the bright stars so evident. It was not long before the creeping urbanisation changed this and left us with an unhealthy looking glow in the sky at night. So many of our nocturnal animals, the gliders, possums and bandicoots can no longer be safe from predators and we wonder why their numbers are declining. Stradbroke is still one of these places where we enjoy the stars at night but apparently that is changing too, how sad, especially when the glow of streetlights lead the poor turtle hatchlings to harm.

  4. What a great piece…probably “light years” ahead of so many decision makers. Even further ahead of the engineers, planners and the clique that runs Redlands city Council given the pile up of Shoreline and Toondah PDA.
    Popular opinion can be swayed by logic and doing the right thing but it will take time and a bit of thinking for oneself before most of our “pollies” will understand. Great article though, hope it made as a submission too.

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