26 November 2019

Christmas lights shine bright on Hornsby

Community warmth shines in the worst hailstorm Berowra had ever seen.

It was 2018 and the worst hailstorm Berowra had ever seen. It could not have come at a worse time.

Just as the local church choirs were putting on their gowns for the annual Christmas Eve performance, the storm hit.

Roofs caved, cars were written off and water carved a path of destruction through the normally peaceful Sydney suburb.

As hailstones the size of golf balls battered everything in sight, Mark listened to his Christmas lights get taken out as if under mortar fire above him.

Standing proud across the roofline, the majestic display did not stand a chance.

And so, it appeared 16 years of careful researching, collecting and purchasing online, from vendors right around the globe, had come to nothing.

Downtrodden but determined, the next morning he did his best to salvage what was left from the damaged lights and ornaments.

He plugged the hundreds of displays back in and as the sun began to set, people started to slowly gather.

Mark flicked the switch.

Miraculously, all but three worked.

“We all stood there amazed. I thought to myself, ‘no way!’” Mark laughs.

“The crowds came back straightaway, all the families in the community with little kids came to our little street to see the lights.”

When a once-in-a-lifetime storm hits a town, the effects can be devastating, but in Berowra, it brought people together. The community was determined to get back on its feet.

 “Everyone chipped-in straight after it happened,” Mark says.

“People in the community got together and ran different projects, checked on neighbours, and local builders started fixing broken roof tiles.”

For Mark, it meant his Christmas lights display and reindeer performance would go on regardless.

“There’s something about Christmas,” says Mark, whose journey to grand architect of a community showpiece began with a suit.

“When I was looking after volunteer services at Hornsby hospital, I bought an inflatable reindeer suit online and wore it to quite a few end-of-year functions,” he remembers.

“It always got a lot of laughs!”

Once he had finished working at the hospital, the comical eight-foot-tall suit sat collecting dust in the garage.

Then, about four years ago, Mark realised he could complete his light display with a performance in costume.

“Locals in Berowra know us as the Christmas lights people and now the whole street gets involved,” says Mark’s wife, Sue.

“It really gets the community together,”.

The couple have lived in the Hornsby area for over 40 years. Moving to their Berowra cul-de-sac 16 years ago promised a relaxing retirement and opportunities to enjoy the lush natural surrounds.

But a mere 10 days into Mark’s retirement, Sue took over the Just Better Care Hills to Hornsby business, and Mark’s short-lived retirement was over.

“I sometimes ask Sue, ‘so when are we retiring again?’” Mark laughs.

“And I always answer with, ‘I’m not sure I’m finished yet’,” says Sue.

It was the perfect fit for the busy pair, with Sue’s background in nursing and Mark’s background in health.

“Buying the franchise was perfect because it gives you the freedom to choose your own destiny, and you meet so many different people,” Sue says.

Berowra is one of a pocket of small communities in the Hornsby Shire in New South Wales, surrounded by sandstone valleys and bordered by the Hawkesbury River.

Beginning the first Saturday of December and continuing for the whole month, hundreds of people fill Mark and Sue’s street for their famous Christmas lights.

Parents chat and catch up, and children delight in the magical displays.

The community’s warmth and glow are reflected in those lights and the beaming couple who have made it happen.

As we talk to Mark in July, it’s all business as usual as he starts preparing for this year’s big reveal.

With excitement growing, Mark will be watching the weather forecast for December closely and is now prepared for anything.

“I can’t wait to show what I’ve got planned this year, I think it’s my biggest and best yet,” he says.

“I’ve actually got a bit of a competition from a guy two doors up, but he’s got an unfair advantage - he’s an electrician!”