The heartwarming story behind Sydney's brightest, most festive street

Nastasha Tupas
·4-min read

As this year comes to a close, in the most unusual of circumstances, Aussies are celebrating the 2020 holiday season in a socially-distanced fashion as the world still grapples to manage the Covid-19 pandemic effectively.

While the past year may have altered the usual festive celebrations and customs, some holiday traditions have remained.

The residents of Richards Close, a quiet suburban street in Berowra, about 30 kilometres north of Sydney, have put on a spectacular display of festive lights despite a tough year. The close-knit community has made the annual light display a local tradition every Christmas.

One of the lit-up homes at Richards Close. Source: Supplied/Paul Newman
The residents of Richards Close, a quiet suburban street in Berowra, about 30 kilometres north of Sydney, have put on a spectacular display of festive lights despite a tough year. Photo: Supplied/Paul Newman

By the first week of November, most homes on the street are decked out in festive decorations and holiday lights and the residents celebrate ‘flicking the lights on’ with a picnic and barbecue at the park.

Mark Buckle, who has been a resident at Richards Close for almost two decades, is the proud owner of the street’s brightest and most outrageous light display.

He has revealed that setting up his Christmas lights takes up almost all his spare time in the weeks leading up to the holiday season.

“It’s grown dramatically over those years... It’s become a little competitive.”

“The neighbours may not say it’s competitive but it is,” Mr Buckle told Yahoo News Australia.

Mark Buckle at his Richards Close residence in front of his impressive Christmas light display.
Mark Buckle, who has been a resident at Richards Close for almost two decades, is the proud owner of the street’s brightest and most outrageous light display. Photo: Supplied/Paul Newman

“But, we all have a really great time and it’s great to see everyone else enjoying it too.”

Due to the ongoing social-distancing rules that are currently in play and the Covid-19 cluster that had emerged in Sydney in mid-December, Mr Buckle decided to go without the interactive part of his light display this year.

“We usually have a walkthrough around the corner where kids and adults alike can run through a tunnel covered in lights, but we thought in the interest of social distancing, we’d better delete that this year.”

“Hopefully, it’ll make a return next year,” Mr Buckle said.

For the Desmarchelier family, who have lived at Richards Close for the past 10 years, this year’s Christmas lights are extra special.

Mal Desmarchelier is the local Rural Fire Service Chief and he was away on duty fighting the catastrophic, unprecedented bushfires that had almost burned through the country in 2019 and early 2020.

Despite the pandemic, Mr Desmarchelier is enjoying a well-earned break and time at home with family this holiday season.

“Christmas last year, the lights were vastly different for us.”

“I was away on multiple shifts up and down the coast, from Northern New South Wales to Victoria,” Mr Desmarchelier told Yahoo News Australia.

Mal Desmarchelier, Richards Close resident and local Rural Fire Service chief. Source: Supplied via Big W Australia
Mal Desmarchelier is the local Rural Fire Service Chief and he was away on duty fighting the catastrophic bushfires that almost burned through the country in 2019. Photo: Supplied via Big W Australia

His wife, Michelle, added that it was quite unnerving being unaware of her husband’s location at times, while he was on duty with the RFS fighting fires away from home, usually deployed on very short notice and for weeks at a time.

“It was pretty full-on, not knowing exactly where Mal was, for three days, or five days at a time.”

“So, when it came to doing the Christmas lights [last year], we had to throw something together very quickly,” Mrs Desmarchelier said.

“It was a very token effort, but with everything else that was going on, it was the best that we could do really.”

Mr and Mrs Desmarchelier’s son Jack wanted to ensure his family didn’t miss out on the festive tradition this year.

The Desmarchelier family. Source: Supplied via Big W
Despite the pandemic, Mr Desmarchelier is enjoying a well-earned break and time at home with family this holiday season. Photo: Supplied via Big W Australia

He got in touch with retail giant Big W and their neighbours to get a hand with setting up a proper Christmas light display as a surprise for his firefighter dad and the family.

“The street is buzzing and more people are involved this year which is great,” Mrs Desmarchelier added.

“It’s [already] quite a close community but the Christmas lights really bring everyone together.”

With additional reporting by Paul Newman.

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