A peformance at the Lismore Lantern Parade.
A peformance at the Lismore Lantern Parade. Cathy Adams

Lismore's lantern parade needs you

THIS YEAR’S Lismore Lantern Parade is going back to its roots. Drawing on its original intention of lightening up the darkest night of the year, the plan is to bring more people than ever to take part in the parade.

“We’re especially encouraging people to bring musical instruments or bands to be part of the parade, and anyone who feels like dressing up, carrying a lantern and being part of it in any way,” says festival director and CEO of LightnUp Inc, Jyllie Jackson.

New volunteers of all ages are especially welcome at this time of year, when there’s only a few weeks to go before the 17th annual parade on Saturday, June 26.

The LightnUp Lantern Workshop is on the corner of Brewster and Orion streets, Lismore (phone 6622 6333), and all are invited to get involved in simple creative activities like making lanterns, masks, or flowers ... or for the artists among them, to learn how to make more complex constructions and create fantastical feature lanterns.

There’s even a career path for volunteers who learn the craft and pay their dues over the years, providing energy towards the parade.

Fire artist Elly Bird, for example, one of the core group of LightnUp workers who joined up about seven years ago, now has been shortlisted for a Churchill Fellowship to take her art to the UK, and will be attending the world-famous Burning Man Festival in Arizona in September. Martin Pedder, a graduate in production from NIDA, and now a leading lantern artist and set designer in Lismore, also plans to go to Arizona.

Jyllie says new people are training all the time, with many of the original trainees now working all over Australia and overseas.

“We had lots of trainees before Work For The Dole was scrapped, and the loss of that scheme has been painful for us,” she says.

Jyllie and her team are constantly weaving webs of connection between local organisations, encouraging businesses to sponsor charities’ lanterns for the annual parade, going into schools and holding lantern-making classes, and even working with the aged community in facilities like Caroona, where Jyllie is currently engaged in creating life-story lanterns with an enthusiastic group of elderly residents.

LightnUp Incorporated is a not-for-profit community enterprise and the organising group for the lantern parade. LightnUp runs workshops and activities throughout the year, in Lismore, elsewhere in the Northern Rivers and throughout regional and increasingly, metropolitan Australia. The workshops and events include lantern making, shadow theatre, illuminated puppets, masks and costume making, ritual and celebration and story development. LightnUp also hires out the lanterns, undertakes commissions and creates special lanterns and props for weddings, parties, conferences and special events.

“Several district high schools now have the Lantern Parade as a case study on the HSC Drama curriculum,” Jyllie says, “with the students also studying some of the people who originally inspired us, such as John and Sue Fox from the UK and former Woodford fire event director Neil Cameron. This brings senior students from Evans Head, Kyogle and even Gunnedah actively into the parade.”

With the theme of ‘Sowing Seeds’, this year’s parade will feature new lanterns in the shape of Australian flora and fauna, including, currently in production, beautiful waratah flowers and delicate dragonflies.

In a change from previous years, after the parade when everyone is gathered at Riverside Park, there will be fire art performances and fireworks but not a narrative performance piece. Instead, lanterns from the parade will be placed around the site, creating an illuminated garden which people can walk around and view at their leisure.

The charity food stalls – for whom this is the biggest fundraiser of the year – will be serving their Winter Warmer foods and there will be stalls and a street party in Carrington Street after the fireworks finale.

Last year torrential rain over several days forced the Lantern Parade to change its route and final destination. It caused a nightmare of logistics and a decimation of the numbers, and thus the donations, that came in.

“We certainly had to walk our talk then,” Jyllie recalls. “Our theme last year was ‘A Space for Optimism’, and when we realised that our riverside venue was a mud-pit, we called on every bit of optimism we could muster! There was insufficient power at Jolley Fields for our lighting and we had to re-jig the whole finale in the dark. And our pretty flotilla of boats on the river had to be abandoned.The young people who rowed those kayaks are Duke of Edinburgh Award scholars from Woodlawn College.”

The children rowed to Lismore from Woodlawn, tied up the boats, then came to Jolley Fields, helped collect donations from the crowd and rowed back to Woodlawn in the dark and wet.

“But contrary to what many people believe, it doesn’t always rain on the Lantern Parade!” says Jyllie. “There have only been three years when it has been seriously wet. Last year, postponement was not an option. People had come from all over Australia, and some from overseas, and it had to go ahead.”

Another popular myth is that the parade is funded by Lismore City Council. In fact, the council contributes just over 11 per cent of the costs of staging the event, which receives no other government funding despite being a massive drawcard for tourism to Lismore.

LightnUp depends on sponsorship from business partners, and earning its way by getting hired to work in other towns, such as Brisbane, where it is doing a big event for World Refugee Day at Southbank; the Gold Coast, where it recently worked with Pacific Islander and Maori school children making a culturally specific lantern for their school; Parramatta, where LightnUp will contribute lanterns for a procession celebrating the bicentenary of Governor Macquarie, and the Bowral Tulip Festival. Then there are the annual lantern workshops and performances at the Bellingen Global Carnival and the Woodford Folk Festival.

“We get famous for doing it in Lismore, where it costs us heaps to put on the show – but we pay our bills by going to other towns, where we are paid for what we do!” Jyllie laughs.

This year’s Lantern Parade is being held a week later than usual, to coincide with a NORPA presentation called the Erth Petting Zoo, which will feature prehistoric creatures, from cute baby dinosaurs to teeth-gnashing giants, in a performance event that will delight children of all ages. These rubbery recreations of creatures that once roamed the southern hemisphere will be wandering around the Lismore CBD over the weekend, as well as holding two performances at Lismore City Hall.

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