Hobart’s longest night

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Frost, fire. The longest night. And soon, the inching return of the sun.

The winter solstice in our southern city is being marked by light. Dark MOFO, Hobart’s winter festival, has sparked the town red. The customary exodus to warmer climes has morphed into a flood of visitors. People are flying south. To Tasmania. At midwinter!

The icy clear-as-crystal nights after last week’s downpours heralded in the three-eve Winter Feast. Salamanca lawns and the city wharf are midsummer-busy. A purple and turquoise laser shimmers straight as a die through the plane trees, glistening with silvery motes. Hourly the laser forms a whirling tunnel of colour and sound, smoke and mist, raining quicksilver brilliance on the canopy of twigs and remnant autumn leaves.

It’s midwinter in Hobart. And it’s never been so good.

Light in the dark

A festival of light is what we need after the slow closing in of the dark and cold. And Dark MOFO is a festival of light. Welcome to a bacchanalia of music and wine and art and leaping flames and playing in the dark.

Everyone’s out there playing. At the cenotaph monument, Spectra rises like a comet’s tail to the moon. People have flocked to the source of this astonishing beam, visible all round the city and beyond. Nearby the single shaft resolves into a grid of pure white rays. Closer still we stand beneath and look up to its apex of one magnificent star.

The cenotaph on its green-lawned mound sits between the dual curves of mountain and bridge. Tonight its illuminated cross glows like a lit coal behind curtains of light. We perch on a slab of concrete, craning our necks to see rising tower, floating moon and soaring comet-tail. The tall skeletons of poplars are eerily lit and exquisitely bare. All around the city glitters with fairylights of twinkling windows and moving vehicles; and on the dark shadow of the mountainside tiny pinpricks of car lights creep to the summit.

Sculpture of sound and light

Our whole city feels like a sculpture of sound and light. And what better setting. When solar flares fling out magnetic winds we rush into the cold to see if they’re showing above the glow of the city. Aurora alert! it’ll say on Facebook, and on networks of texts flitting between Hobartians. Our mountain looms huge and snows dust its slopes and we’re making our own fireworks because winter is magnificent.

Winter adds an edge to celebration. Cold sharpens the mind. Long dark nights are the perfect canvas for light play. Crisp air on the skin heightens the deliciousness of heat. In the dark we savour warmth, food and companionship in ageless pagan tradition.

Long live the Winter Solstice!

Dark MOFO is a MONA-run festival. MONA is Hobart’s world-famous Museum of Old and New Art. Hobart is one of the world’s top travel destinations as rated by Lonely Planet. Spectra is a light tower created by Japanese artists Ryoji Ikeda. Have you booked your flight yet?

Merridy Pugh

Merridy Pugh is an editor and writer based in Hobart. She loves books, sun and tropical fish.

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