AN inspiring pair of classmates, from St Mary MacKillop College, are lighting up the lives of people living with Multiple Sclerosis while also lighting up their neighbourhood in Gowrie.
15-year-old Ben Walker, whose “bigger-than-Ben Hur” Christmas light display came to the attention of “CityNews” this time last year when Ben alerted “CityNews” to the fact that his friend James Crowther, also 15, was joining him in raising funds for the charity with an equally spectacular display comprised entirely of solar lights – possibly the largest all-solar display in Canberra.
The two, who have been friends from an early age, both said they had become interested when their dads had driven them around to look at Christmas lights.
Ben has been assembling the light display for about nine years while James has been doing it for six. They’ve been undaunted by technical problems like stormy weather and consequent weaker power or wet distribution points. Ben even instructed “CityNews” on buying waterproof black boxes with rubber seals.
The two boys have been using their pocket money to collect lights at Boxing Day sales for years, with James organising his entire family to track down the best of the solar offerings. And yes, storage was getting to be a problem.
“CityNews” was on hand at James’s home to see the solar lights gradually illuminating as the sun went down, eventually transforming a street dominated by green shrubbery and driveways into a fairyland.
“You can’t have enough lights,” said James, who admitted to bossing his father around to make him clean up the garden for the annual show – “it used to be disgusting bush here,” he said, indicating one part of the display.
For on-the-grid Ben a few streets away, it was as easy as the flick of a switch.
After a tentative go at fundraising last year, which raised a couple of hundred dollars, the two boys decided to contact MS.org.au to seek assistance in their fundraising efforts. Ben said his grandma had been fighting MS for the past 30 years and that he wanted to raise money to help families like his.
With support from the organisation this year they have music, lollies, balloons, flags, information flyers and a donation-can labelled “MS” at the ready. To secure the donations, Ben has worked out a way of locking his collection tin down if he needed to duck out.
“But mostly, we stand outside,” they said, adding “it will be a great atmosphere, so come along and have a great time.”
With their advanced skills in fundraising and promoting, people might wonder where their ambitions lie.
In Ben’s case the focus will be engineering or science.
But James is interested in the food industry and looks forward to a school trip to Singapore next year to sample the cuisine.
“At our school there is no discrimination against boys for doing cooking,” he said.
Just as he improvised when designing his annual Christmas display, he described his approach to cooking as chaotic but artistic. “I improvise,” he said.
Ben’s Christmas display may be viewed nightly near the corner of Bugden Avenue and Stacy Street, Gowrie, while James’s solar Christmas display is in Ruthven Street, Gowrie. Donations are welcome either in the can or to MS.org.au