Each month DarkSky International features a DarkSky Advocate from the worldwide network of volunteers working to protect the night. This month we’re highlighting the work of Landon Bannister in Tasmania, Australia.
The island of Tasmania is Australia’s southernmost state, sitting 150 miles (240 km) south of the mainland. Just a bit smaller than Ireland, it’s Australia’s least populous state, with around 570,000 residents mostly living in the main city, Hobart.
Go directly south and a little east off the map of Australia and you’ll find Tasmania separated from the mainland by the Bass Strait. It’s a place of tremendous biodiversity and rugged landscapes that spread from temperate rainforests to dolerite mountains and sweeping coastal cliffs that tower over arcs of sugar-sand beach. The island is also home to the nocturnal Tasmanian devil, the carnivorous marsupial immortalized as a tornado-like beast in the Looney Tunes series (they don’t actually spin, but they are known for being cantankerous).
Originally from Tasmania, Landon Bannister is president of Dark Sky Tasmania, the local DarkSky International chapter. He has worked in the lighting industry for more than 20 years and is passionate about the role lighting plays in human health and the built environment.
Landon tells me he first heard about the dark sky movement a decade ago when the Illuminating Engineering Society’s Melbourne chapter held a screening of The City Dark, a documentary about light pollution.
“I was based in Melbourne at the time and, when I watched it, I couldn’t believe our lighting industry was causing all this havoc. It was terrible,” he recalls.
“But I was in a business where, you know, it was very sales reliant — there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of mouths to feed. And whilst I’d seen this and I was aware of light pollution, the penny didn’t drop until years later when I actually moved back to Tasmania.”
Landon was flying in and out from Melbourne every weekend to his Tasmanian home 10 minutes outside of Hobart. One Friday night, he recalls standing out on his deck with a glass of wine in hand and being bowled over by the stars visible above Tasmania.
“Living in Melbourne, I hadn’t seen them for like 10 years,” he says. “I’d just forgotten and that’s when I realized, oh my god, we’ve actually got to do something.”
From there, Landon began conversing with several local artists who had also felt the impact of light pollution from nearby brightly lit fish farms. Landscape architects, an ecologist, and a business expert joined their group and by January 2019, Dark Sky Tasmania was formalized as an DarkSky chapter.
Tasmania was a natural place for the dark sky movement to take hold. The world’s first environmental political party, United Tasmania Group, was founded here in 1972.
“We tend to keep the bastards honest,” laughs Landon. “You know, there’s that mentality down here in Tasmania. We’re the environmentalists of Australia—the green state,” he says.
Some 42% of Tasmanian land is protected in reserves, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area in the western part of the island, which by itself encompasses a quarter of Tasmania’s land and is considered one of the last remaining temperate wildernesses on Earth. If you stand on the island’s southern cliffs and stare out to sea, there is nothing between you and Antarctica. And on a clear winter evening, you may well see the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, undulating across the sky.
Dark Sky Tasmania has been working for several years to obtain a Dark Sky Sanctuary designation for a portion of the island. They have narrowed their focus to the south of Tasmania, where they will need to work with two or three councils to obtain DarkSky certification. Landon says southern Tasmania is ideal for a sanctuary because much of it is already protected land with very little development and southern views of the stars and auroras.
I ask what keeps Landon going on the tough days and without hesitation, he says it’s his passion for advocacy.
“I love talking to people about dark skies and tackling people’s misconceptions about lighting head-on. It’s a great feeling to get in front of a room full of people and explain the issues in a way they’ve never thought about,” he says.
Dark Sky Tasmania is also working with Aboriginal Tasmanian communities to hold public outreach events, including campfire talks where Aboriginal elders share the connection that Australia’s First Nations people have to the stars.
“Aboriginal Australians are globally known as the world’s first astronomers,” says Landon. “Some of the Western understanding of the stars was actually embedded in Aboriginal astronomy. 20,000 years ago, they understood the stars.
“This is why dark sky protection is so important. It’s 60,000 years of star knowledge that could slowly be lost as we erase more of the night sky.”
To join the DarkSky Advocate Network, go here!