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Carols by candlelight: a uniquely Australian tradition

November 24, 2017

Carols By Candlelight


Did you know the Carols by Candlelight tradition started with a lonely old woman and a bright spark radio announcer on a balmy Melbourne evening 80 years ago?

Walking home after work on Christmas Eve in 1937, a handsome young broadcaster named Norman Banks – also known as one of the pioneer radio broadcasters of Aussie Rules Football – spotted an elderly woman sitting at her bedside alone, listening to Away in a Manger by candlelight.

Struck by the loneliness of the scene, Banks came up with the concept of bringing people together, outdoors, to sing carols on Christmas Eve.

Being a radio-man, Banks had the perfect platform to reach the masses, and the following year 10,000 Melbournians attended the very first Carols by Candlelight, held in Alexandra Gardens on the south bank of the Yarra River.

The successful inaugural event was hosted by Norman Banks and led by a choir of 30 singers, two soloists and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Band.

The devastation of World War II led to even more supporters for the community event in the post-war years, and the need for a venue change to Melbourne’s Kings Domain. Then, in 1959, the newly constructed Sidney Myer Music Bowl became the home of Melbourne’s Carols by Candlelight and remains its home to this day.

So while we may not have the romance of roasted chestnuts, open fires and frosty snow, we have Carols by Candlelight. A unique, Australian Christmas tradition.

For those looking for a touch of candlelit magic this Christmas, here are some of the top Carols by Candlelight events taking place around the country this year…


George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens

Sunday 3 December, 2017, 4:30pm

The wet season won’t hold Darwin back from celebrating Christmas in style. Held in the stunning George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens, this Carols by Candlelight event always goes off with a bang, with feature fireworks rounding out the night at 8:30pm.


Elder Park, Adelaide, SA

Sunday, 10 December 2pm

Set on the banks of Adelaide’s Torrens River, with views of Adelaide Oval, and the Adelaide Festival Centre, thousands of Adelaidians settle into Elder Park every year for this spectacular evening of Christmas entertainment.


Dorrington Park, Ashgrove, Brisbane, QLD

Sunday 10 December 2017, 5.00pm

Taking place in Brisbane’s tranquil Dorrington Park in the suburb of Ashgrove, this free family event features live jazz entertainment and gets the Santa fun out of the way by 6pm – just before bedtime.


The Domain, Sydney, NSW

Sunday, 17 December, 2017, 12pm

Live telecast on Channel 7, Sydney’s Woolworths Carols in the Domain is one of the largest Carols by Candlelight events in the country. Featuring a host of famous Australian acts, it’s a favourite for local families and perfect for those wanting to experience the Christmas carols spirit from the comfort of their living rooms.


Langley Park Playground, East Perth, WA

Sunday, 17 December, 2017, 3pm

This free event held in the City of Perth’s Langley Park features a number of festival attractions leading up to the carols, including kid’s entertainment, face painting and the Variety WA Bash’s ‘carnival on wheels’, which all help to raise money for the Variety charity, before the sun goes down.


Yalumba, Angaston, SA

Tuesday, 19 December 7:30pm

This year ‘Carols by Candlelight’ returns to the Barossa, hosted by Yalumba! Our friends, families and visitors from near and far, are all invited to spread a blanket on our lawns and share in the spirit of Christmas. This year’s special guests include singer/songwriter Rachael Leahcar, Adelaide’s leading gospel choir band, Gospo Collective, critically acclaimed jazz and cabaret performer, Libby Donovan... and many more!


Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, VIC

Sunday, 24 December 2017, 8:00pm

It’s the original Carols by Candlelight and arguably the best. Raising money for Vision Australia, Melbourne’s Carols by Candlelight is still held in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, and attracts so many people each year, they’ve started selling tickets to the rehearsal the night before. Held on Christmas Eve, and live broadcast by Channel 9, 80 years on, this is the Carols by Candlelight event that stops the nation.