Not everything is a campus mystery: the disappointing reality of USyd’s pink streetlamp

Sometimes things are exactly as they seem.

Art by Shania O'Brien

“It will not go out of my mind that if we pass this post and lantern, either we shall find strange adventures or else some great changes of our fortunes.”

So said Lucy Pevensie of Narnia’s lamp-post. A shining beacon that marks the beginning of the Pevensie kingdom and burns all day and all night, requiring no gas, no ignition, and no maintenance.  

At the top of the stairs at the end of Victoria Park, and off to the left, there proudly stands a solitary streetlamp emitting an alluring pink glow.  A similar feeling to that which Lucy felt struck me when I first laid eyes upon the pink streetlamp that adorns this bend of University Avenue. It wasn’t necessarily because of its unique colour or the circumstances in which I first saw it, rather, the mystery of it all made me think a strange adventure of my own was about to commence.

It’s easy to romanticise the University of Sydney. Its buildings, history, and cultural pedigree lend itself to lore crafting and mythologising. So, surely this pink streetlamp has as interesting an explanation as the many other curios that clutter up Camperdown Campus? Perhaps, like the lamp-post in Narnia, it too is a landmark. If you consider its position, it could be the border between Sydney and campus proper for those approaching through Victoria Park. Sitting just below Fisher Library, it might have been erected in some bygone colonial land dispute, similar to the road studs you see slicing through Baarle-Hertog/Nassau or the Deakin Obelisk that demarcates WA from the rest of us. But there was nothing to support this idea.

Maybe, then, it had more to do with the unique connotations and applications of pink light. University Avenue might have once been a den of sin and hedonism, the rosy glow welcoming visitors to Sydney’s only academia-themed red light district: university gown strip teases, live readings of ancient erotic poetry, and the mechanisation of sexual pleasures by our dear STEM peers. Similar to my original theory, this too was destined for failure. 

SURELY it must be a relic of an early grow light greenhouse then, considering that LED grow lights are traditionally a purpley pink. Wrong again! 

So, of course, I arrived at the most reasonable conclusion, this was a consequence of the street light interference phenomenon, a term coined by paranormal author Hilary Evans who alleges that certain individuals have the power to interfere with, or deactivate, streetlights. Perhaps this pink colouring is a result of some past interference…or even ongoing interference. Amongst the student body or perhaps even the faculty, there may very well be an individual (or some sinister sect of saboteurs) capable of this awesome feat. Well, the many professors of electrical engineering, metaphysics, and biology said otherwise. I’ll have to take their word for it.

Luckily, there was one lead that presented to be more promising and decidedly less supernatural. In the grand canal city of Venice, you can see a number of pink streetlamps dotted throughout the Piazza San Marco. Their pink hue is supposedly attributed to the natural colour of Murano glass (named after Venice’s own Murano island), but their exact origin and purpose are a mystery to me. Could the University of Sydney’s own pink streetlamp then be connected to Venice’s? Mayhaps an opportunistic USyd exchange student saw fit to bring home a souvenir from St. Mark’s square, or, if you’re a real truthseeker, maybe Venice used to be a part of Camperdown Campus itself?

For all my theories, propositions, and ponderings, I didn’t even come close. From the very beginning, I had decided that this was a campus mystery. Something in the vein of ibis babies or Quadrangle tunnels. But a part of investigating anything is realising that not everything is a thing. Not every campus curiosity is the tip of some occult conspiracy iceberg. That was certainly true for my pointlessly fascinating streetlamp. 

According to a University spokesperson, they believe “this particular light is casting a pink glow because the bulb’s element is approaching the end of its life. As the beam is still strong we won’t replace the bulb just yet, but will keep an eye out for when it might need changing.”

Some things just are, without purpose or meaning, beyond the auspices of cabals, cults, and conspirators alike. This streetlamp is broken, but Lucy Pevensie’s words are no less true. I most certainly had a strange adventure, and it’s safe to say there was a great change in my fortunes too. At the end of the day, a mystery can just as much be about how you resolve it as what it resolves to be.