How the Coke Billboard Hyphen is Starring in the Best Christmas Lights Competition of 2016


In a quiet suburb of Lithgow, Santa will have no trouble finding the Rawsthorne family. They’re the ones with the giant Christmas lights on their house featuring the one and only Coca‑Cola hyphen from the old Kings Cross Coke sign. 

Large crowds are expected to gather in that quiet suburb named Littleton over December to welcome the hyphen, nicknamed Hyphey, Australia’s most famous piece of punctuation and a little piece of Kings Cross history.

Giving back

An eBay charity auction of the Kings Cross Coke sign letters in September raised more than $100,000 for local charity The Wayside Chapel and generated an enormous amount of social media interest.

Hundreds of people commented, liked and followed the auction on the Coca‑Cola Facebook page, sharing their views about which letters of the iconic sign they wanted to win. One thing also kept cropping up – what’s going to happen to the poor old hyphen, the light that linked Coca‑Cola? This led to the announcement of a competition.

Hundreds of people commented, liked and followed the auction on the Coca‑Cola Facebook page, sharing their views about which letters of the iconic sign they wanted to win. 

Shortly after the auction, young Lithgow local Jacob Rawsthorne was scrolling through the Facebook page. 

“My dad grew up in Sydney, so the Kings Cross Coke sign was something I was familiar with,” Jacob said.

But it was only when he noticed the competition to win the hyphen that he devised a plan. “Applicants were asked to post on Facebook how we have given back to the community,” Jacob said. “So I posted a picture and a link to our website then forgot all about it,” he said.

Jacob’s application definitely caught the eye of Coca‑Cola. 

For more than a decade the Rawsthorne family have been raising money for children’s cancer charity Redkite with their Christmas lights display.

Coca‑Cola’s senior external affairs manager Sarah Prestwood said Jacob’s winning entry was original and creative. 

“It was a really wonderful example of a family giving back to their community and asking nothing in return,” Sarah said.

“For us the Rawsthorne family were a real standout and we’re chuffed that the hyphen has found a new home,” she said.

The hyphen lives on

“I forgot about the competition until I received a phone call saying I had actually won,” Jacob said, “It was a shock. I went, well, what am I going to do with a hyphen now?”

Jacob wasn’t the only one surprised. “Jacob rang and told me he'd won it and it was going to be delivered here,” Jacob’s father David said, “I didn’t even know there was a hyphen between the Coca and Cola.”

Not long after Jacob received the call, the family got to work figuring out how they could integrate it into their annual lights show.

They decided it needed to feature prominently and it now occupies pride of place on the front porch. But they didn’t immediately know what to do with the 42-year-old red and white shell. 

The Lithgow Lights

For more than 10 years the Rawsthorne family has raised money for children’s cancer charity Redkite over Christmas.

David Rawsthorne, the self-titled ‘creative director’ of the display, started with a simple idea. 

“We went with an animated light display to basically get people’s attention,” he said, “Rather than saying that’s nice, and driving on, I wanted something to get people to stop and go WOW!”

After the first year, David and his wife Suellen wanted to expand the project into something more than just entertainment for the local community. 

“It was Suellen’s idea to actually get involved with a charity,” David said, “We really loved the people involved in Redkite. They were really passionate, they were fun and that’s why we chose them. We wanted something where the majority of the money went to those in need.” 

Affectionately known as ‘The Lithgow Lights’, the family spend much of the year planning, testing and creating the impressive animated visual light display. To date, they have raised nearly $30,000.

David Rawsthorne and his family work as a team.

Since that first year, the animated light display has grown exponentially and now uses 33,120 lights. 

And the lights are just the beginning. “The lights don’t just flash, they are actually animated, and vary for each song played,” David said, “We even have a dedicated radio station so you actually get the music that goes with the lights.”  

The Christmas light display has over 33,000 lights, along with animation on screens and a dedicated radio station for a synchronised sound and light display.

Being innovative is in David’s spirit. The system is controlled by smartphones and two 3D printers can add new dimensions to the light effects. 

“Last year I wanted to add covers to our lights, add a bit more body, rather than them being an individual dot,” David explained, “We ended up getting five panels of P10s into the hyphen. I think we've done a fairly good job for this year.” 

All this planning and creativity has resulted in an experience that visitors love. 

David said about 95 per cent of visitors donate, even if it’s just a few coins from their pocket, and it has even become an annual pilgrimage for families travelling from regional NSW and the ACT.

“What happens is I tend to stand up at the house and chat to people,” David explained, “My wife and family go out, and they're the ones that greet cars, make sure they’ve got their radio tuned in and basically ask for a donation for Redkite.”

It’s a cheerful and inclusive attitude that resonates with those close to home. 

Like many towns in regional Australia, Lithgow has suffered some economic setbacks. The Lithgow lights are a reminder that people can find joy in simple pleasures best celebrated as a community.

“We’ve taken some hits in Lithgow, so it’s great to see everyone from our neighbours, our kids’ friends to strangers come and enjoy themselves,” David said. 

From the Coca‑Cola family to the Rawsthorne family, we say Merry Christmas to that.

Congratulations again, Jacob! The hyphen has found a perfect home. And as for the other famous Kings Cross sign letters, watch this space... 

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