Searchlights was commissioned by the Townsville chapter of the Kodály Music Education Institute of Australia (KMEIA) for the 2015 Festival of the Voice. When searching for a suitable text to provide to festival composer, Timothy Sherlock, the chapter committee came across this remarkable radio transcript which forms part of the heritage resources curated at the Jezzine Barracks, Townsville. The text comes from a 1942 radio transcript of two ABC journalists, Dudley Leggett and Chester Wilmot, providing live commentary as Japanese planes flew over Townsville. Townsville, an important military base, was raided by Japanese Kawanishi H8K1 “Emily” flying boats operating from Rabaul on four occasions in late July of 1942. On the night of the 25th of July, the town was attacked by two flying boats but did not suffer any damage as the bombs dropped by these aircraft fell into the sea. The transcript text taken from the radio broadcast on this night is as follows:
The sky is criss-crossed with searchlights, a most magnificent sight. The plane is held in the light absolutely dead above us. And it’s heading out now westward right above the town. The searchlights are holding it absolutely, perfectly in all beams and from all sides, and at the moment, I can see one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve… more than a dozen searchlights.
Composed for mixed choir, piano accompaniment, cello and handchimes, this setting of the 1942 wartime radio transcript portrays the chilling beauty of the searchlights focused on the mysterious danger suspended above the town.