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To protect Melbourne from night-time Japanese aerial attacks during World War II, street lights were turned off or hooded and windows covered from December 1941. These restrictions, enforced by air-raid precautions (ARP) wardens, were relaxed by May 1942, but prewar lighting levels were not restored until war ended in August 1945. The brownout was symbolic of wartime domestic mobilisation. Shopping and leisure were disrupted, traffic accidents multiplied, and military and civilian authorities feared that the brownout encouraged illicit sex in public. In mid-1942, considerable panic was generated after the discovery of the bodies of three women in dimly lit public spaces. The 'Brownout Strangler', US private Eddie Leonski, confessed to the murders and was later hanged. The brownout features in creative responses to the war, including artist Albert Tucker's series Images of modern evil (1943-45).

Kate Darian-Smith

Chapman, Ivan, Private Eddie Leonski: The brownout strangler, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1982. Details