We have grown defect-rich ZnO nanowires on a large scale by the vapour phase reaction method without using any metal catalyst and vacuum system. The defects, including zinc vacancies, oxygen interstitials and oxygen antisites, are related to the excess of oxygen in ZnO nanowires and are controllable. The nanowires having high excess of oxygen exhibit a brown-colour photoluminescence, due to the dominant emission band composed by violet, blue and green emissions. Those having more balanced Zn and O show a dominant green emission, giving rise to a green colour under UV light illumination. By O2-annealing treatment the violet luminescence after the band-edge emission UV peak can be enhanced for as-grown nanowires. However, the green emission shows different changing trends under O2-annealing treatment, associated with the excess of oxygen in the nanowires.