Premier’s blue stand

Chloe Fraser & Holly ThompsonSound Telegraph
Franki Fontana, with Chris and Pamella Fink.
Camera IconFranki Fontana, with Chris and Pamella Fink. Credit: Nic Ellis

Premier Mark McGowan has failed to confirm his support for the Blue Tree Project – the mental health movement gaining momentum across the country – in the wake of City of Rockingham’s decision to refuse one family’s request.

The Sound Telegraph last week revealed the grieving family of Cohen, who took his own life earlier this year, was denied the chance to paint a tree on council-owned land blue to raise awareness about suicide and mental health.

Mr McGowan told the Telegraph that while it was a “terribly tragic situation”, he encouraged the City to work with the family to explore other options, but he would not respond to whether he supported the idea of the project.

It comes after the community hit back at the City’s refusal to be involved in the project and its reasoning that it could cause further distress should the tree need to be removed for safety reasons.

The decision sparked an outcry from the public online, with many stating the decision was the wrong call and appealing for a petition.

One Facebook user wrote: “keep fighting for Cohen, Frankie and his family to make awareness of suicide in the Rockingham area and get the conversation started, this should not be a shoved under the carpet.”

Another agreed and said “time to end the stigma and get people talking, mental health is not a taboo subject anymore and a conversation point is needed to remind people that its OK not to be OK.”

It is not the first time the City has been approached about local participation in the project, with the Baldivis Leos — a youth extension of the Baldivis Lions Club — also knocked back months after reaching out to the City for permission.

Baldivis Leo’s Club advisor Debbie Tierney said she had received a similar response to her request submitted on June 27, for the group to participate in the project by painting a tree near the Safety Bay Road and Nairn Drive roundabout.

“It seems like a bit of a blanket approach,” she said.

“I thought as a community group this topic would make sense for us to do, to help spread that message as a community not just make it reliant on those families who have been affected.”

Two dead leaning trees along Brand Highway in Greenough have been given a new lease on life with a coat of bright blue paint. The Blue Tree Project aims to remind passersby that it is ok to have blue days and that help is available.
Camera IconTwo dead leaning trees along Brand Highway in Greenough have been given a new lease on life with a coat of bright blue paint. The Blue Tree Project aims to remind passersby that it is ok to have blue days and that help is available. Credit: Francesca Mann The Geraldton Guardian

Blue Tree Project founder and managing director Kendall Whyte said she had not been made aware of any other trees which had been declined in WA, or any which had been removed for safety reasons.

“There have been three city councils within Perth’s CBD as well as the City of Mandurah who have taken part in supporting our project,” she said.

“This is a hands on way of raising awareness in the community that lots of people can get involved in.

“We understand the stance of Rockingham, but this shouldn’t discourage people from painting trees and having them in their own yards.”

Despite the rejection, Cohen’s parents Pamella and Chris Fink have not given up on their mission to raise awareness and kick the stigma around mental health.

They have put forward ideas for a steel “blue tree” artwork and information billboard, which would be built in a prominent location within the City and have also started a petition in support of the Blue Tree Project to go ahead in Rockingham.

The petition gained 400 signatures within 24 hours.

“The Blue Tree Project is about hope, it’s not about memorialising our son,” Mr Fink said.

“It is about sparking a conversation and getting the community involved in something positive concerning mental health.

“We find it hard then to comprehend why the Rockingham Council is so steadfast in their denial.”

Mayor Barry Sammels confirmed the City’s stance last week, but said the City took youth suicide “very seriously” and understood the need to raise community awareness about mental health issues.

He welcomed the families willingness to take “positive action” but encouraged residents to instead look to “evidence-based projects” identified by the Suicide Prevention Hub.

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