Tree’s blue lease on life

Chloe FraserSound Telegraph
Franki Fontana, with Chris and Pamella Fink.
Camera IconFranki Fontana, with Chris and Pamella Fink. Credit: Nic Ellis/Nic Ellis

A Rockingham tree will be given a “blue lease on life”, bringing with it a powerful symbol of hope to the community.

For months, grieving families and community members have fought passionately to bring the Blue Tree Project to the city, after it was revealed the girlfriend and parents of teenager Cohen Fink — who took his own life earlier this year — were denied the chance to paint a tree on council-managed land blue to raise awareness about mental health and suicide.

The Baldivis Leos group — a youth extension of the Baldivis Lions Club — was also knocked back.

At the time, the requests were not considered by the council, and were dealt with by City of Rockingham staff, who refused the project because it could cause “further distress” should the tree be removed for safety reasons.

But the issue made its way to the council last week, with councillors expressing their support for the project.

Deputy Mayor Deb Hamblin proposed an alternate motion that the council support the concept and development of a public art mental health project as recommended by City officers, but also direct chief executive Michael Parker to identify one tree within the city which could be painted blue.

Cr Hamblin said the council had received four requests about the project to date and “there may be others”.

“The premise of the project is to actively paint the tree together and spread the word,” she said.

“The one blue tree can be painted and then re-painted by others as required.”

She said it was “critical” the tree was selected in consultation with residents and mental health organisations.

Cr Leigh Liley said one in five Australians experienced mental health concerns and an “increase in the normality of health conditions” was needed in the community.

Cr Hayley Edwards, a member of the Rockingham Alliance Against Depression group, said the project raised “really important conversations” in tackling mental health. The motion was carried unanimously.

A petition supporting the project in Rockingham has gathered 2257 signatures.

Cohen’s dad Chris Fink said the family were “glad it finally got over the line”.

He said rate of suicides were increasing alarmingly and it was important for communities, councils and government bodies to work together.

“I just hope the City of Rockingham get the community involved and organise a special day for people to come down and participate in the painting of the selected tree,” he said.

RAAD spokesman and mental health awareness trainer Trys Reddick said the alternative motion was a “great way compromise”.

“I think it’s especially important that we collaborate with mental health organisations to ensure safety protocols are in place to make the tree a positive experience for the community,” he said.

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