BLUE-PAINTED trees have been popping up across Australia since 2018, with 1196 trees painted as part of the Blue Tree Project to promote mental health awareness and honour people lost to suicide.

The project originated in Western Australia and has flourished into a charity.

The organisation says, “The symbol of the blue tree now holds a whole new meaning for so many. Acting as a source of conversation that helps save lives, the blue trees are visual reminders to check in on loved ones and mates who might be struggling”.

The Blue Tree Project aims to spark difficult conversations and encourage people to speak up when experiencing mental health concerns. Blue trees, which can be found on every continent except Antarctica, serve as symbols of hope and conversation catalysts.

There are two registered locations in the Wellington Shire, including Maffra Secondary College and Sale Primary School.

It was on a bus tour in Western Australia when Sale Primary principal Chris Malone first came across the Blue Tree Project. Its prominence in the landscape sparked a conversation and its significance sparked the idea to bring it home.

“It was something new and different that we hadn’t seen and I hadn’t before, and coming off the back of COVID and other tough times people have had in the community, it was something that we thought was a good idea,” Mr Malone said.

He said the project was an opportunity to “reclaim” a tree that had died in the schoolyard.

“We had a tree at school in a very prominent spot that unfortunately died and (we) thought it would be a good idea to reclaim it and create it as a bit of centrepiece and a talking point in that spot of the school where people come in.”

Sale Primary’s Blue Tree was debarked by students and painted at the start of the year. It has been an organic talking point of curious parents and utilised by staff ever since. Mr Malone called it a “centrepiece” in the school yard that students, parents and visitors can see the tree as they use the entrance on Dundas Street.

He said the intention project was explained to the school’s 480 students, about 50 staff, and a couple hundred parents at an assembly.

Mr Malone said Sale Primary prides itself on promoting wellbeing.

“As part of our respectful relationships program and our wellbeing program at school in regards to knowing yourself and understanding triggers and understanding feelings and emotions, (the Blue Tree Project has) certainly been referred to and used across the school at staff meetings, at school closure days when we’ve had experts in from outside of the school to talk to staff about it.

“It’s something that has been easy referred to in regards to that conversation starter and ‘it’s okay if you don’t feel okay’.”

In a similar way, Maffra Secondary College VCE students championed the Blue Tree Project “knowing that Gippsland has had to battle through some of the toughest times in the past five years”, the school posted on its Facebook page.

This project was completed in October 2023 after students sourced, cleaned, painted and relocated a Blue Tree in the garden outside the Science and Technology wing of the college.

Maffra Secondary College’s Blue Tree Project. Photo: Maffra Secondary College

Recently, Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester joined East Gippsland residents in painting trees at Lakes Entrance as part of a local Blue Tree Project.

Mr Chester said he was proud to support the community-led initiative.

“The Blue Tree Project is about helping to build a mentally healthy future by raising awareness about the help available and supporting people who may be experiencing difficulties,” Mr Chester said.

“Suicide takes more than 3000 lives each year in Australia and shatters the lives of too many local families.

“One of the challenges is removing the stigma about mental health, and painting blue trees in high-profile locations is helping to get the conversation started across our nation.”

In a media release, Mr Chester extended thanks to project sponsors Nathan from Roots 2 Leaves and Peter from Crowies Paints and congratulated the team at Forget Me Not Studios, which spearheaded the initiative.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester joined East Gippsland residents in painting trees at Lakes Entrance as part of a local Blue Tree Project over the King’s Birthday long weekend. Photo: Contributed

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467

Lifeline on 13 11 14

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander crisis support line 13YARN on 13 92 76

Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636

Headspace on 1800 650 890

MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978