The Binalong Progress Association invites anyone in the community who has been impacted from losing someone to mental health struggles along to put a handprint on the tree today, Wednesday, 19 April, between 4pm and 5pm. The handprint session was due to be last Sunday, however, was postponed due to wet weather.

The Blue Tree Project, which is a national campaign to raise awareness for mental health and break down the silent stigma, has arrived in Binalong, near the Binalong Mechanic’s Institute Hall on Wellington Street.

The campaign is as the name suggests, dead trees are painted blue around the country – 947 in total to be exact – to be the beacon to help spark difficult conversations and encourage people to speak up when battling mental health concerns.

By spreading the paint and spreading the message that “it’s ok to not be ok”, it can help break down the stigma that’s still largely attached to mental health.

The Binalong Progress Association came up with the idea to add a Blue Tree to the town, with white handprints from residents in town placed on the tree, each representing those who have been touched by the loss of a loved one to mental health.

Binalong Progress Association L-R – Denese Harrington, Belinda Pigram, Nigel Wong, Libby Elliot, Paul Glover (Paul’s Painting), Carilyn Muscat.

Nigel Wong, one of the organisers of the Blue Tree Project in Binalong spoke to The Times about the initiative.

“For some time now, there’s been an old dead tree in the carpark beside the hall and it had been earmarked for the Blue Tree Project but it has sat idle for some time,” Wong said. 

“At the last Binalong Progress Association’s meeting, which was on the first Monday of the month, a decision was made to go and buy the paint and just get it done.

“Off I went to buy the paint, and myself and Paul Glover – a painter who lives in town – painted the tree in the first week of April. 

“For many people in the Binalong community it’s important because the community itself has been touched by the loss of someone to mental health concerns.

“It has a level of significance in that Binalong itself knows firsthand exactly what it’s like to lose a valued member of the community to mental health, hence, the opportunity for people to place a handprint on the tree.

“I’ve had a sign made which says, ‘the hands which have touched this tree, have also been touched by the impact of mental health’. It’s an important and very touching piece of work for the community to be involved in.

Wong said the Blue Tree Project is one that is close to his heart and is one of the reasons he was eager to bring it to Binalong.

“I’ve had my own experiences with this type of thing in my own family. For a long time, as late as 2019/2020, I was driving down to Wagga to visit a family member who was in the mental health facility there,” he said.

“On the way to Wagga, there’s a big blue tree next to the highway at Gundagai near the bridge. Any time you drive past that tree with someone, they will say “look, there’s a blue tree”, and it’s a conversation starter.

“For us, that blue tree’s purpose is to be a conversation starter for anyone who comes to Binalong or is in town. 

“It’s a symbol and has got a purpose. I think the more blue trees people see around, the more awareness there will be imposed upon people.”

“The community in Binalong is a fairly tight, close-knit community and these sorts of projects are important. 

“For me, it’s got its own significance. We’ve lost someone in our own family, we understand what it’s like to lose someone to this sort of problem. 

“You will never have answers because that person has taken whatever has been burning inside them to the grave, it’s awful. 

“I hope our blue tree is the start of many more to come across the LGA, I don’t think there are any others in the Shire at all. It’d be good to see more to pop up, hopefully it’s the start of things to come. 

Tim Warren 

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