General Rural Stigma Reduction Suicide — 08 February 2019
Man standing in front of a blue tree.
Photo: Dick Moloney had his own battle with depression many years ago. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Isobel Roe)

Alongside a country road in south-east Queensland, a large gum tree painted bright blue is prompting people to talk about mental health and ask: “r u ok?”

It came about after Dick Moloney, a resident in the town of Kerry, south of Brisbane, spotted a Facebook post from the Blue Tree Project.

“A friend of mine shared a post from a young fella who had taken his life and his mate had painted a tree in his memory,” Mr Moloney said.

“He decided the country should get on board and shared photos of other blue trees to promote awareness around depression and make people realise it’s not a taboo thing to talk about.”

A tree painted blue with three people standing nearby.
Photo: Dick Moloney had his own battle with depression many years ago. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Isobel Roe)

The Blue Tree Project began in Western Australia and encourages people to choose a dead tree that needs a “blue lease on life” and paint it in memory of a friend who lost their life to depression or had battled the illness.

Trees have since been painted across the country, including in remote locations in the Northern Territory and New South Wales.

‘I still get emotional about it’

Mr Moloney said the project connected with him after he battled depression 13 years ago.

“I had a very, very rough trot but thankfully I came through the other side,” he said.

“I tried to take my own life, but I had good help from family and medical professionals and I came through and can live to tell the story.

“I want that message out there to everybody.”

He said it was easy for people in regional and rural areas to not speak to others about how they were feeling or if they were struggling.

“You really do become withdrawn and you don’t want to see anyone and you don’t want to talk about it to anyone,” Mr Moloney said.

“In my case, I was lucky that I had support in my wife and I was able to talk to her about it. When I first spoke to her about it she didn’t know what the signs were … she had no idea.

“I still get emotional about it.”

Coming together to paint

So the people of Kerry gathered to paint an old gum tree that had been standing dead for more than 20 years.

“We live in a wonderful rural area here and the stars all lined up,” Mr Moloney said.

“Our next-door neighbour is a professional painter and we used his spray gear; another neighbour had a crane-type forklift, and then the local paint shop helped us with paint.

“It only took us two hours to paint the tree and then it was all done.”

A tree painted blue with three people standing nearby.
Photo: Trees are painted to highlight the incidence of depression in regional areas. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Isobel Roe)

Estelle Dean said she was happy to help as she knew how much the issue needed to be brought to light.

“As soon as he came to see me, and because I knew of Dick’s history, I immediately asked: ‘How can I help?’

“He asked me to join in to help paint the tree and I thought it was such an awesome idea.”

Check on your mates

The photo of the painted tree with the words ‘r u ok?’ attached has been shared hundreds of times on social media.

“It’s gone viral now all over Australia and it’s just absolutely unbelievable,” Mr Moloney said.

“People really need to talk about [depression] and it really needs to be put out there.”

He said he hoped the big blue tree sitting in a paddock alongside the country road would get people talking and checking on their mates.

“I want to get people asking, ‘why is there a blue tree in the valley’, and someone will explain to them why it’s there, check in on them, and hence it will carry on.”

This piece by by Isobel Roe and Jessica Hinchliffe was first seen on ‘ABC News’, 30 January 2019.

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