Sea of sunflowers blossoms in Latrobe Valley

Sea of sunflowers blossoms in Latrobe Valley

A sea of bright, leggy sunflowers is blooming across the Latrobe Valley as part of an innovative RMIT University project to rejuvenate unused vacant land and unite struggling regional communities.

More than 100,000 sunflower seeds were strategically planted across five sites – a total of three hectares – in Moe, Traralgon and Morwell as part of the Get Sunflowered project.

Led by RMIT’s Office of Urban Transformations Research (OUTR) Lab as part of the Reactivate Latrobe Valley initiative, the project involved 150 local volunteers.

Thousands of flowers are now in full bloom providing a striking vista in the most unlikely places – from the old Moe hospital site to an overgrown tennis court and a derelict service station.

Each site has been transformed through a range of unique sunflower designs, including a stunning 2.4km spiral at the old Moe hospital site.

It was just over a year ago that Morwell residents wore masks to protect themselves from the toxic smoke and ash blowing in from the fire that burnt for 45 days at a nearby coalmine.

For a region already grappling with high levels of youth unemployment and continuing job cuts, it was yet another blow.

ReActivate Latrobe Valley co-director Craig Douglas, a senior lecturer in the School of Architecture and Design, says Get Sunflowered is much more than an art installation, helping a range disconnected groups engage with their local community.

“The sunflowers are a happy by-product of what the project is really about, which is helping people understand that they can transform their own city,” he says.

Indeed, this is community engagement at its best – fostering goodwill and empowerment while creating something to be proud of.

“It is about community building, sharing of knowledge, skills, resources, and ideas to bring about change to inform and shape the social fabric that are our cities,” Douglas says.

“We have worked with a whole range of disconnected groups in the community and bringing those groups together is really what it’s all about.”

The idea of turning ugly, unused industrial blocks into fields of flowers grew out of a living sunflower art installation artist Ben Morieson planted in North Melbourne last year. Morieson, an RMIT alumnus, happily collaborated on this latest project.

Morwell resident and project volunteer Lynton Azlin worked on the main sites in Morwell for the past three months – planting seeds, watering and pulling out weeds.

“The town has had a tough time in 2014 and 2015 and the whole Get Sunflowered project has brought a smile to many people’s faces,” he says.

“They have taken pride in seeing the site blossom, grow and develop.”

This rejuvenation project in the valley has been incredibly successful in connecting the community with each other says Re-Activate co-director, Associate Professor Rosalea Monacella.

“Historically, this area has gone through incredible amounts of change that has led to fragmentation… by bringing life back to these neglected sites with sunflowers we are acknowledging that there is a whole range of qualities that already exist,” she says.

“It has received a fantastic amount of positive feedback and led to a process of growth and ownership and engagement.”

The project won’t end when the sunflowers die out either.

The final harvest will provide seeds for future re-planting when Get Sunflowered returns – bigger and better – in 2016.

Feature image: ReActivate Latrobe Valley co-directors Craig Douglas and Associate Professor Rosalea Monacella

First published in Leading Agriculture Issue 7