Thursday, February 26, 2015

‪#‎GetSunflowered‬ Update - Feautred in the Sydney Morning Herald and AGE Newspaper

Sunflowers in full bloom in the middle of Morwell in the Latrobe Valley

Bright yellow petals flutter rapidly in a stiff breeze, bees buzz from sunflower to sunflower and a towering sprinkler sprays a jet of water across the plants below. Passing pedestrians stop, point and admire the view.

This time one year ago many Morwell residents wore masks as they walked along the footpaths in town, to protect themselves from the smoke and ash blowing from the fire in the nearby coalmine. But today, many are wearing smiles as they walk past the picturesque block at the corner of Buckley and Church streets.

What used to be a vacant block home to a bit of rubbish and some weeds, and many years ago a petrol station, is now a striking mass of yellow sunflowers. The disused former petrol station site is now perhaps the prettiest block in town.

Labour of love: Local Morwell volunteer Lynton Azlin looks after a patch of sunflowers planted as a part of the "get sunflowered" project. This land has been vacant for 30 years. Photo: Joe Armao

The sunflowers have been planted here, and at four other sites in Morwell, Traralgon and Moe, thanks to the efforts of local volunteers and researchers from RMIT University School of Architecture and Design.
All up, a staggering 100,000 sunflower seeds were planted on the vacant Latrobe Valley sites, in the aptly named "Get Sunflowered" project. The sunflowers, in some cases nearly two metres tall, have transformed the properties, which also include old tennis courts and an old hospital site.

Morwell resident and project volunteer Lynton Azlin has been involved with the two main sites in Morwell for the past three months. He has planted seeds, pulled out weeds, set up irrigation equipment and done the watering.

Labour of love: Local Morwell volunteer Lynton Azlin looks after a patch of sunflowers planted as a part of the "get sunflowered" project. This land has been vacant for 30 years. Photo: Joe Armao

"I'm going to the sites on a daily basis, and I would probably be working 30 hours a week," he says.

But for Mr Azlin, a lifetime resident of Morwell, it is a labour of love that has been worthwhile. "We have turned that into a field of sunflowers. From an ugly site that nobody really wanted to look at, to something that people can't stop looking at," he says.

Craig Douglas, senior lecturer at RMIT's School of Architecture and Design, says the "Get Sunflowered" project is "a way of engaging one-to-one with the community, to do projects from the bottom up. What I mean by that, it's working with community groups and individuals, to help them understand how to become agents of transformation, to inform what the urban and social fabric of their city wants to be."

He says that on one vacant block in Moe sunflowers have been planted in a 2.4-kilometre spiral.

"The sunflowers are going to be beautiful. And on the sites that are already blooming, in Traralgon and in Morwell, they're just stunning visual feasts. But I guess the point I want to make is that the sunflowers are a happy by-product of actually bringing people together, making connections across the community and helping people understand that they can be an active part of their society, of their community and of the city," he says.

Mr Douglas' colleague Associate Professor Rosalea Monacella, co-director of the Office of Urban Transformations Research at RMIT, says the project is about community empowerment and engagement.

"It is also about taking these vacant, neglected sites and cleaning them up, and providing through that process of growth an ownership and also an engagement with the community," she says.

"There's been a fantastic amount of positive feedback that we've got from the project. People are actually going to visit the sites, meander through the sunflowers, take photos, take their children to actually see the sunflowers as well. It's been incredibly positive," she says.