Facing The Sun – Join the Program

After sharing an optimistic story with a class of students about a small Sunflower seed growing in a student’s garden pot, Pauline Linke of Meningie has taken her passion of helping people with mental illness to an immeasurably sunnier space.

With over 30 years working in Mental Health, Pauline continues to help people keep their faces in the sunshine and less in the shadows, “After all, that’s what sunflowers do – they follow the sun!” Pauline says.


Pauline resting with a hot cup of tea after delivering Sunflower Seeds to Genuine Support Services Australia.

Pauline became involved with the Suicide Prevention Network (SPN) part of Coorong Conversations Matter Inc. in 2017. The district’s Suicide Prevention Network is a voluntary community group working to improve mental health and wellbeing, it helps to reduce the stigma associated with suicide and increases community understanding about where to access help when needed. The service includes support services for people bereaved by suicide, with the group’s focus being on reducing the impact of suicide by educating the community and empowering others to seek help and give hope. (They are not an online service)

“Remembering my improvised Sunflower story, I suggested that the group consider a Sunflower planting program across the Coorong District Council Area,” she said. “The group thought it was a great idea and off we went.”

“Afterall, everyone loves Sunflowers, they are reminiscent of our childhood, they’re cheerful and they really put on a beautiful show - with so many people participating, they also start conversations, which is part of the reason for multiple plantings.”

As Sunflowers follow the sun, even on cloudy days, the concept has proven to be a winner for mental health conversations within the region.


The Giant Sunflowers, plated by the Winkie’s of Coonalpyn, are coming on.

After four successful years, the small Coorong Conversations Matter committee continues to bag, prepare flyers, and distribute thousands of free Sunflower seed packets throughout the region.

“With the demand for the packets growing, we are forever thankful to all who have, and continue to donate Sunflower seeds,” Pauline said.

Representing a long life and lasting happiness, most Sunflower varieties stand in full bloom throughout the whole of summer, so with summer just around the corner, it is a wonderful time to start planting your free Sunflower seeds.

“Our Sunflowers continue to surprise everyone involved with unusual sizes, some tall, some short, some with large heads of flowers and some smaller, we don't know what is going to pop up - this is wonderful for starting 'The Conversation',” Pauline says.

Sunflowers are fabled for bringing good fortune and positive opportunities. They are said to be a lucky charm for new beginnings – but as people are naturally competitive, our supporters enjoy seeing the bigger flowers bloom.

Pauline is deeply heartened with the generosity of local communities and their continued enthusiasm for the project, resulting in Sunflowers on display at differing stages throughout Spring and Summer.

The group hopes that their Sunflower Project creates conversations within the community - helping people to connect, prevent and respond to suicide. The Sunflower project is just one of many opportunities for the community, to help prevent suicide, care for each other, and promote wellbeing.

“The community support and interest shown in our Sunflower project throughout the Southeast, Murray Mallee and Murraylands, has been enormous,” Pauline said. “With the support of Genuine Support Services Australia, we welcome all communities throughout the state to jump on board and use this uplifting program.”

We have come a long way in recent years destigmatising Mental Illness and Suicide, but we still have a long way to go. Pauline continues to hope that one day, people will feel more comfortable to speak up about their Mental Health struggles, without judgement and with the empathy they deserve. We believe that Sunflowers provide a nonthreatening tool to support our mission.

“I’ve had a vision from the very start, I’ve dreamt of mass plantings of smiling Sunflowers alongside every main arterial road in the state – with large banners at the entrance to each town from mid-November until the beginning of April, explaining the meaning of our Sunflowers,” Pauline said.

It is interesting to read the personality traits of the humble Sunflower - Google reveals that they are warm, approachable, happy, comforting, and energetic. They can light up any room, they have a bubbly personality, and they comfort people in need.

Genuine Support Services Australia will be launching their support for the program on the International Day of People with Disability. This is a free event for all, commencing at 10 am to 1 pm in the Sound Shell, Edwards Square, 60-66 Bridge Street, Murray Bridge on Friday December 1, 2023. “This year you will be able to experience a Sunflower themed Fresh Perspective Photography photobooth, a variety of accessible activities along with a light lunch – it’s all free and inclusive with plenty of free Sunflower seeds for everyone. (Attendees will also be in the running for a chance to win a $250 gift card on the day of the event - to be eligible to win, attendees must be present at the time of the draw at 12.30pm)

If you would like more details about joining the program, please phone Pauline Linke on 0409 617 501 – “Sunflowers turn their faces toward the Sun and avoid darkness.”

*Ten fun Sunflower facts from Google.

THEY’RE NATIVE TO THE AMERICAS - they were cultivated in North America as far back as 3000 BCE, when they were developed for food, medicine, dye, and oil. Then, they were exported to the rest of the world by Spanish conquistadors around 1500.

THEY WERE BROUGHT TO RUSSIA BY ROYALTY - Tsar Peter the Great was so fascinated by the sunny flowers he saw in the Netherlands that he took some back to Russia. They became popular when people discovered that sunflower seed oil was not banned during Lent, unlike the other oils the Russian Orthodox Church banned its patrons from consuming. By the 19th century, the country was planting two million acres of sunflowers every year.

THEIR POPULARITY STANDS THE TEST OF TIME - Russian immigrants to the United States in the 19th century brought back advanced sunflower seeds that grew bigger blooms and sparked a renewed interest in the Native American plant. Later, American sunflower production exploded when Missouri farmers began producing sunflower oil in 1946.

THEY TRACK THE SUN - Sunflowers plants display a behaviour called heliotropism. The flower buds and young blossoms will face east in the morning and follow the sun as the earth moves during the day.

THE WORLD’S TALLEST SUNFLOWER REACHES 30 FEET AND 1 INCH - in the summer of 2014, Veteran green-thumb Hans-Peter Schiffer toppled the Guinness World Record for a third year in a row.

THEY HAVE A HISTORY OF HEALING - in Mexico, the flowers were thought to sooth chest pain. Several Native American tribes agreed with the plant’s curing properties. The Cherokee utilized an infusion of sunflower leaves to treat kidneys while the Dakota brought it out to sooth “chest pain and pulmonary troubles.”

THEY HAVE TRAVELED TO SPACE - in 2012, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit brought along a few companions to the International Space Station: sunflower seeds. Petit regularly blogged about his budding friendship and shared photos of the gardening process.

THEY ARE ACTUALLY THOUSANDS OF TINY FLOWERS - each sunflower’s head is made of smaller flowers. The petals we see around the outside are called ray florets, and they cannot reproduce. But the disc florets in the middle, where the seeds develop, have both male and female sex organs, and each produce a seed. They can self-pollinate or take pollen blown by the wind or transported by insects.

THEY CAN BE USED AS SCRUBBING PADS - once the flower heads are empty of seeds, they can be converted into disposable scrubbing pads for jobs too tough for your cleaning tool.

THEY ARE ENJOYED BY AUSTRALIAN NATIVE BIRDS – The pink and grey galah relishes the sight of a field of sunflowers, or even the odd one that may grow along the roadside.

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