The warm embrace of a Border event to support those affected by suicide will reach out to the furthest corners of Australia and across the world when the first virtual Albury-Wodonga Winter Solstice is streamed this Sunday June 21.
The impacts of COVID-19 have prompted the re-invention of the annual community gathering that helps shines a light on the grief of suicide and mental illness as the longest night of the year closes in.
Organisers have embarked on an ambitious undertaking to deliver the 2020 event online this year with a stellar line-up of speakers and entertainers poised to deliver uplifting and inspiring stories and songs via Facebook from 6pm.
Former NSW Rural Fire Service chief and now Resilience NSW commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons will join Winter Solstice stalwart Professor Patrick McGorry, home-grown basketball legend Lauren Jackson and UK mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin in sharing their insights and experiences during a time of unprecedented change and crisis.
The Albury-Wodonga and wider community is being urged to gather in spirit from the comfort of their homes or around fires in the backyard, to share a meal or a glass of wine together and watch what will be a Winter Solstice like no other.
Long-standing host David Astle will join opera singer Jess Hitchcock live in a Melbourne studio while Indigo MP Helen Haines, artist Shaun Tan, and musicians including The Northern Folk, Liv Cartledge, Angie McMahon and the Scots School Pipe Band all lend their melodious voices to the event started in 2013 by Annette and Stuart Baker after their daughter Mary died by suicide at just 15 years of age.
Mrs Baker said while it was disappointing the familiar gathering at Albury’s QEII Square could not go ahead, the healing message would be spread further afield via the online platform.
“This presents an opportunity to take the Winter Solstice event to a much wider online audience,” Mrs Baker said.
“We will still have speakers, music and the message of love and support as we come together to talk about mental health and suicide.”
Shane Fitzsimmons, who shouldered the responsibility of guiding NSW through the worst of the Black Summer bushfires, said he felt honoured to be asked to join the Albury-Wodonga Winter Solstice this year.
“If you want to learn something from despair and loss then what better way,” he said
“My observation and experience is there is something so enormously powerful and healing in shared community.”