AFTER pulling out the weeds of his former job and planting the seeds of a new career, 53 year-old Tony Lea’s work life is blooming.
The Latrobe Valley resident of more than 30 years joined the ‘Get Sunflowered’ project late last year, after parting ways with his former employer, GippsTAFE.
“I left GippsTAFE not knowing what I was going to do; I’d have a bit of a holiday and a rest,” Mr Lea said.
“We happened to find the ‘Get Sunflowered’ site and the next day was the planting of the sunflowers.
“We thought that would be a good thing to do, so my wife and two boys came down, and what we thought was going to be two hours turned out to be six or seven.”
Mr Lea taught Horticulture and Conservation Land Management at the Morwell campus for 20 years.
His passion and knowledge of plants caught the eyes of ReActivate Latrobe Valley staff, who soon contacted the former teacher and offered him employment.
He now works at the Traralgon site three days a week, where he oversees the site’s maintenance along with the growth of about 2000 sunflowers.
Traralgon Neighbourhood Learning House, which leases the VRI Hall, allowed ReActivate Latrobe Valley to use the old tennis courts and sow the initiative’s first seeds.
Traralgon Neighbourhood Learning House project manager Joh Lyons said Mr Lea’s story showed how volunteering could create a good basis for future employment.
Since the project began on Saturday, 6 December, Mr Lea said he had noticed a “nuclear reaction” of community interest.
“I guess that’s the point of the project; to make the community proud of the space,” Mr Lea said.
“Compared to what it looked like about 18 months ago, the whole site looked unloved, but now it looks loved, which is really nice.”
The former teacher now has job security for every six months the project occurs, which might involve more sites in the coming years.
Once the sunflowers have blossomed, their seeds will be kept for future re-planting and the Traralgon site re-vamped to build a community garden.
ReActivate Latrobe Valley co-director Craig Douglas said the sunflowers created a “beautiful field of green” in places formerly littered with rubbish and vandalism.
“But really, that’s the happy bi-product of the whole thing, because it’s really about connecting people and making relationships that can do things for the town,” Mr Douglas said.
ReActivate Latrobe Valley will start hosting garden parties – the first with a tennis theme to recognise Traralgon’s former tennis courts – on Sunday, 1 March.
For more information about sunflowers or how to get involved, head to the ‘ReActivate: Latrobe Valley’ Facebook page or visit transitingcities.com/reactivate-urban-action/.