Clare Valley artist Holly Geyer is transforming drab school toilets into colourful places of hope. Her work to boost kids’ mental health is just one of many inspiring stories of regional success in South Australia.
Spotlighting regional SA success
The South Australian Regional Showcase Awards are a celebration of the Regional Showcase program, a year-round initiative spotlighting stories of regional success. The aim is to grow awareness among city folk of the brilliant stuff happening in regional SA and uncover opportunities for economic investment and growth.
The program encourages South Aussies to suggest a story about an individual or organisation going above and beyond to make a difference in regional communities. Those suggestions are then fed to journalists and can appear in statewide and national media.
Each year since 2020, judges choose a winner from among the stories across five categories that celebrate regional resilience, meaningful connections, business innovation, community empowerment and lifelong learning. This year’s event was held on 9 November, and the stories was were as inspiring as ever.
The People’s Choice award
The most popular stories of the year became finalists in a sixth award category – the People’s Choice – and the public voted for their favourite to take out the top gong.
This year the 20 finalists ranged from a Kangaroo Island pilot program recruiting barn owls to eradicate feral cats to the Adnyamathanha language program’s new bilingual trail signs in Leigh Creek, as well as a new meat-buying program connecting consumers directly to Adelaide Hills farmers, a $15 million Aboriginal health service for Ceduna years in the making, and an endangered fern surviving against all odds in the Mount Lofty Ranges.
Two stories told of rebirth and renewal in the River Murray regions as their communities recover from devastating floods to welcome back tourists, while more quirky stories included the return of the Burra to Broken Hill Wheelbarrow Push, and the location of SA’s tastiest tap water (spoiler: it’s in SA’s Far North).
Holly Geyer – “Girl on a (toilet door) mission”
Clare Valley artist Holly Geyer say she was blown away to be recognised as a finalist in the People’s Choice award category for her “unique way to help schoolkids cope with mental health issues” – by painting their school toilets. “I love it for the fact that it could give me exposure to do more schools which helps more kids,” she says.
So far Holly’s painted the toilets of 10 SA primary schools – nine in the Mid North plus Plympton Primary School in Adelaide. The idea is to transform them into welcoming, inspiring places that can lift a child’s mood when they really need it. She’s passionate about using art to help children deal with their mental health issues and “reset their thoughts” with positive images and messages.
What makes kids happy
For her subject matter, Holly takes her inspiration from the schoolkids. “It’s not about what makes me happy, it’s about them,” she says. So while her designs tie in with the school’s values and vision, she’s guided by her interaction with the students and what they want to see.
At Snowtown Primary School she was inspired by boys telling her about their happiest memories of fishing at the local reservoir, so she painted the whole boys’ toilets as an underwater scene, with realistic local fish species. She says she hopes her painting will help boys “having a rough day or a bit of anxiety” by triggering happy memories and putting a stop to their negative thought processes.
No more crying in the toilet!
Almost everyone remembers crying in a school toilet at least once, says Holly, who sometimes taps into her own memories of what would have cheered her up when she was young (including one low point when she ate her lunch in the loo).
In one toilet for upper primary school girls, she was inspired to paint a warrior woman next to the basin. She hopes that “when the girls are washing their hands, and they’re looking in the mirror, they can see this warrior woman beside them and it might just give them that little push of strength for the rest of the day or just remind them that they’re a strong woman”.
A reason to celebrate regional SA
All the Regional Showcase award winners for 2023, including the People’s Choice Award winner (the Awards are a partnership with the State Government, Regional Development Australia and private sponsors), were announced on 9 November at the Regional Showcase Awards Celebration Evening – a night when finalists, judges, sponsors, dignitaries and community members came together to recognise the people and organisations making significant contributions to regional South Australia.
Holly says it’s important to highlight the achievements of regional people, because it brings our State closer together, recognising that there is so much to offer outside the city.
The power of positive stories
“It also encourages tourism to the area, which is so important to keep our community and small businesses thriving,” Holly says. Plus, “exposure of our passions and drives can help with future fundings for things like mental health care and support for our communities”.
“I think any positive story can help a reader discover their own potential. I feel proud of how much talent and positive stories the Clare Valley has, and I feel honoured to be recognised for my Toilet Door Mission. I love what I do. I don’t feel like I work a day in my life, because I love to paint.”
Read the stories of all 20 finalists in the People Choice Award category here.