“Communities like this lead the world in their awareness around mental health problems but, more importantly, in their willingness to come out in these kind of conditions and be together…
It’s not so easy to come together in adversity”

Professor Ian Hickie at Winter Solstice 2016

Our Story

Our organisation was formed around loss. Annette and Stuart Baker, co-founders of Survivors of Suicide and Friends, lost their daughter Mary to suicide in 2011. Suicide has a lasting impact on so many who are still living – and yet, Annette and Stuart struggled to find a community or a support group with shared experiences of a loved one dying by suicide. What they felt, passionately, is that the loneliness of loss is isolating – but it doesn’t have to be. SOS&F was formed as an inclusive, supportive community; the word ‘friends’ referring to anyone and everyone who has been affected by a person’s death by suicide. And while our organisation was created in the wake of a terrible loss, it grows in the light of bringing people together with a common cause. To share, to remember, to fight back, and to love.

Through SOS&F, Annette and Stuart have run the Winter Solstice dating all the way back to its debut in 2013. Hosted annually in Albury on the 21st of June, the significance of the Solstice held on the longest night of the year is intended to reflect the way mental illness can plunge us into what feels like inescapable darkness – and yet, the morning will come, always giving way to light. Our event brings together advocates and experts on mental health, prominent Australians with their own stories to share, and talented local artists and performers to commemorate loss, and to celebrate community. No matter how long the night may be, we aim to show people the power of unity, and the strength in solidarity. Most importantly, no matter how long the night may last, we show you that you are not alone.

The Winter Solstice had in attendance over 1,000 people in its first year. In 2020, thanks in part to the global pandemic turning the event virtual, we saw our greatest ever turn out with over 20,000 viewers on our livestream.

Over the years, we have showcased some incredible speakers, including 2010 Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry (AO), Head of Resilience NSW Shane Fitzsimmons (AFSM), 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty (AO), Walkley Award winning MeToo campaigner Tracy Spicer (AM), prominent Indigenous journalist Stan Grant, and our long-standing host, David Astle.

Our Manifesto

Out of the shadows and into the light.
On the longest night we are here to stand with you.
Recognising that life is not a straight line
for those who are stuck in the invisible grey room.
On the longest night we are here to stand with you.
Remembering the ones we have lost and siding with those left behind.
Under the stars and by the fire, granting light into the darkest parts.
Not trying to make sense of the pain and of the memory.
But honouring every inner being in a space that is safe.
Where we stand by each other, shoulder to shoulder. Together.
We are here for everyone,
breaking through the silence
Taking down the stigma
Giving the key to insight
We stand up in the heart of darkness
And fight back for those we love
Breaking down attitudinal barriers
By opening the door to the grey room.
On the longest night.
We stand by you.
We shine a light.
On the longest night.
We come together as one.
Out of the shadows and into the light

For Mary

At the heart of Survivors of Suicide and Friends and the Winter Solstice is Mary Baker. Mary grew up alongside her two brothers, Jack and Henri, in a loving home. The youngest of the three, she took to horse riding and loved to play water polo. She suffered a major illness at age 12, followed by an enduring eating disorder for which she sought treatment, but never fully recovered from. Mary loved poetry, and connected strongly to the works of Shaun Tan – in particular, The Red Tree, an illustrated story about a girl struggling to find hope and her place in a dark, confusing world. That’s why you’ll find a red leaf in our logo.

Mary died by suicide at just 15 years old. And, while she may no longer be living, she will always be with us.
In the wake of her loss, the Bakers struggled to find an answer to that terrible, gut-wrenching question – why? In their search, they came across an excerpt of Mary’s writing from school. The following is an analysis of a poem Mary wrote for English class.

People are constantly suffering pain in the form of grief, hardship and illness. Speaking of illnesses in particular, it is often mistaken that mental illnesses are just a stage that is soon the distant past. Too often it is not. Depression causes a poor quality of life and can haunt a person for extreme lengths of time, sometimes never ending or becoming so severe that the sufferer no longer desires to live. It is not something anyone should have to encounter but it is a topic that cannot be avoided because sadly it is all too common, But this doesn’t have to be the case. Aimed to promote awareness I wrote this poem in the hope of a brighter future.

Mary Baker – Analysis of her poem First Impressions 2010
Copyright Baker family

We fight for awareness and for change on behalf of Mary, who knew first hand the shame and stigma around mental illness. We advocate for all those who no longer have a voice, and for those who are not yet ready to talk about their struggles. Death by suicide is preventable, and even at 15, it’s clear Mary could see that starting the conversation about mental illness was a necessary step for her community to take. The commitment of Survivors of Suicide and Friends and the Winter Solstice is to keep that conversation alive. For Mary.

Extracts from Mary's Pack

Below are article extracts that are all available in a special pack for Mary. If you would like to understand more about the work that SOS&F do, the pack is available upon request. Please email annette@wintersolstice.org.au for more information

Jack It's time to talk about suicide _ The Border Mail

A daughter lost, the cruellest heartache _ The Border Mail

PATRICK McGORRY- We can prevent these tragedies _ The Border Mail

The butterfly effect_ when media breaks the silence on suicide « The Walkley Foundation

The Museum of Lost and Found Potential_ putting faces to mental health statistics _ Society _ The Guardian

The search for sensitive coverage of the tragedy of suicide_ An Australian story _ Center for Journa

Below are some supporting links & more information on the works of Shaun Tan.

Shaun Tan Website

Shaun Tan, 2020 Winter Solstice

Credit: Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

Get in touch

If you have an enquiry about SOS&F or the Winter Solstice, please do not hesitate to reach out.
We’ll endeavour to get back to you as soon as we can.