WHEN Rebekah Honey thinks of her time at Bendigo Senior Secondary College the word that comes to mind is enthusiasm.

“I was always an enthusiastic kid – my parents might call it something else,” she jokes. “But I definitely brought that enthusiasm to Bendigo Senior. For me, those years represented freedom. The freedom to be treated like an adult – to choose how I wanted to do things.”

When I ask about her former status as Student of the Year in 1995, she responds with laughter. “It’s funny, I don’t remember being a great student, but I do remember having some great teachers,” she says.

“My English teacher, Helen McCubbin, really knew how to connect with her students. It was a very diverse class – kids who struggled and those who were high achievers – but she treated everyone with the same respect and made English relevant across all those levels of understanding.”

Rebekah remembers her final year of schooling with a mixture of fondness and reverie.

There was the time her PE teacher Paul Seery introduced the class to wheelchair basketball, and made students wheel themselves through the centre of Bendigo – going in and out of shops to get an understanding of what it was like to have mobility issues.

“He made us wheel our chairs all the way up View Street to the QEO. I’ll never forget that – seeing the world from that point of view.”

Then there was jumping off the 10-metre platform at the Aquatic Centre dressed as a cowgirl riding an inflatable horse – an overnight Outdoor Ed trip to Mt Alexander where a girl rolled her ankle and had to be evacuated – and walking down the steps to Rosalind Park each day through a haze of cigarette smoke (some things never change).

“I don’t remember having a bad teacher during my time at the college and I think that’s a pretty good endorsement. The psychologist William Glasser says you only need one good adult relationship in your life to make a difference. I really admire career teachers – it’s such an important job.”

After graduating from BSSC, Rebekah enrolled at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, and eventually spent 12 months training to be an officer at the Royal Military College Duntroon.

“I think a few of my teachers were horrified that despite being accepted into both Journalism and Outdoor Ed courses at Uni, I chose to go into the armed forces. At the time it was much more about escaping Bendigo, earning some money, and seeing the world. And the Army certainly provided all those things.

“I worked in Geomatic Engineering – mapping, satellite imagery, using maps, radar etc. to identify trends. It was really technical stuff. I ended up with a Diploma of Engineering – crazy for someone so hopeless at maths.”

While the ADF provided Rebekah a wealth of opportunities, it also presented its share of challenges – none more so than the events that lead to the now famous Grey Review in 1998.

Director of the Defence Equity Organisation, Bronwen Grey, led a review into the policies and practices dealing with sexual harassment and sexual offences at ADFA. It led to fundamental cultural changes at the academy, and the introduction of improved training in equity and diversity for cadets and staff.

For Rebekah it not only meant standing up to sexual harassment, but also dealing with the repercussions.

“I reported what I’d seen – believed very strongly in uncovering the truth – but it was a tough time. As a whistle blower, I was subjected to all kinds of bullying, including death threats. I grew up very quickly.

“Looking back, I can see how it was the catalyst for the kind of counselling I do now and my business, Open Heart Wisdom.”

Rebekah describes herself as a Transpersonal Counsellor, supporting people on their personal journeys.

“It’s about meaning and purpose – helping people move towards holistic balance and to follow their passion. I’m not a psychologist, but a practitioner.”

Her father Ivan is a psychologist, and together they have created the Get Happier Project based on the positive psychology of Choice Theory. It features a cast of cartoon ‘car’ characters, starring Doug Dragster, and draws on the car metaphor to help young people make positive choices in life.

“Doug Dragster’s Get Happier Project is used in school classrooms, counselling, for teaching social and emotional skills, and as a framework for a whole-school approach to mental health, wellbeing and behaviour management,” Rebekah says. “It’s even used at BSSC’s NETschool, so there’s a lovely connection to my former school.”

After many years away, Rebekah is also rebuilding her connection with Bendigo itself.

“I’ve lived all over Australia, from the far north, to Canberra, Sydney and the Gold Coast,” she says, “but I’m realising that Bendigo is a very liveable city and a great place for my kids to grow up.

“As a city, we still have a long way to go when it comes to tolerance, equality and acceptance, but we’ll get there. Things are definitely changing.”

John Holton