In her own matter-of-fact way, Year 11 student, Emmaleigh Norton, is doing her part to smash stereotypes around what careers, interests and subjects are ideal for young women.

Not that this was on her mind when she arrived for her first day at BSSC.

“That was pretty nerve-wracking,” she admits. “Finding my way around a new campus, meeting new teachers, and attending classes where there were no familiar faces.”

What Emmaleigh found really daunting was walking into her Unit 3/4 Business Management class, where she expected the Year 12s to be “rather scary”. Instead, she discovered a bunch of friendly people who shared her common interest in the subject.

Emmaleigh is also studying VET Automotive and is the sole female student in the class.

“That wasn’t such a big deal for me,” she says. “I’d been the only girl in my Year 10 auto class at BSE. What really surprised me was the lack of a girls’ toilet in the workshop.”

Emmaleigh is not someone who’ll let such oversights hold her back, but she does recognise her decision to take VET Automotive pushes against assumptions and expectations… luckily there is a disabled toilet.

She isn’t sure where her passion for working on engines came from, but her first hands-on experience of a trade subject was in Year 9—and she loved it.

“I want to become a diesel mechanic,” she says, “either via an apprenticeship with the army or with a company such as Thales in Bendigo.”

Last year Emmaleigh went to Thales for work experience and had a fantastic experience. The program included a trip to Pukapunyal and an opportunity for some hands-on work on the legendary Bushmasters.

“VET Automotive is not just about pulling down motors,” she insists. “There is a lot of theory and you need to know about all the components and their parameters and the rest of the vehicle such as the electrics, the brakes, the wheels and tyres.”

When the first round of remote learning occurred, the auto class put its energy into completing most of the theory aspect of the course.

However, all VET subjects have compulsory practical units, and in the midst of the second wave of coronavirus with much theory already sorted, Emmaleigh is concerned about meeting some of these.

Luckily, Auto teacher Stuart Hamilton has come up with novel ways to achieve hands-on aspects of the course, off-site.

“Stuart is planning to order some parts we can work on at home,” Emmaleigh says. “And I actually have a car that needs to be pulled apart—and that is part of classwork as well.”

If you haven’t worked it out already, Automotive is Emmaleigh’s favourite subject. She considers the class is really well-run and enjoys having Stuart as a teacher.

“Maths is not my gift,” Emmaleigh admits, but she recognises its value along with her other subjects—Systems Engineering, Business Management and English—to her future plans. She’s also appreciating the support of her Advisor, Lucy Mow.

“Although, I’ve really only attended BSSC for one term, it was long enough to realise I was glad I chose senior—it’s actually one of the best schools I’ve ever been to,” she says. “The subject choice is so broad and the teachers are really great and understand VCE is such a lot of work.”

Now learning remotely, Emmaleigh mostly sticks to her usual BSSC timetable and says she has not had too much trouble keeping her motivation on track during the recent lockdown.

Feeling cooped up in her room has been a challenge, but the hardest thing is the absence of face-to-face interaction with her teachers and classmates.

“The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt from all this is to ask for help sooner rather than later,” she says.

Emmaleigh’s other Hot Study Tips include: making lists, prioritising (doing the quickest tasks first), and not procrastinating.”

They are tips that apply to many aspects of life and have served Emmaleigh well with her responsibilities outside of school as well.

Since Year 7 she has worked as a volunteer at Bendigo’s Soldiers Memorial Institute Military Museum on Pall Mall.

“It all began because students at BSE were invited to participate in a project interviewing and filming Vietnam veterans,” she explains. “We created a movie and produced a book about the vets’ experiences… a lot of work for Year 7 students!”

Since the project, Emmaleigh has taken a keen interest in war history and consistently attends the Vietnam Veterans’ Days as well as Anzac Day ceremonies.

In Year 8 she coordinated selling the poppies and badges for Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.

“Those events are terribly important to all veterans,” she says. “Going up to a vet and saying ‘thank you for your service’ makes their day.”

In Year 9, her automotive teacher, who knew about her involvement in the Year 7 project, helped Emmaleigh aquire a volunteering role at the Museum before the opening of the new wing in November 2018.

“I got to shadow the curator, go to meetings where plans for the exhibition were discussed, and help set up the Jack Grinton display,” she says.

Like many museums, much of the memorabilia is not on display and Emmaleigh has relished being sent to retrieve items from the storage compactors and appreciate just how extensive the collection of equipment, clothes and documents has become.

At the end of Year 10 she won four excellence awards, but the one she is most proud of is her Defence Force Leadership and Teamwork Award.

The teamwork award is indicative of her involvement with Scouts for the past eight years. She is now a Venturer working towards her Queen’s Scout Award.

Like school and the museum, Scouts has also moved online during COVID-19 restrictions and Emmaleigh is missing the rest of the troupe and the outdoor adventures that are part and parcel of being a Scout.

“Scouts is about getting out of your comfort zone and having a go at things you never imagined you’d do,” she explains. “The absolute highlights are the people you meet and experiences you have.”

Getting back into all the great adventures Emmaleigh enjoys as a Scout—kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, abseiling, and hiking in isolated places—is off the menu until the pandemic resolves.

But there is one more serendipitous connection for Emmaleigh through Scouts. Both the Scouting and Guiding movements are also involved with many events organised by the RSL—which brings her full-circle back to her other great interest… a very neat fit indeed.

As is the important role she hopes to achieve in the armed forces as a diesel mechanic.

Emmaleigh believes people can pretty much do anything they are willing to work at. But she also sees there are still significant barriers to women feeling comfortable and/or encouraged to get involved in what are traditionally seen as ‘men’s roles’.

“I think issues around gender equality and respect are really important,” Emmaleigh says. “I have only had one really awful experience and I was lucky that it was handled really well, but things need to change in so many workplaces.”

When asked what advice she would offer her 12-year-old self, Emmaleigh’s response reflects her willingness to take on life and break down barriers.

“Face challenges head on,” I would say. “Take every opportunity that arises because you just don’t know who you will meet or where it will lead… and if things are bad, don’t panic. You will get through it!”