Year 12 student, Jessica Brown, was only five years old when she and her family lost all they owned in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires that wreaked destruction across some areas of Bendigo.

The old miner’s cottage they lived in was completely destroyed except for the brick chimneys.

Jessica had been taken to her grandparents’ and was jumping on the trampoline.

“I could see the area where we lived covered in smoke,” she remembers. “I found it quite fascinating until I realised Mum was there trying to save our horse.

Jessica’s mum received some radiant heat burns that day, and thankfully she did save the horse.

“We thought our cat had been killed but it turned up a couple of days later,” Jessica says. “I reckon it used up all nine lives!”

Jessica had her first day in preps on the Monday after the fires.

As a four-year-old she had begun Chinese dancing with Narelle Croft and the Central Victoria Lion Team—something she continues to enjoy immensely.

“I’m in a dance troupe of girls called Fu Wa and I love everything about Chinese dancing,” Jessica says. “The colours and textures of the costumes are beautiful and I love how easy it is to move in them.

“I feel quite connected to Chinese culture—the music, the food (especially honey chicken) and would love to visit China one day.”

Jessica has travelled widely because of her involvement with the dancers.

Before the pandemic there were regular performances in Melbourne and she has participated in interstate events and also visited South-East Asia.

She most recently contributed to Bendigo’s iconic Easter Festival.

Jessica is also a fan of Korean pop music—particularly the boy band BTS—and has even managed to transform her mum into a BTS junkie.

They are the people Jessica would really love to meet.

“I’d ask them how they cope with all the pressure and the over-obsessive fans,” she says. “… And for their phone numbers!”

Despite her VCE studies and commitment to Chinese dancing, Jessica also finds time to attend Korean dance lessons and play netball.

Despite her years of dancing, Jessica hasn’t elected to study dance for VCE, wanting to keep her studies and her dance interests separate.

“My whole family think I should be studying drama and dance,” she says. “I love dabbling with theatre make-up and I’m known to dance even when unloading the dishwasher or doing other chores.”

In fact, Jessica confesses, she can’t NOT have music on.

“I can barely resist the urge to move along with it,” she says. “For me it’s life-giving.

“Once, in an online class, I was dancing during the lesson, forgetting my Year 10 teacher could see me.”

Jessica is very happy at BSSC.

“There’s no judgement here—no one minds what you wear, what course you’re doing, or what your personality is,” she says. “I find it a ‘comforting’ place.”

Jessica also values the relationships with teachers and loves the fact that Rosalind Park is right on the doorstep.

The hardest part of Year 12 was trying to challenge herself with a Maths class that, in the end, proved to be too much.

“I found myself so focused on it and worrying about it all the time,” she says. “I wasn’t getting any of my other work done.”

Dropping Maths has seen her other classes progress much more smoothly, although Jessica admits one of her biggest issues is procrastination.

Alongside this is one of her great assets: when she gets the motivation, she has a prodigious capacity to attack the work that needs doing and keep going until she’s up to date.

“I work and learn best when I can set my own pace,” she says. “I like using PowerPoints when I’m studying… and, of course, I always listen to music.”

Although Jessica chose to study VET Hairdressing, she is not completely settled on this pathway for a career.

Whatever the future holds, she would one day love to become a foster parent.

“I can’t bear to think of kids with nowhere safe to be,” she says.

The experience of the fire, and others since, have molded Jessica into someone with a huge appreciation for having a loving family.

“I feel so grateful for being given the family I have and to have a roof over our heads,” she says. “I feel so much compassion for people caught up in the NSW and Queensland flood areas.

“I’ve learnt to persist, and my advice to my younger self would be to just keep going. Be like Nemo and ‘Just keep swimming’.”