The ocean is calling Year 12 student, Tara Newberry. No, she’s not planning a gap year in Byron Bay—her dream is to become a marine biologist.

With plans to study a Bachelor of Marine Science at James Cook University in Townsville, Tara believes she will be heading to “the world’s best marine biology course” and hopes her application for an early offer will be accepted.

She’s particularly interested in marine mammalogy—think dolphins, whales, dugongs and seals—and is deeply concerned about the terrible impact humans are having on the oceans.

“Most people don’t seem to realise humans are completely reliant on the oceans being healthy,” Tara says. “Governments need to start listening to scientists.”

Her experiences of snorkeling and scuba diving are indelibly etched in her mind.

“It’s a completely different energy being under the waves,” she says. “It’s like visiting another planet—most of those creatures are oblivious to the world we exist in.”

One of Tara’s heroes is Dr Sylvia Earle, a renowned marine biologist who continues to work tirelessly on behalf of the oceans even though she’s now in her 80s.

Dr Earle’s foundation, Mission Blue, is trying to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, something Tara insists is “beyond urgent”.

So what would Tara like to ask Dr Earle?

“I’d ask her to adopt me!” Tara laughs. “Though I’d probably be overwhelmed if I actually met her.”

Studying Outdoor Education at BSSC has also broadened Tara’s perspective on environmental issues.

“Did you know that humans have only explored around five per cent of the ocean,” she says, “or that some researchers are teaching dolphins to read?”

While it might be easy to imagine Tara has spent her life with beach sand between her toes, in fact her pathway was taking a completely different tangent just a few short years ago.

Tara began ballet as a four-year-old when her older sister asked to begin lessons.

She describes how “things kind of exploded” when she was around eight.

“I was seen as having potential and my teachers sent me off to competitions and auditions,” she remembers. “By eleven I’d decided to become a professional dancer.”

Tara was accepted into the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary College for Year 7 and competed in Italy and Japan when she was 14.

“Eventually I was offered scholarships to dance academies in Germany, England, US, France and Japan,” she says.

Tara didn’t take up any of these offers, but by age 15 she had committed to a full-time training schedule at the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet, in Melbourne. This amounted to up to 12 hours some days.

Although she was studying by distance education, or being home-schooled, she basically missed Year 9.

“I represented Australia at the Cechetti International Ballet Competition in Florence, Italy and the Youth America Grand Prix in Japan and hoped to get a scholarship to a really prestigious ballet school,” Tara says.

However, in a completely different way, things exploded again.

Physically and mentally unwell, and emotionally exhausted from the unforgiving schedule, Tara stepped away from ballet.

“I was actually bedridden for around six months and struggled with an eating disorder,” she explains.

Recovery from such a place is always a long journey, but when she was well enough, Tara returned to her education by enrolling at the Alice Millar school in Macedon—a decision that was to prove pivotal in her recovery.

“I had to catch up on Year 9 and part of the program was a six-week trip to Europe,” she says. “It wasn’t a touristy, fun trip to pretty places—the aim of the experience was the emotional development and maturing of the students.

Tara found it extremely beneficial.

“I learnt so much about myself,” she says. “And our leader, Basil Eliades, helped me to understand and deal with the trauma I’d experienced. I came home a different person.”

By the time Tara arrived at BSSC she felt there was still some dance left in her.

“Although there are times when it’s really triggering, doing VET Dance is helping me keep working through my relationship with ballet,” she says.

Tara loves the breadth of subject choices at BSSC and describes the college as “accommodating and flexible for each student’s needs”.

Asked what advice she would offer her 12-year-old self, Tara insists she wouldn’t deter her from ballet.

“I’d still say ‘do ballet’ because, horrific as some parts were, there were highlights too and I learnt so much from every experience,” Tara says.

“But I’d also say ‘make sure you take opportunities, advice and wisdom from the good people around you’.”

Tara is rightly proud of her resilience and ability to keep bouncing back from truly hard situations.

She’s also very grateful to her family.

“Through all the moving around, hard decisions and experiences, they were alongside me and supported me through my whole journey.”