Bushfire tragedy no barrier to HSC focus

Casey, Aiden and Kieran at St Columba
Casey, Aiden and Kieran at St Columba's

Despite facing extraordinary challenges over the last 12 months in the wake of the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires, HSC students from St Columba’s High School, Springwood headed into their final exams focused and determined to do their best. 

Though many students lost their homes, their textbooks and school uniforms, the students of St Columba’s have pulled together and come through the experience stronger, closer and even more dedicated to do their best in their HSC exams.

Aiden Cawley has combined his passion for volunteer fire fighting with studying for the HSC and since the 2013 bushfires, has been inspired to pursue a career that serves community.
‘I really enjoy volunteer fire-fighting on weekends and after school,’ said Aiden. ‘I enjoy helping the community, especially after the 2013 bushfires, it’s a very close-knit community and everyone is very happy to help each other out.’

Aiden says volunteer fire-fighting has helped him to develop a range of skills. ‘I’ve learnt a lot about leadership, working with a team and developed skills that will help me in future,’ said Aiden.

The experience has inspired Aiden to pursue a career as a paramedic and he is hoping to study a Bachelor of Paramedicine at Charles Sturt University next year and continue to serve the community. 

‘I want to become a paramedic because I want to give something back to the community and help out,’ said Aiden. ‘Living through the bushfires in 2013, I saw the value of helping others, the community came together and the sense of community spirit that came through after the devastation is hard to put into words.’

Fellow student Keiran Fetcher, says that although the bushfires were devastating and his family lost their home, focusing on his studies helped him through the hard times. 

‘I have a strong interest in sport, and I competed for Australia in slalom kayaking,’ said Keiran. ‘When we lost our home in the October 2013 bushfires, I gave up my sport and decided to focus on my HSC studies.’

‘At first, it was quite distracting but it gradually became easier to put aside what was happening and I became very motivated to focus my energy on my school work,’ said Keiran.

Though he lost his study notes and textbooks, Keiran says he was very lucky to have so much support from teachers and classmates. Kieran also found time to help his father to re-build the family home on weekends. 

Despite the challenges he has faced, Kieran has maintained good grades throughout the year and is hoping to continue his passion for sports with a career in physiotherapy.

Classmate Casey Lewis is also headed for success, after being accepted into the Defence Force Academy in Canberra. Casey is a high achiever who hopes to specialise in Engineering in the Air Force – a dream she’s been working towards from a very young age.

‘Since I went to an air show when I was ten, I’ve always wanted to follow this path,’ said Casey. ‘I was very inspired to meet other women in the Air Force on big cargo aircraft and that’s what I’m working towards,’ she said.

Casey says that the support from teachers and classmates has been a huge help, especially in the wake of the 2013 bushfires.

‘Our teachers have been very supportive, they are so willing to give up their spare time and help us out and they’re always checking in with us to see how we are going,’ said Casey.

Aiden also said he was very grateful for the extra help that teachers offered immediately after the bushfires. ‘We were given some extra time for our assessment tasks which really helped, given that the fires was a big distraction as we were finishing Year 11,’ he said. ‘Our teachers were all very understanding and made sure we were all ok.’

Kieran said that English teacher Mrs McCauley was very helpful, encouraging Casey to practise her interview techniques in class before attending recruitment interviews for the Defence Force in Canberra. 

‘Being able to practise was a huge boost for my confidence, rehearsing in front of people I knew’ said Casey. 

Kieran said the whole class was behind Casey, offering feedback and encouragement. ‘This is just one example of the way we have come together as a class and as a school over the last 12 months,’ said Kieran.

Casey said although the bushfires were devastating and it has been so difficult for those who lost their homes, students have pulled together to help each other, sharing notes, textbooks and even school uniforms. 

‘If there were some differences between us before the bushfires, that has all been forgotten about and we’re all a lot closer which has made this year a lot easier in some ways,’ said Casey.

‘We all got together and helped those who lost their homes,’ said Aiden. ‘I think it’s really brought everyone together.’
Acting Assistant Principal, Mark Sattler said he is very proud of the students’ focus and determination after a difficult year.

‘We are very proud at St Columba’s of our Year 12 students who are finalising their HSC exams,’ said Mark. ‘Many of them have had to maintain their focus in the face of substantial difficulties over the last 12 months.’ 

‘Their resolve, their generosity and their care for each other has made them an outstanding group and they give life not only to each other but to all of us who have been fortunate enough to work with them,’ said Mark.