Communications Officer at Towong Shire - and Mental Health Activist
Grew up in Tallangatta but calls Corryong home these days
Looking back, Bridie Edwards says she still can’t understand why she was bullied as a young teenager growing up in Tallangatta, in North East Victoria.
In her own words, she “wasn’t unpopular” and she “wasn’t different” but, for whatever reason the bullying occurred, and it has shaped her memories of high school in a very sad way.
For six years, Bridie hated school and she hated herself -- and so the burning desire to finish Year 12 and get away was relentless.
When she did get away it was to study at university in Wagga Wagga – Ag Science was the course, and agronomy the end goal – but then ‘life’ or perhaps destiny got in the way …
And so begins our chat with 21-year-old Bridie Edwards; our third Rural Inspire Mentor for 2018.
So, you headed off to university at Wagga Wagga, straight out of school, how did you enjoy that?
University was everything I’d hoped it would be and more – it was fun, I made new friends, I cleared my head and I definitely let my hair down.
But then, you left after your first year of study. Why?
Well, I guess you could say I found my true calling, in a sense. I had been writing an online blog since I was 15; it was just something I did in my spare time. As these things go, people share that (the blog), other people find it, more people follow it, more people read it, and then suddenly I was approached to start writing for The Land (newspaper). When I made the shift, I’d say I was finally going in the direction that I was supposed to go.
If writing was your passion, how did you end up studying science?
I think my experience is a good example of why we shouldn’t place so much pressure on teenagers to know what they want to do when they’re still at school. I love agriculture, I’ve always been into horses and things like that; and so, I wouldn’t say I was pushed but that I was encouraged or placed into ag science because we all ‘had to know’ what we were going to be.
So, you went off and became a rural reporter with The Land, what are you doing now?
I stayed there for 18 months and then followed my partner home to live in Corryong, where I’m now employed as a Communications Officer with the Towong Shire. Essentially, I spend my days writing press releases and speeches, I handle social media and things like that. In a sense, I’m the middle person between the shire and the people, in terms of distributing council information on one hand and taking feedback to council on the other.
Aside from my paid job, I have begun talking at schools, events and clubs about my experience through high school with depression and bullying. In a nutshell, everyone has their different version of how high school went and that was mine; bullying and a lot of unhappiness. Now, I want to do my bit to make sure that’s not the experience for other students.
How did your public speaking role come about? At what point did you decide to share your experience?
Yeah, so, I got bullied pretty hard in school but I was also a student voice, like, I was involved in student council and the Country Education Partnership’s (CEP) Rural Ambassador Program, things like that. It was through CEP that I eventually organised to go back to my school to speak to students about my experience with bullying. It was, you know, that casual speech about, ‘Hey! Don’t be a Bully!’. I didn’t think much would come of it but then soon after there were lots of students speaking up about their own bullying experiences, and their own battles with depression, which got me thinking that I should keep telling my story if it means I can help kids who are struggling in the way I did. Since then, I’ve spoken at various schools, leadership conferences, at the Upper Murray Women’s Group and even in front of the Minister for Education and other parliamentarians.
What are your memories of school? Was it all bad?
It wasn’t all bad. I absolutely loved school when I was at Tallangatta Valley Primary. At one point we had a low of just four kids and we got to a top of 24. I loved it because it was unique; we were in the middle of nowhere and we had the kind of relationships and one-on-one teacher time that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. But then when I got to high school there were about 580 students at the time and it was such a big change, there was no real transition for me to feel comfortable, coming from such a small primary school. Gradually, I came to dread high school and that didn’t really improve over the years.
Do you think growing up in a rural area is an advantage or disadvantage?
It’s an advantage, for sure. There’s something special about walking down the street and knowing every person you see. Certainly, when I was diagnosed with depression in school and it became everyone’s business, that wasn’t a good part of being in a small town … but that small-town-way can also be such a positive, like when something good happens and you’ve got an entire community behind you, backing you.
So, it’s safe to assume you’re proud of your country upbringing?
So proud. I love saying I’m from Tallangatta and I love hearing people being unable to pronounce the name of my town! I love that I now live in another small country town – Corryong – and I love that I get to recreate all the good memories that I had as a kid. Hopefully, one day, my kids will be able to create the same, great country memories.
And, finally, what would you say to students who may be experiencing the same issues you experience in high school?
To them I’d say JUST HOLD ON. Whether you enjoy school, or you don’t, when you get out you’ll look back and it’ll all be a distant, irrelevant memory. You’ll miss it, perhaps, if you were lucky enough to enjoy school. But, if like me, you didn’t enjoy it, just hold on – school isn’t forever.