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Determined HSC students forge ahead despite bushfires, brain surgery and lockdowns

Katrina Condie12 September 2021
Lockdown is just another hurdle for HSC music student Darcy Coppin, 18, who is recovering from brain surgery and still dealing with the trauma of the Black Summer Bushfires.

Lockdown is just another hurdle for HSC music student Darcy Coppin, 18, who is recovering from brain surgery and still dealing with the trauma of the Black Summer Bushfires. Photo: Ros Maher.

It’s been a tumultuous two years for Darcy Coppin, battling bushfires, brain surgery and two COVID-19 lockdowns, but the Carroll College student remains optimistic as she prepares to sit her first HSC exam on Thursday.

She’s one of thousands of students around the state that will complete their music exams at their home schools as the lockdown prevents HSC markers travelling from Sydney to regional areas.

Darcy says she’s excited for her practical music exam, with the rest of her subjects pushed back until November.

“I’m so excited because I’ve worked so hard for it,” she said.

Darcy, who performs at the Broulee college masses, will sing When You Come Back To Me Again by Garth Brooks, Drivers License by Olivia Rodrigo, as well as Burn from Hamilton and Speechless from Aladdin.

The lockdowns have thrown this year’s HSC into chaos, and Darcy says many students are feeling unmotivated and alone during what should be one of the most exciting times of their lives.

“The lack of motivation is quite high and, because we’re all doing online schooling, we don’t get to see our friends or study together. It’s really difficult.”

On Friday 10 September, Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell announced all HSC students will get the opportunity to complete their studies in 2021, with the full complement of HSC exams to go ahead from 9 November 2021.

The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) has issued a revised timetable, with 110 exams taking place over 19 days, ending on 3 December.

Students will receive their ATARs on 20 January 2022, with their HSC results released on 24 January.

For students on the South Coast and in regional areas, the uncertainty leading up to the HSC has been another hurdle to overcome, with many having already faced bushfires, floods, drought, a mouse plague and, now, lockdown and travel restrictions.

On New Year’s Eve 2019, Darcy’s grandparents’ home at Belowra was destroyed by the Badja Firestorm, while her father Brad stayed to save their newly-built home at Spring Creek near Moruya.

“We could see the fire coming, it was very nerve-wracking and so scary,” she said.

After surviving the fires, 2020 presented another hurdle for students when the pandemic caused the first round of lockdowns with the Trial HSC exams cut short and students having their first taste of home schooling.


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Just when things were getting back to normal in early 2021, and Darcy was back on the beach doing life saving patrols with the Moruya Surf Club, she fell seriously ill.

Darcy competes and volunteers with the Moruya Surf Life Saving Club.

Darcy competes and volunteers with the Moruya Surf Life Saving Club. Photo: Amanda Stafford.

The headaches became so bad by term two that she couldn’t sleep and couldn’t concentrate on her school work.

She was admitted to hospital in Sydney where she had emergency surgery and a shunt was inserted into her brain.

While she’s no newcomer to hospital theatres, having had several brain and heart operations over her lifetime after being diagnosed with hydrocephalus at the age of one, Darcy said the surgery and recovery was another setback to her studies.

Singing, song writing and playing her guitar, as well as lots of long walks and swims in the ocean, have helped the bubbly 18-year-old cope with blow after blow.

Some good news came finally last week with Darcy’s year set to end on a high note as she has gained early entry into the University of Canberra where she will study Health Science and hopes to work in nutrition at a hospital.

This takes a load off her shoulders as her entry into uni is guaranteed, irrespective of her ATAR and HSC results.

Darcy and her peers were due to graduate on Wednesday 15 September and hold their Year 12 formal the following night.

“The formal has been pushed back to the third of December, but now our parents won’t be able to come and have dinner with us, which is a shame,” she said.

“My principal, who’s also my aunty, is pretty adamant we’ll have a formal, even if it’s next year.”

Ulladulla High School captain Isabella Vinson is also busy preparing for her music exam after completing her drama practical on 9 September.

Isabella and her family fled their home at Conjola Park just before 89 homes in the village were decimated by the Currowan Fire on New Year’s Eve.

While her home was spared, she has spent the past 20 months living among burnt bush and complete devastation, which she described as “very depressing”.

Ulladulla High School captain Isabella Vinson hopes to be accepted into NICA in Melbourne.

Ulladulla High School captain Isabella Vinson hopes to be accepted into NICA in Melbourne. Photo: Erin Lollback, Sydney Trapeze School.

Bella said the fires and COVID lockdowns had made focussing on school tough for many of her peers, especially those that lost their homes.

“It’s definitely been challenging,” she added.

“I know it gets thrown around a lot, but I think we’re definitely a resilient year group and, because we’ve been through so much, we’ll have the capacity to achieve our goals.”

She said walking, swimming and zoom yoga has helped her to balance studies and time out, and to remain focussed on completing her assignments which were often left until the last minute.

“It’s doesn’t feel real because all those end-of-year rituals aren’t happening for us,” she said.

Bella will audition for a place at the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in October and has also received a conditional offer to study Arts at UNSW next year.

“If we’re allowed to travel next year, I’d love to go overseas and teach circus,” she said.

“At the moment it’s all up in the air – 2021 is definitely the year of plan B and C for most of us.”

After a disruptive and stressful year, 68,710 students now have the certainty of the HSC timetable and eight weeks to focus on preparing for their exams.

What's Your Opinion?

One Response to Determined HSC students forge ahead despite bushfires, brain surgery and lockdowns

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Matt Ford Matt Ford 6:31 pm 13 Sep 21

Nearly 40 years ago I met some students at ANU, from Holland & they explained how their high school system worked.

There were some intricacies with apprentiships begun in junior school, that may continue into university.

The most surprising revelation to me was: anyone who completed a year 12 equivalent was automatically given a university entrance.

This is what our latest cohorts of year 12 graduates deserve as a minimum.

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