Joe Collins​

young man smiling wearing a dark green polo shirt

Joe Collins

Country student fights for equal educational opportunities

Sea Lake, population 694, is a town in the heart of Australia's wheat belt on the southern shores of Lake Tyrrell in the Mallee district. For Joe Collins, a Year 12 student at Tyrell College, community is important: 'I love where I live and the opportunities that my communities have provided me; that is why I'm driven to keep my communities vibrant', Joe says.

Joe is committed to ensuring that young people in regional areas have access to innovative and engaging educational experiences. As a Rural Youth Ambassador for the Country Education Partnership (CEP) Program, Joe, along with 20 of his peers, advocates for schools across rural Victoria to collaborate amongst their local areas and provide students with better quality study, a higher standard of teaching and up-to-date resources.

As SRC President at Tyrrell College, Joe has initiated events to improve students' wellbeing and organised a fundraiser for Brain Cancer Awareness. Fiona Best, Leading Teacher Tyrrell College, says 'Joe is a natural leader, who has the ability to bring people together to achieve success.'

Joe's contribution reaches further, though. He is President of the Woomelang Tennis Club, a coach and first aid trainer at the Sea Lake Nandaly Tigers Football and Netball Club, Sea Lake Lions Youth of the Year winner in 2016 and won the 2017 Yarriambiack Young Achiever Community Service Award.

We caught up with Joe to learn more about his accomplishments.

As Rural Youth Ambassador you have focused on improving educational opportunities for your peers. What achievements are you most proud of?

I'm really proud of the work we have done to bring public and political awareness of the unique challenges that impact the learning of young people in rural Victoria. When we presented at CEP's Rural Education Conference and Annual Rural Learning Summit in 2016 we promoted the sharing of resources between schools, including staff, facilities and equipment, and encouraged schools to start the conversation of collaboration within their regions – and that resulted in a cluster of schools meeting regularly to see how they can share their resources. The response is really rewarding and encouraging!

You've worked on a number of projects to develop and improve the Woomelang District. What have these projects resulted in and why are they important?

As Vice President of the Woomelang and District Development Association, I've loved getting involved in some quite significant community projects. I helped finish the redevelopment of our local nature reserve, the Cronomby Tanks, with new walking tracks, artworks and landscaping, as well as installing a unisex toilet. This was the site of the original dams built to supply water from steam trains as they came to town.

I also led our town's contribution to the recently established Silo Art Trail that stretches across the Wimmera Mallee. I organised meetings and contacted the Silo Art Trail team to source an artist. The mural we chose is a carpet python; it's local to the area and endangered, so it also helps to create environmental awareness.

Our projects are having a hugely positive impact on the town: not only do they create interest amongst the locals and remind them of what a wonderful place they live in, but they also draw in people from surrounding areas.

And I hope it inspires the younger generation to step up and contribute to our town's future. The viability and liveability of our small community depends on volunteers who will sacrifice some of their own time to benefit everyone else.

As President of the SRC at your school, you initiated a Hero Dress up day. What was your motivation behind this event and what did it mean for your school?

Young people tend to worry about what other people think and want to fit in. I organised the Hero Dress up day because I wanted my peers to have a fun day together. I dressed up as Steve Irwin and we all looked silly together and no one worried about being cool!

It was also a fundraiser and we raised $300 towards new equipment that the student body had requested, including soccer goals and balls.

What are your plans after you finish your VCE?

Summer is harvesting time on family's farm, so I'll be focusing on that first.  And next year I'm planning on going to university.  I'll definitely continue working with CEP in the future and look forward to seeing what else I can do to help rural kids have access to vibrant and engaging education. I also hope to remain an active voice around home and in the Mallee area, especially with all these new and vibrant opportunities its facing.