Belinda Carpenter has not led a conventional life.
She attended Tumut High in the seventies, before her family moved to the sunshine state and she dropped out of year twelve.
She became the first female apprentice chef in Queensland, decided that wasn’t her final career, finished her high school accreditation, attained a degree in P.E, completed an Honours First Class in Sociology, completed a PhD on prostitution legislation, and ended up in the justice field.
She’s now an Assistant Dean of Research in the Law Faculty at Queensland University of Technology.
The prestigious world of academia is not where Belinda pictured herself ending up as a teenager living in Tumut.
However, when it comes to people who helped her along her path, one name springs to mind.
“I had a year eleven English teacher at Tumut High, Miss Davidson, who was the first person who made me think I was probably quite bright and that I was a good writer,” she remembered.
“She was integral to my confidence.
“It’s amazing how teachers can have such an influence in your life, if you have a teacher who inspires you and makes you think that you are clever.”
These days, she’s living the good life in many ways.
Her job allows her to travel frequently and participate in work she finds fascinating and important – and “of course it’s also reasonably well paid!” she laughed.
“I love researching,” she said.
“It’s really interesting, and you feel like you’re doing something useful for society.
“I love working with postgrad students, teaching them how to research and seeing them graduate and get interesting jobs using their research skills. It’s also good to see the faculty and QUT going up the league table in terms of research and international status as a research university.”
Belinda believes many people have misconceptions about high-level academic work.
Young people, particularly in regional areas, may struggle to believe that they have what it takes to move into that sphere.
However, she said no one should believe that her sort of career is out of reach, especially if it’s where their passion lies.
“The best advice I ever got was that it’s 99 per cent determination, and 1 per cent inspiration,” she said.
“I think people think people with PhDs are really clever, and that they couldn’t possibly do a PhD because they’re not smart enough, whereas that is just not the case. It’s more to do with being a hard worker, being curious, having an inquisitive mind, and having dedication.”
Belinda doesn’t come back to Tumut too often these days, since her family has also moved away.
However, she did attend her high school class’s 25 year reunion two years ago, where she thoroughly enjoyed the chance to catch up with old friends.
“Everyone was so lovely, it was like we’d seen each other yesterday,” she said.
“Some of them have become teachers, some of them own their own businesses, people work in the public service in a variety of roles – all sorts of things.
“There’s an interesting range of success stories – there were only around 35 of us in year 11 and 12 and most people have done really well, which is interesting for a small country town.”
Her unique journey gives pause to thought as to what stories recent cohorts of Tumut High students will have to tell in 25 years.