Meet Mia, SAC Student named SA’s Young Historian

If you could choose to learn about any Australian historical figure, who might it be? For Year 12 student, Mia Konopka, the answer is clear: Gough Whitlam, Australia’s 21st Prime Minister, who held Office from 1972 until his infamous dismissal in 1975.

Intrigued by Whitlam’s political legacy, Mia saw a golden opportunity to broaden her knowledge about the impact of his leadership when her Modern History teacher, Ms Elizabeth Heuzenroeder, encouraged her to enter the 2022 National History Challenge. Mia was subsequently named the SA Young Historian and she also won in a Special Category – Democracy Matters.

The National History Challenge is a prestigious awards scheme organised each year by the History Teachers’ Association of Australia (HTAA). Students from primary and secondary schools all over the country are encouraged to participate by constructing an engaging research-based project that links to a specific theme for that year’s challenge. The theme for 2022 was ‘Causes and Consequences’ and Mia’s winning essay explores how reform introduced by Whitlam in the 1970s sparked conversations about social issues in the Australian political sphere.

Mia’s impressive use of both primary and secondary sources, her clear expression, fluency and engagement with her chosen topic made her entry a clear standout.

When reflecting on her participation in the competition, Mia remarked: “I think it’s good to go beyond what the scope of what we learn in the curriculum. It gives students opportunities to look at things they are interested in rather than just what is taught in class.”

“I first entered the competition in Year 10. I wrote an essay about Muriel Matters [Australian Suffragist] and it helped me discover an interest in politics.”

Participation in competitions such as the National History Challenge, as well as giving students the chance to broaden their interests, equips them with an array of skills that set them in good stead for the future.

Ms Elizabeth Heuzenroeder is on the Committee for the HTAA and says, “it helps students to develop really good critical thinking skills and extends ones who want to be extended and challenged and gives them the opportunity to try something different.”

Elizabeth accompanied Mia to Canberra for the National Presentation last month, where Mia spent time with students from all over Australia who share her passion for history. During their three-day visit of the nation’s Capital, they toured the National Archives, the National Museum of Australian Democracy, Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial.

Mia’s favourite activity? “Visiting the National Archives. They have the original draft of the Constitution, they had the signed document that amended the Constitution from the 1967 referendum to include Indigenous Australians. They also had a lot of interactive sources as well. And they had a whole section based on what I had written my essay on.”

Mia, who has attended St Aloysius College for all of her schooling, is now preparing to step into her new life as a university student, with hopes of studying a STEM Course at the University of Adelaide next year. However, she knows that her love for humanities, plus her commitment to integrating social justice with politics, won’t wain.

Thanks to studying history, Mia says she can, “link a lot of our learning at school to things that are happening in the real world; for example, learning about the Cold War and how it connects to the current situation in the Ukraine,” which goes to show that looking back on past milestones to understand their ‘Causes and Consequences’ can help society to progress.

We congratulate Mia for her success in the National History Challenge and thank her for her school spirit, and we wish her well with her next journey as a university student!

You can read Mia’s winning essay here: Mia-Konopka-SA-YH.pdf (historychallenge.org.au)

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