Year 11 Student, Rockhampton State High School, QLD

From the 14-17 August 2007, a student forum was held in Canberra as part of Celebrating Democracy Week, which explored being a responsible citizen in Australia's democracy and what it meant to us. Thirty-two Year 10 and 11 students, four from each State and Territory, were selected to attend the forum. At the conclusion of the trip, our diverse array of ideas and thoughts on 'being a responsible citizen' was collated into a report, which would later be submitted to the Hon. Julie Bishop, the then Minister for Education, Science and Training.

So when I discovered that I was selected to be one of these delegates representing our country, I was gripped with apprehension, which only heightened by the fact that I was going to fly for the first time in my life. When I arrived in Brisbane, my initial fear was somewhat quelled when I met my smiling and humorous chaperone, Phillipa, who was the binary opposite to what I had imagined a chaperone to be. I stereotypically thought of a serious, formal and possibly even formidable-looking woman, whom I was expecting to be involved directly in politics. I was further relieved when I arrived in Canberra and met the other winners from all over the country and appreciated that our cultural diversity allowed for a number of different characters to be selected; from cheerful, down-to-earth people to people whose political knowledge was so vast that it was intimidating. However, everyone was so friendly and inviting, that these differences did not matter, and friendships, that will last a lifetime, formed in moments.

Yet, this trip was not all about fun and games. Over the next three days we would be meeting people who worked in government, whose inspiring stories truly opened up my mind and made me realise how ignorant we are of those who work in such a demanding and ongoing industry without necessarily being the faces that we see splashed across the media. We also met a number of other guest speakers and saw Parliament in action, which was such a privilege. Question Time in the House of Representatives, was quite eventful due to the upcoming election.

As well as the structural beauty of New Parliament house, we also visited Old Parliament House, where we sat in the seats of the politicians who introduced the controversial national service bill in 1964. We also explored the architectural wonder of the National Museum and the National Archives, where we were lucky enough to see original documents from the time when Australia became a Commonwealth. The magnificent display that was presented in the archives represented only 300 of over 50 million records in storage.

We also met the Hon. Julie Bishop, MP the then Minister for Education, Science and Traning, as well as our local Members of Parliament, when we were presented with our awards for participating in the forum.

After the long and challenging three days of gaining knowledge through a number of means to better understand our democracy and what it means to be a responsible citizen, we successfully compiled our report on the topic. Knowing that we were making a difference in our country and having a voice, it is a feat that I, as well as everyone else, was proud to achieve.