When a person starts a conversation by asking how deep we’re going to go, there’s a fair chance they have quite a story to tell.
Two minutes later, Julie Craig is sharing just that—the most incredible story of a childhood marked by poverty and domestic violence, but of how she rebuilt a life by learning how to grow her own food and share it, and by teaching others how to do the same.
When Julie’s story is done, it’s not about shame or regret, as it might have been, but about grace and generosity, the power of love and community, and the gift of children when she’d been told it was all but impossible.
Julie and her family live in Onehunga, but Crave has been her community for a long time. Her work centres on the home, and the kitchen and the garden, so it’s easy for her to feel isolated. Julie makes no apologies for being deliberate about being around people.
‘I come here [Crave] because it’s nice to be a regular,’ Julie says. ‘Just to do a little bit of reading, or do a little bit of writing, and do a little bit of being around people, and the energy of people, so I don’t feel alone.
‘Quality time with people is one of my love languages. I can fill up, go home, get some work done, and then stay on track.’
Julie’s remarkable story begins in Australia. She was born in Melbourne to a Kiwi mum and a Dutch Australian dad. But home life was far from idyllic.
‘We had a nice car and a nice house, but my dad was a very violent alcoholic. So we had little food. It all went on his nice things and his drink. My mum, in order to manage, was often … unavailable. That’s probably the kindest way to put it. So I ran away from home when I was 16 and came to New Zealand.’
Julie’s uncle dropped her at the airport with $20 and what she was wearing. It was back in the day when you didn’t need a passport to travel between Australia and NZ. Julie’s maternal grandparents lived here and with support from the nuns at what is now the Pah Homestead in Mount Roskill she put herself through sixth form.
Julie says she was ‘hidden away’—her way of understanding why her grandparents couldn’t deal with an angry 16-year-old and why they couldn’t handle the family dynamics surrounding her spilling the family secrets. Julie’s mum, brother and sister were reunited in NZ and for a while they lived together—but ultimately Julie preferred to stay more often at her boyfriend’s mum’s house, because it was ‘safer’.
‘His mother was a kind, loving woman. She taught me how to be a young woman in a normal world.’
While Julie was learning to be a young woman, she was also learning to survive, if not thrive. She describes what she does now as ‘teaching people how to feed themselves’ and while both she and her husband are horticulturally trained, it all began with her own need to feed herself in those first few years of being alone. She’d also seen it modelled by her grandparents.
‘When my grandmother was growing up in Auckland central in the Depression, everyone was very hungry. They would often run out into the street to get soup from the soup truck, which came every day. Later in her married life all the veges were home grown. It made it even more important to me, not just to be able to feed my own family, but to be able to go and help other people do the same thing.’
When Julie’s family lived in Mt Albert, she put chickens in the back yard and grew rabbits for meat. The courtyard out the back was filled with old recycle bins full of herbs and vegetables. They planted trees and had a little orchard and the entire front yard was an edible garden.
‘In the garage we had a little table. Once a week we would put all our excess from the garden that was ready to give away on the table and we would tell all our friends, and all their neighbours, this is what we have—if you have any excess or anything to share, bring it and leave what you want and take what you want. There was never a value put on anything.’ They didn’t go to the supermarket for the whole time they bartered. ‘It’s an absolute mindset,’ says Julie. ‘In my early motherhood I resonated with what I grew up with, in terms of how I thought about money and how I thought about what was rich and what was poor. I came very quickly to realise that it didn’t serve me to think that way. ‘Even if you didn’t have money, you can still be rich.’ As if to underscore that, when Julie was 27 she became pregnant with her son, David. She’d been told that because of the violence she had endured as a child, she would never have children. But here he was—‘a surprise and a miracle, all at the same time.’ When her daughter Meoghan was born four years later, there wasn’t even any sign of the scar tissue that had been there in the past. ‘The healing that had taken place on every level was quite amazing.’ And now? Julie runs sustainability workshops, tutorials and intensive courses through Oak and Thistle, and sells her own range of natural moisturising products under the Falconry Organics range. And she comes to Crave regularly—to do a little bit of writing, a little bit of reading, and to share some quality time with the people around her.