The saying goes “Hold a friend with both hands…” but what if those very hands…
“The most defining moment in my life was when I fully understood my Aboriginal heritage and identified as a proud Kamilaroi woman. This is almost like the jigsaw that sees the pieces finally fit!”
When Julie Okely’s husband was posted to Canberra in 2000 as part of the Federation Guard, she was warned that she was moving to a “rigid, heavily political and boring” city. Instead, she found ‘home’.
Raised between Sydney and Coonabarabran, Julie learnt resilience early in life, with a strong presence of domestic violence and alcohol in her family, followed by the early death of her mother, in her late thirties. “I lost my mum not long after my ninth birthday. It fractured the family. My older sister and I went to live with our grandmother, moving from the northern beaches in Sydney to a little town in the bush, with eleven houses. When you lose a parent, you have to become strong within yourself.”
By nineteen, this strength was well evident. Julie bought her first business—one of several hairdressing salons that she’s owned during her career. That business experience led to her entrepreneurial pursuits: a child-safety labelling range called ‘Yuk to Kids’ and, more recently, the beautiful, Indigenous-inspired hair-care range: Dilkara Essence of Australia.
“We used the culture and heritage of the Indigenous people as a background for our elements and formations and created different blends. We looked into the different products in the bush, which Indigenous people have been using for 40,000 years and we made our own mix and brought it to the mainstream market.”
Next for Julie is the establishment of Australia’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Hairdressing Academy—Dilkara Hair Academy. She’d also love to see the ‘Yuk to Kids’ range in Indigenous Communities and watch the positive impact it would have on child safety.
Julie’s passion for her Indigenous heritage shines through her work. “The most defining moment in my life was when I fully understood my Aboriginal heritage and identified as a proud Kamilaroi woman. This is almost like the jigsaw that sees the pieces finally fit!”
Another piece of that puzzle for Julie is Canberra. “As a city, we embrace progress and change, whilst respecting the collaborative cultural history which Canberra has protected. I love this culturally-respectful city and its people.”
“You have your biological family, and I think you adopt a family in your friends. My friends have been my rock. I have some amazing women around me who have been very strong in their own business ventures, and very driven. They’ve had their own personal battles, and just growing and supporting each other as a network has been amazing.”
Julie is immensely proud of being a Kamilaroi woman, and now a Canberran, too. “I’d love to be known as a Canberra woman. I’m very proud of it. Being posted here, we were told it was an isolated city full of politicians and that I wouldn’t settle in. But I’ve found Canberra to be an amazing place and would wear that badge proudly.”
Discover the rest of our 15 Women to Watch in 2015 here.
Read about Nellie Peoples, Meegan Fitzharris, Zoya Patel, Belinda Neame, Tegan McAuley, Louisa de Smet, Heidi Stratford, Dr Sudha Rao, Carla & Emma Papas, Tara Cheyne, Sally Moylan, Kylie Travers, Kaleid, Julie Okely, Michelle Melbourne and Joanna Allebone.