My Australian Life: Julie Reilly

My Australian Life: Julie Reilly

Julie Reilly, is the CEO of philanthropic organisation Australians Investing In Women (AIIW) but that impressive title is just a small part of who she is. Julie’s a wonder woman, who’s coordinated international OECD conferences, won several awards including the highly coveted Churchill Fellowship and in 2017 was named in The Herald Sun’s 50 Women in Victoria You Should Know.

With her rock musician and vocalist husband, Lindsay Field - a long time member of John Farnham’s band, she co-produced Myer’s annual Spirit of Christmas CD for 25 years, which raised over $8.5m for charity.

However what many might not understand about this sleek, accomplished woman - the mother of two beautiful daughters, is that  she has had first hand experience of the poverty cycle. Julie, who is one of four sisters, was brought up in a single parent household in the 1960s, at the time when the traditional family unit reigned supreme.

I grew up as the youngest of four girls

it was very unusual for women to leave their husbands at that time but my mum, Val knew that we had to get out.  She was in a Catholic community and did not do that very easily. This was years before government assistance became available and there was no support for women who had left violent household. It was really tough.

We moved around a lot and we didn’t have any money but we were happy.

Everything changed when my mother became a beneficiary of the Whitlam Government’s initiative of sending mature women back to get an education. It was because mum was able to go to university and then get a job that we were able to move out of poverty and have a reasonable life.

Our work at AIIW is about strengthening society by giving help to women and girls,

An investment in women has a multiplier effect as you don’t just help the woman but it also has an effect on her family and the community.

Investing in women is the single biggest driver in post-Covid recovery.

We try and help the whole spectrum of society from women who are homeless to helping women get into work. The vast majority of single parent families are female lead and they’re generally struggling with childcare and rely on casual work, which is the job sector that has been the most severely hit during Covid.

Women, work and economic independence is the issue of our times

Women still only have half as much Super as the guys. In the recent year, women have opted for the Early Release Of Super at twice the rate as men.

The pandemic has asked a lot of women

Women carry the burden of domestic responsibilities and they have also had to work, look after children at home and supervise them in remote learning. Domestic  violence is one of the areas that Covid has really exacerbated. The biggest driver of women’s homelessness is domestic violence.

One of the privileges of my life is to be surrounded by people who are passionate about making the world a better place.

They use their wealth or corporate budget to influence conditions around the world and they include Mecca’s Jo Horgan. I sit on the  board of one of Mecca’s charity programs, which also reaches out to overseas communities. Education of women in places like Africa is one of  the key ways to influence Climate Change.

When I look back about what my mum, Val, did I’m just in awe of her.

Val is now 87 years old and she still does VCE English corrections, she’s enrolled in multiple choirs and in Shakespearean groups. She is just the most extraordinary person. So, I’ve had a great role model in someone who really understood what it’s like to do it tough. But she  was also very strong on social justice and made sure we didn’t judge people who had fallen on hard times.

Some of my favourite memories as a child were spending our holidays in Mansfield in the high country.

My mum grew up there as the eldest of eight, so we had lots of cousins and aunties and uncles. All of our holidays were spent in the foot of the alps,  which was really special. We got to ride horses and at Christmas time they would have this beautiful carnival in the centre of town. We could have been in Coney Island in New York, it just glittered.

We still got back to Mansfield.

As a family we’ve been to some beautiful places in Australia because of my husband, Lindsay touring with John Farnham but Mansfield’s high country will always be very special to us.

ABOUT THE WRITER Ros Reines is a Sydney journalist and the author of four books.

She is currently penning her fifth - a memoir of a life in the media. 

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