I wasn’t sure I would know Julie Congdon when we arranged to meet in the January summer holidays of 2019 however when I saw Julie and her family standing at my front door tears rolled. In this moment I realised that this woman was still my primary school bestie, Julie Brown.

Julie, her husband Scott and their three children had been on a pilgrimage exploring Julie’s younger stomping ground and I was honoured to be on the map.

The kids jumped into the pool and we sat on the back deck and reminisced about old times. My own kids emerged from their bedrooms for long enough to be introduced. “They are shy just like you were” Julie commented. I thought they were just being rude teenagers but perhaps she was right. Julie always had a remarkable ability to call things as they were.

Julie and I became friends when we were both about 8, at a time I was so shy I could hardly function in the world. School was impossible and I’ve no doubt my mum was pulling her hair out thinking of strategies to get me to detach from the safety of her skirt. Julie Brown’s voice was one of the first outside the family home I’d heard which encouraged me to find my own voice and tell the world what I thought of it.

We were inseparable throughout primary school. Gymnastics, hockey and dance to birthday parties, family camps and movies. We would run out of the school yard at the end of term screaming and giggling “no more pencils, no more books… (how did the rest of that go?) We even shared our lunch orders – deconstructed sausage roll; I hated the meat and she hated the pastry, a great match. She told me she tried the pastry some years later and worked out it was actually OK. We laughed.

Although Julie spent much of her time at my place she rarely spoke of the difficult times she had experienced through her parent’s separation. She was always a very private person and whatever pain she must have experienced she kept very much to herself. I noticed that Julie still carried the same approach to drama – she didn’t indulge in it.

When my own family fell apart and I left Kempsey in 1989 it’s fair to say our paths went in different directions and while we did try to stay connected over the years our worlds had taken us to different places. Still, the bond we had built in our younger years always meant a fondness for one another would remain intact and I was delighted that she had taken the time to bring her family to visit me on this hot summer day.

Julie is a teacher now and this year she will host a grade 5 class. We laugh as we recall some of the antics of our teachers. It was always the ratty boys in the class getting into trouble – being hung up by the back of the shirt by hooks on the classroom walls or dragged out of the classroom chair by a crazy bear like teacher who bounded across student’s desks to reach his victim.

I recalled another teacher who had lined the class up and applied the pinch test (he pinched each of our guts) to see if we were fat. “the childhood obesity test” he called it.

Our primary school teachers existed in a delicate wedge of time after the cane being banned and before political correctness and a whole bunch of other protective mechanisms for kids had been introduced – guess they were finding their way.

Julie and Scott (a photographer) met in Brisbane and traveled together to the UK working in their respective vocations. Scott popped the question on the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Together they are raising their family of three children. Things haven’t always been easy for the little family but in true Julie fashion she doesn’t complain, she just shares the facts.

Julie and Scott moved to his home state of Western Australia when their first two kids were still in nappies – a world away from everyone Julie knew. Her first baby, Harrison was born in 2006. Julie told me she had been feeding him one day and noticed he was blue around his mouth. After being brushed off as a nervous new mother by medics Julie and Scott continued life as new parents until a visit to a (thankfully) over-zealous pharmacy assistant who noticed the baby required instant attention and shooed Julie off to a private room while she called an ambulance.

That ambulance trip resulted in open heart surgery for the little babe. I had goosebumps as the pair described the harrowing time that so easily could have taken a turn for the worse.  But they handled it. Through the experience they met a group they are very fond of called ‘Heartkids’  and with that a new social circle in WA.

Needless to say the pair were super-alert when number two, Elliot came on board. When Elliot became unwell of a completely unrelated illness, again at a young age Julie ignored the nay-sayers and moved into immediate action. Another operation, another little boy out of the woods.

And then there was Lilah, no story of illness, just a cute, shy kid who splashed in the pool with her boisterous brothers as if these tales were from newspapers, other people’s stories.

I could not fathom how much this little family had been through, however at the same time I knew if anyone could handle it, it was my friend Julie.

Julie, Scott and the kids are big Geocaching fans. Described as ‘the world’s largest treasure hunt’ I’d downloaded the app before they left the dinner table (here if you want to know more). I’ve no doubt we’ll be asking them for some tips while looking for caches in their new home state Queensland.

It was such a treat to catch up with Julie and her family and even though I struggle to draw together the appropriate words to articulate the many emotions the meeting evoked, I know, without doubt that it makes my heart sing to see what a happy and love filled life my friend has created.

#Meet My Friends is a project and personal challenge that I’ve set for myself to meet all of my 1,266 Facebook friends and spend at least half an hour connecting with each and every one of them. The project commenced on 17 September 2018 and it has no time limits. The original post outlining the challenge is here

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