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Julia Millen (1955 - 1958)

Wellington Girls' College —

By the age of 17, Julia had left Wellington Girls' College and was doing a BA in psychology at Victoria University when she received a letter from her uncle which changed her life. She was invited to join her cousin and two friends hitchhicking in the South Island and fruit-picking in Nelson.

Julia had always loved reading books about the Swallows and Amazons and school stories by New Zealand writer Clare Mallory and wanted to have adventures like the girls in fiction.  And so she became a writer.  As it turned out among her numerous books  ‘Panama Hats & Pony Tails’ is about a girls’ school (like Wellington Girls’ College). Homework, detentions, teenage acne, boyfriends or lack of them, the school dance, it’s all there.

That first summer hitchhiking was great fun: camping in a Queenstown deluge; travel over Lewis Pass in a pig truck; being stranded at Fox Glacier without a tent; crossing the Haast River on the back of a truck towed by a bulldozer. Too late for fruit-picking, they came home like prodigal daughters – penniless.  But those adventures later provided material for her writing.

Julia finished her degree and then joined her parents on a big overseas trip, Tragic, as it turned out. By the time they got to England, her father was very ill and died two months later.  They made the best of being in London: sightseeing at Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, art galleries. Her New Zealand cousins were also in the UK doing their OE so together hitchhiked around Europe.  In France she was grateful for her schoolgirl French. They slept rough in Stockholm, traversed Yugoslavia and in Greece almost found love. Later came a chaotic motor-cycle ride with a boyfriend and near disaster on a plain in Spain.

Back in New Zealand, Julia got a library job and joined the Tararua Tramping Club. Tramping and mountaineering later provided material for her writing. She married another tramper, moved to Christchurch and worked at the University Library.  She was at a conference when the police notified her that her husband had been badly injured while mountaineering. His climbing mate was killed.

For her next big adventure Julia accompanied an expedition to Patagonia, Chile. While the guys were climbing she joined two other women hitchhiking to the Chilean capital, Santiago. On the way they camped in a paddock occupied by a sow and numerous piglets. Later, went by bus and train to Peru and visited the Inca ruins at Macchu Piccu.

In 1970 came a momentous phone call. ‘Would you like to go to Antarctica?’ An American woman scientist was going to work at a US Antarctic base and needed a female companion. Julia was the lucky one. They flew south to McMurdo and then inland to Byrd station.  At the entrance was a warning: ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here’.  They spent five weeks on ice at Byrd-Longwire substation.

By the mid-1970s Julia was divorced, again studying at university, and taking creative writing classes. South America and Antarctic made splendid subjects for articles and fiction in the NZ Woman’s Weekly, NZ Listener, School Journal, Thursday magazine and Landfall. Julia also published Dilemma of Dementia, about caring for her mother who had Alzheimer’s disease, and later wrote histories, including that of Kirkcaldie & Stains.

Stranded in a Tokoroa pub on Xmas Eve, a pavlova-making disaster, running out of petrol in the Lindis Pass, camping on a roadside and cleaning her teeth with beer!  Julia's hitchhiking stories, with photos and maps, are now published by Cuba Press in Fair Weather Hitchhiker