Julie Goodwin wasn’t sure what to make of the text message.
It was from her middle child, Tom, asking if she and his dad, Mick, would be in that night – he had something he needed to talk to them about.
It felt ominous and her heart instantly sank. Mick was out, she replied, doing her best to keep the mood light. How about the following night?
As soon as Mick walked through the front door that evening, Julie pounced.
“I was like, right, let’s figure out all the things it could be and set our faces for it,” she recalls. “It could have been anything. Tom and [his partner], Crystal, having a baby was the easy one, everything else we thought of was worse.”
Luck, as it happened, was on their side.
By the time Tom, 25, arrived the following evening to share the news, Julie was on hand to smother him with hugs and congratulations.
“We were delighted,” she says of the magical moment. “A little human coming into the world is a beautiful gift. I have to say I feel too young to be a grandmother but I couldn’t love Delilah more. I’ve loved her since I knew she was existing. And I love Crystal, she’s a beautiful mum and I’ve always thought she was a really good partner for my son.”
The sense her daughter-in-law was a good fit came early, she tells The Weekly today, proudly bouncing her 15-month-old granddaughter on her hip.
In the Goodwin household, dinner around the table is an important institution and one on which Julie insists. The TV is turned off, music muted, and the conversation is rowdy.
One by one they will all go around the table, sharing their highlights of the day. In recent years that has expanded to include the question “where’s your head at?”, added by Julie in the wake of her well-publicised mental health breakdown in January 2020, one which led her to check in to a psychiatric unit.
“I have sons, they get rude,” she laughingly admits of the chaos that often reigns over the meal at their home on the NSW Central Coast.
“It’s not always polite conversation. If the Queen was coming over, I’d have to tell them to tone it down a little bit, but that’s important to me. And not everybody fits into it easily.”
Crystal, however, proved an exception to the rule.
“She started appearing, as girlfriends do, and she would sit at the table and join in the conversation,” says Julie of her earliest interactions with the mother of her grandchild.
“She took what the boys dished out and she could give as good as she got. It felt like she belonged there.”
Delilah arrived at the height of COVID restrictions. Mick and Julie were allowed in momentarily to meet the new arrival, but strictly fitted out with gloves, masks and gowns. A few months later the area was in strict lockdown.
Tom and Crystal were living nearby, but they may as well have been in another country.
“We couldn’t see the baby,” Julie says, her eyes misting over again at the memory. “We have a house with spare rooms, and they were paying rent, even though they couldn’t do very much work wise. So, they moved in.
“The lockdown was a terrible time for many reasons but also glorious. As I said to Mick, ‘In what universe would you have your three adult children, your beautiful granddaughter and daughter-in-law sit at your dinner table every night for four months?’ It was beautiful. To go in and wake that baby up and be the first human being that she gave a sleepy snuggle to was a gift that I will never have again. And that’s the way I look at that last lockdown. My business flew out the window and a lot of things went terribly wrong, but the silver lining was huge.”
Over the course of our conversation it becomes abundantly clear that Julie can find the silver lining to most situations in life.
When MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites came knocking, asking her if she’d want to rejoin the show that rocketed her into the public’s hearts back in 2009, the timing could not have been worse.
“I wasn’t in the best place,” Julie admits now. “If you did an analysis of coming back on just in terms of mental health you’d say, ‘Don’t be an idiot’. I’d only just gone back to work and it was supervised – just a few hours one morning a week.”
Heading back to the show, she knew, meant long 12-hour days and six-day weeks. But the pull to a place where she’d found her passion 13 years ago proved stronger than her fears.
WATCH: MasterChef Fans & Favourites is coming to Ten. Story continues after video.
“It’s a part of my exploring what the hell is next,” Julie explains of why she made what seemed like a ridiculous jump.
“In the midst of that really awful time I had decided that I was done. I had nothing left to do, my work here was done. That’s where I found myself. That landed me in hospital a bunch of times. So, I’m trying to figure out if my life here is not done, then what the hell is it? Delilah is obviously a massive part of that. She’s a tiny little human who I want to be around for. But you know, I can’t live my whole life for her. And I’ve just got to work out what the rest of it is for.”
Along with attempting to win MasterChef Australia for a second time, that includes working on projects she feels passionately about.
One of those is Unhoused – a campaign to increase funding for long-term and safe housing for women, and one driven by The Weekly and its publisher, Are Media.
Over 49,000 women in Australia experience homelessness on any given night. And 400,000 women over the age of 50 are currently at risk of joining that number.
Unhoused is asking Australians to sign a petition ahead of the upcoming election urging both parties to commit $7.6 billion over the next four years to address this crisis, if elected.
With so much on her plate and so little time, we asked Julie why she decided to get involved.
“The good thing is, when you take a blowtorch to your whole life and burn everything down, I get to now choose what I build back up,” she says with a chuckle.
At 18, Julie met Mick at the local St Vincent de Paul youth group. Together they would do the “dawn patrol” in Kings Cross, collecting sandwiches and coffee and distributing them to those in need.
Later, Mick sat on the board of Coast Shelter, a hub which not only had a soup kitchen but would help find shelter solutions for women and children.
Sometimes, says Julie, kids who went to school with her own sons would come in for a hot meal, their parents dipping their heads as they entered, ashamed to be seen.
“It’s an invisible crisis,” she says, “and none of us knows who is next. I’ve been raised with that old saying, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. And that’s why I feel passionate about Unhoused. The reason I am not in that situation is not because I’ve worked harder, got a better job, none of those things. It’s sheer frigging luck that I didn’t wind up in a circumstance that put me out on the street.”
When Julie was growing up, her own mother spent some time as a single parent, struggling to keep a roof over her girls’ heads.
“She was healthy enough to do that and our nan was around to help so she could,” says Julie. “And if those things hadn’t been in play – if she had been unwell or didn’t have her mum to rely on – we could have been homeless ourselves very easily.”
Those early years didn’t just give Julie a sense of what could happen if good fortune wasn’t on her side. They also set up one of the most important relationships of her life – with her grandmother, Edna White.
Edna passed away at the age of 90, just five days after the MasterChef finale went to air, and not a single day passes when Julie doesn’t think of her.
“I had a beautiful relationship with my nan,” she says, her eyes filling with tears as we talk. “I want to be that person for Delilah. I want to be this human who is there, who has got their back. That if they want to run away from home, they can run to me. I want to be that soft place to land.”
WATCH: Inside Julie Goodwin’s mental health battle. Story continues after video.
Luckily, she says, Crystal and Tom are allowing her to play as large a role as she would like in their daughter’s life. It’s a privilege she doesn’t take for granted and as such takes care to not overstep in her role.
“I’m guided quite a lot of the time by the way I felt as a young parent,” Julie says of her approach. “The things that people said and did that helped and things that they said and did that harmed. Delilah is their child and I need to not roll my eyes about stuff. Because when I had a child, I was frightened of a lot of things I didn’t need to be frightened of. I did a bunch of stuff I didn’t need to do. And I probably didn’t do a bunch of stuff I should have. And they all turned out alright.”
“Alright” is an understatement. Tom and his brothers Joe, 26, and Paddy, 23, are the apples of their mother’s eye. She considers herself fortunate she still has two of her sons under the family roof.
Not only that, but she’s cherishing witnessing this new stage in all of her their lives.
“I’m so grateful I get to have this important relationship with Delilah,” she says. “It opens you up to things in other relationships. I got to see my first son be a brother and now I get to see my sons become uncles. They’re beautiful, they adore her.
“But my favourite is watching the husband I’ve loved since I was a child be a Poppy. He is pathetic! He’s wrapped around that little finger so hard. When he babysits, he won’t let her cry. It’s like, you’ve got to let her cry for a few minutes before she goes to sleep. Tom and Crystal will get home and he’s still bobbing around with her and Delilah’s having a party. He’s the epitome of the grandparent who spoils.”
On the day of our photo shoot and interview, MasterChef is still filming in Melbourne.
For Julie, being separated from Delilah had been the toughest part of the experience, so their reunion was a beautiful – and tear-sodden – moment to witness.
Tom and Crystal will take the spare room in her rental apartment for the weekend. Delilah, however, will have her cot moved straight into Julie’s room.
“I missed her so much,” she says, clutching her granddaughter close. “It’s a physical ache in me. This may only be for the weekend but without this shoot as the catalyst it would’ve been too hard for them to come down. It’s just so special.”
Yet all good things must end. And once the trio head home to the Central Coast it will be back to conversations over Facetime – where they continue sharing their evening meal together.
“Tom and Crystal only live down the road so they’re there a couple of nights a week and I get to Facetime and join in as often as I can, which is beautiful,” she says. “They pass the phone around and I say, ‘I don’t want to look at you! Show me the baby!’ And there she will be trying to feed herself with a spoon in her eye. It’s quite beautiful.”
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites airs Sunday to Thursday at 7.30pm on 10 and 10 Play on demand. For more about Unhoused and to sign the petition head to unhousedwomen.com.au. If you or someone you know needs help, Lifeline 13 11 14.