MasterChef star Julie Goodwin's 'profound' poverty experience

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Julie Goodwin is gearing up to appear on another reality-style TV show that's almost the polar opposite of MasterChef, which she won in 2009.

Julie, 51, will do a bit of cooking in the upcoming SBS doco, Could You Survive on the Breadline? but she won't have access to anything resembling MasterChef's fully-stocked pantry.

Julie Goodwin in the SBS documentary Could You Survive on the Breadline?. Photo: supplied.
Julie Goodwin goes on an emotional journey in the SBS doco, Could You Survive on the Breadline?. Photo: supplied.

Julie's 'profound experience'

Instead, she'll have to do her best to scrape together a half-decent, filling meal as cheaply as possible while staying within the meager budget afforded to low-income earners and welfare recipients.

That's the premise of Could You Survive on the Breadline?, a three-episode series that will see NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong, journalist Caleb Bond and Julie meet, stay with and learn from a few of the three million or so Aussies living below the poverty line.

For Julie, that meant sleeping in bare-bones emergency accommodation, attempting to get a job — any job — to help get her out of said accommodation as well as spending time with a woman who relies on food donations to feed herself and her husband who has dementia.

"It was a pretty profound experience actually," Julie tells Yahoo Lifestyle ahead of the show's premiere.

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"I sort of had preconceived ideas of what it might be like to live in emergency accommodation and I guess I had an idea of some of the stories I might hear, but I was really unprepared for what it was actually like," she adds.

Julie's 'preconceived ideas' come from the fact that she herself has done it tough in the past. She recalls how her mother struggled to make ends meet when Julie was young, something she's only learning more about as an adult.

"And then I experienced it firsthand, not in the same way as some of the people that I met, but certainly living paycheck to paycheck," Julie says.

That was her and her husband Mick's experience as a young married couple with kids, scrambling and stressed about making sure there was enough in the bank to pay the next bill.

Julie Goodwin in the SBS documentary Could You Survive on the Breadline?. Photo: supplied.
Julie has opened up about doing it tough as a newlywed. Photo: supplied.

'No silver spoon'

With Mick working full-time, Julie says she took on multiple jobs such as cleaning, ironing and pamphlet delivery to help alleviate that financial strain.

"I wasn't born with a silver spoon," she says. " So I didn't come at it [the SBS show] from a completely ignorant point of view, but I certainly had much to learn."

What Julie learned was just how 'broken' Australia's existing welfare support system is. 

"We're a country that has enough for everybody and yet the system is stacked in such a way that people can't get out from under their circumstances," she says.

Julie spent time with Sydney woman Debe who cares around the clock for her husband, Ron, who has late-stage frontotemporal dementia. The couple worked for decades and own their own home, mortgage-free. But on her carer's allowance, Debe must now turn to food donations to feed Ron and herself.

Old adages like, 'Have a go then you'll get a go' and 'If you work harder, you'll have more' are now "so offensive" to Julie.

Julie Goodwin in the SBS documentary Could You Survive on the Breadline?. Photo: supplied.
Julie helped out with a community food delivery. Photo: supplied.

"That woman works harder than anyone I've ever met so how is she not 'getting a go'? How does she still have to rely on charity to eat? She and her husband own their home outright. How is it possible that they can be living in that kind of poverty, that they rely on a food bank to put food on the table?

"That is not a person unwilling to work to improve their lot, that is a broken system."

Pushed to the brink of tears numerous times, was Julie ever tempted to get out her credit card and stock Debe and Ron's fridge or pay for another in-home carer?

"There is a real strong impulse to go, 'I know what the answer to this is, I can fix it'," she admits. "But you can't because it's not just one problem. It's not something that just one payment will fix. It's a systemic problem that needs to be addressed at a much deeper level."

'Beautiful human spirit'

Her experience on Could You Survive on the Breadline? was by no means all doom and gloom, though. Julie was taken aback by the "beautiful human spirit" in the people she met and spent time with.

"I was expecting to hear a lot of, you know, 'This is how hard my life is'. But actually, what I got shown was, 'Look at how we cope. Look at how we manage, we are proud of ourselves. We're proud of the people around us.'"

As a long-time volunteer with St Vincent De Paul, Julie was also heartened to see others in the community doing their bit to help those less fortunate — even if it served to highlight the inadequacy of the current welfare policy.

"If there weren't individuals in our communities ready and willing to step up and donate their time, volunteer their services and donate money and food, then so many of these people would be starving. The fact that's the situation the government allows is outrageous."

Julie hopes that the program 'gently challenges' some of the attitudes that people hold about people living on welfare.

"I was taught by my mum from a very early age to not judge other people because at the end of the day, there, but for the grace of God, go I."

Could You Survive on the Breadline? premieres 8.30pm Wednesday 17 November on SBS and SBS On Demand with subtitles in Simplified Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Traditional Chinese and Korean.

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