Updated: Jul 5, 2019

Julie of Cactus Country
The ROSE between the two....thorns

We have had the pleasure of hearing from Jim, so Julie we’d love to hear from you, about your experience, your background and your involvement with Cactus Country. Can you describe for us a typical day at Cactus Country for you?

We always start the day with a coffee, enjoying the surrounds we have created before anyone arrives. We look around and think WOW, how far we have come. For me it is sometimes Front of House, looking after the lovely visitors who come to experience what they have seen on Facebook or word of mouth, it is great to hear their feedback, they just can’t believe that we have created this garden over a 30 year period. I also keep up with all of the administration side of the business and training of staff.

At the end of the day we meet up again for Corona time. Relaxing with the other staff chatting about the day and looking at the sun going down over the garden – not a bad life at all.

What have been your biggest challenges in running Cactus Country from when you started to today?

It has been a huge challenge at times to think back at what we have done to arrive where we are in 2019. Back when we started, I was a town girl so I had no idea what life on a farm was like – the challenges of weather, prices of produce, the financial management, especially when we were building a tourist attraction on the side.

The vegetable side of the business dominated our lives for many years and we employed around 25 people during harvest time, working very long hours. There was never any spare money for luxuries and the children grew up knowing money wasn’t easy, although we always had a family holiday every year. I gave up my teaching career in 1992, when John was 4 years old, to come home full time on the farm – that was such a huge decision. It meant I was committing to Jims’ dream and prepared to give up my own pathway to work together on something we had no idea would even work.

I have recently joked with him that it was lucky he grew up in the era he did, as if he tried to find a partner now to commit like I did, he would never have found a wife.

When you live and work in a business that operates 7 days a week its really hard to switch off and have personal time. I feel guilty even now if I'm not doing something that is business related. I don't really have any hobbies. A lot of my friends are retiring now but I hear them saying they still would like to have something to do to keep their minds occupied. I feel I’m not ready to retire, I love what I do. Looking after customers is very rewarding and I like keeping up with the admin work. As long as I can schedule in some trips away regularly I will be happy to keep this life up for a while yet. 

What do you think are your biggest strengths you bring to the Cactus Country team?

I guess my positive traits are I'm reliable - I will always step in if no one else is available, I like to make sure no one is under unreasonable stress. I'm generally an easy person to work with and value my family and work colleagues. I love working with young motivated people who share the passion for our business as well as developing their personal goals as well. I will always go that extra mile to make sure things are done that I'm responsible for, rather than do something for my own personal enjoyment. I'm not very demanding, which can be a negative attribute at times. I probably need to learn to get a bit more demanding at times. 

You mentioned you used to teach and had to make the decision to give up teaching in order to follow Jims ‘crazy’ dream. Often these days women are wanting to develop their own path, what were the challenges in making your decision and why did you choose to follow Jim's crazy dream?

I remember it being a very emotional time of my life. Back then there was a package offered for teachers to leave and we were able to access my superannuation which we used to pay the cool room off. I know my brother who is also a teacher thought I was crazy. I really loved teaching and I did miss the students, socialising and there are no bells at home telling you to stop work.

Jim was so passionate about what he was trying to do, it's like he inspired me to keep going. He was such a hard worker and I wanted to support him. I think if we had known how hard it was going to be in those early days we probably would have done things differently.

I know we said years later if I had kept teaching and left him to develop the tourist garden we probably would have progressed a lot faster. But I also think our marriage may not have survived this pathway. I think I would have resented my money going into a venture we had no idea what the future would be whereas this way it was like we were both in this thing together, and we both were committed to making it succeed.

Are you glad you gave up teaching to build what you have created together?

I have no regrets. It's been such an interesting life and I have learnt so much. I'm a much stronger person now. Employing backpackers from all over the world, we have met so many interesting and incredible people.

We've also been able to travel overseas and visited some of our workers in their homes. It has been so rewarding to work so hard at something against all common sense, and against what a lot of friends and family thought was viable… to be able to look back now at see how successful it has become is extremely rewarding.

If you could give women working to a creative and strong leader some advice, what would it be?

This is a difficult question as it depends on your personality as to how you cope with working with someone that is on a mission. I'm sure not everyone is suited to this.

I would say don't lose sight of your own personal contribution to the mission, what you know you bring to the partnership and also why you are choosing to be there.

Working as a team is much more rewarding than feeling you have to get personal recognition for everything you do. Enjoy the journey, smell the roses along the way, celebrate the achievements and be proud of each little

successful moment along the way. 

Today we had a great chat with Jim about the evolution of Cactus Country and where it is headed in the near future... it sounds like the Cactus Country journey is only just beginning...

So Jim, how the hell do you go about being inspired to not only create a cactus garden but Cactus Country?

Gardening was always in my genes, my father and grandfather were gardeners and we always had a large garden when we were children so I grew up gardening. My great great grandfather was a gardener for one of the largest estates in England and my grandfather was a nurseryman and gardener. So I guess from a young age I was surrounded by gardens, nursery’s and farming.

It definitely sounds like gardening has always been in your DNA then, when did you first get introduced to Cacti?

From about 5 years old until 11 I started growing cacti as a hobby on my parents farm. My father always had Cacti, I would work on cleaning them and grew seedlings as a hobby. So I guess it started from when I was pretty young.

After your experiences, how long until Cactus Country first opened?

To make ends meet, we milked cows, did seasonal farm work and ran orchards. However, we eventually decided running an orchard was not for us. So we started growing winter vegetables, and as a side hobby, started making a small cactus garden, all created by hand, wheelbarrows and a strong back!

The Cactus garden was opened to the public in 1988 but it was just a small hobby as the winter vegetables were considered the main focus.

This year was the last year of growing vegetables as the garden has taken off which is really exciting for us! Cactus Country is now one of the biggest Victorian tourism destinations for Australian and International Tourists.

Did you ever envisage being an iconic tourist destination or is that something that has just grown organically?

When I was about 18, I went overseas and saw what tourism was doing in London. I think I always had in the back of my mind that I’d like to create a space that could entertain and give national and international travelers something special to see in Victoria. We are by no means where we want to be, but really happy to have created something special to continue evolving.

Jim where do you draw your inspiration from to continually evolve what you have created?

I look at magazines, films and obviously spend a lot of time in nature. I don't really believe in new ideas, I think we are inspired and then take that inspiration and evolve it. I'm inspired by what is around me, and then bring that into my world. I’ve always had an interest in the creative process, creative people and sculpting in general. Sculpture is something I’d like to bring to the next evolution of Cactus Country.

Do you have any other insights into your creative process or developing ideas and direction?

I often think creative minds have this perception of being moody, difficult, emotional, eccentric individuals. I'm not sure I agree with that as I don't think it’s entirely true, I think these types of people have found things they love to do and therefore invest a lot of time and energy into their passions.

When you do that you get so invested and don't necessarily rest properly, sleep properly or allow enough down time. Giving our minds an opportunity to be creative and evolve new ideas while we have a good nights sleep is definitely key for me.

So speaking of creative inspiration, there is talk of an exciting new project at Cactus Country...what’s the next evolution Jim can you share with us?

For now, we are calling it ‘The Pit’, it’s the next development area at Cactus Country. (See picture of the space below) This is what we are going to transform.

We will continue to expand the garden and we have loved doing this but now I’m going to play with my sculptural side. Build some things, invite in some colour and see if we can create something special.


This sounds really exciting but by the looks of it, a very big project! What will this space be used for when its finished are you thinking?

It’ll be an opportunity to host smaller events in the middle of the garden. It is going to be about 2 acres and like any creative process, I'm not exactly sure how it’s going to turn out. I'm starting with a foggy vision and will refine it as I go.

I’m looking forward to working on it now and can’t wait to see how it turns out. I will definitely be sharing the stages with you as we go! Thanks Jim for the update and we are really excited to see how the next part of Cactus Country evolves!

If you have any ideas or inspiration you'd love to send to Jim for this space, although Jim is not on emails regularly please send them along and we will make sure he gets them!

Despite being 3 hours north of Melbourne and almost 8 hours south of Sydney, Cactus Country has become a very niche photo shoot location. Brands, bloggers and influencers are travelling from far and wide to take advantage of the Mexican Style look we have created. I guess it's a bit cheaper than flying to the desert areas in U.S.A and Mexico!

Mister Zimi was one of the first major shoots we had the pleasure of hosting and we have been lucky enough to stay in contact with Zoe and Jimi since. Sometimes in life you get to meet incredible people who are as energetic and passionate about what they do as you are!

Anyways, enough talking. Check out one of the best fashion brands in Australia and what they were able to create with our beautiful back drop!

John Hall