Borrowed time: The tragedies and triumphs of Julia Price
The two-time World Cup winner has overcome an endless stream of personal sadness to establish herself as one of women cricket's most important – and unsung – figures
Ahead of the 2020 Women's T20 World Cup, we take a closer look at some trailblazers who were crucial to the development of women's cricket in Australia
When Julia Price flew out over the Pacific in April 2018, she carried with her a decade's worth of emotional baggage.
Price needed to get away from her life as she knew it, and she wanted to feel unencumbered and free from outside influence as she replotted her path.
"I didn't even really know where I was going; I just wanted to go somewhere," she says. "And also feel like I was doing something for someone else, so I could stop feeling sorry for myself."
Price was instilled with a sense of optimism in life by her God-fearing parents, Wendy and Graham, one consequence of which has been a steadfast unwillingness to lose herself in the fog of grief. She had quickly grown tired of wallowing in self-pity, just as she was tired of arranging funerals.
"You've got to dedicate some time to the whole process of what's happened and how it's affected you, but at the same time it can just drag on and on and on, and get ridiculous," she says. "There's a time where you have to say to yourself, 'OK, I've dealt with that, I know what it is now, how do I keep moving forward?'"
Price saw a psychologist for a while to help work through the many issues she had been confronted with in the years prior, which had reached a sort of tipping point with her exit from the position of head women's coach at Cricket Tasmania at the end of the 2017-18 season. The sessions were a first step towards clearing her mind, and one that helped her decide her next move. Travel had long been a source of nourishment for her soul, and so Price decided that would be her way forward.
She got in touch with an organisation called Habitats for Humanity, and put her name down to join a group tasked with building smokeless ovens for widowed women in Guatemala.
There her plans began and ended. She knew not where this road would take her, nor for how long.
Julia Price doesn't like to admit that she was born in Sydney. The maroon of Queensland, she insists, suits her olive skin much better, and besides, she crossed the border as a two-year-old with her parents and older brother, and the family settled in Brisbane thereafter.
Price never knew her birth mother or father; Wendy and Graham adopted her and her brother as babies, the two immediately and inextricably linked by the formation of a family, though not biology.
From the outset they were different kids. Julia played any and every sport she was introduced to and made friends easily with the other children in the street, where she spent much of her youth.
Her brother had no interest in sport and found his passions instead in art, photography and music.
"We certainly had a good childhood and we played reasonably well together," Price remembers, "but we also had very different lives and were different people as well."
She rarely thought about her birth mother and father, content as she was in the love and support her parents provided and the opportunities and friends she was finding at Somerville House, the girls school she attended just off Vulture Street on the south side of the Brisbane River, a short walk from the Gabba.
The notion of being adopted however, became one her brother struggled to reconcile with. In time, for reasons unclear to Price, it morphed into a millstone that was too much to carry. His decision to turn to drugs led to a lifelong addiction and many subsequent problems; the dependence and the dealing and the prison time coalesced into a decades-long wave of torment for the entire family.
"We certainly grew up in the same environment … I don't know how it works, who knows?" Price reflects when asked why she and her brother took such different paths.
"My family were very supportive to him the whole way through."
Price had been in Grade 12 when she discovered women's cricket. The sport had been a summer soundtrack on television throughout her childhood, quite literally; she still remembers waiting with a real sense of anticipation for each season's version of C'mon Aussie, C'mon.
"I used to love that every year as a kid," she says. "That's what got me into it in the first place.
"Even though I wasn't even aware women were playing, I just loved it."
In the backyard or out on the street and within her own mind, Price was the graceful Greg Chappell with bat in hand, and the hellish Jeff Thomson with the ball. She travelled with her father to the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch Chappell bat against the West Indies in the 1981 Boxing Day Test, and she was holidaying again in Melbourne seven summers later, staying with family, when she turned on the television to find the women's World Cup final being broadcast live from the MCG.
Price stared wordlessly at the screen, the seeds of the next three decades of her life instantly being sown as Lindsay Reeler steered Australia to a third world title.
"As soon as I came back to Brisbane, I rang a club," she says. "I turned up for the last two games, and then started properly the season after."
Price fell into wicketkeeping at her club side, Easts, and in time took the gloves in the top team from legendary women's cricketer Katherine Raymont, in whose honour the Brisbane women's Premier Cricket competition is named.
"My earliest memory of Pricey is playing against her when she was in the Queensland Under 21s," recalls Mel Jones, her long-time Australia teammate and best friend to this day. "She was this gobby little wicketkeeper. She had the mouthguard in, and she just wouldn't shut up."
The pair became close during their time at the national cricket academy in Adelaide, with Price – according to Jones – the mischievous influence forever encouraging her to stay out for that one extra drink. On the training paddock, they pushed each other as they strove to reach that next level, a goal which at that point still seemed unattainable.
But in February 1996, Price was selected in an Australian side that was about to embark on a period of unprecedented success under the captaincy of Belinda Clark (Jones would debut a year later). In an amateur era, the squad trained with the commitment of professionals and the passion that had driven them to represent their country for nothing more than the love of the game.
Clark. Karen Rolton. Cathryn Fitzpatrick. Price stood side by side with giants of women's cricket. Pioneers and record breakers. From behind the stumps, she was the pulse of the side but a relative novice among the company she was keeping. She worked her backside off, desperate to match the standards set by her teammates, and found warm satisfaction in the anonymity of an error-free performance with the gloves.
"There was this general culture in the group, and that's led by your captain," Price remembers. "Belinda had this real drive. She was an elite tennis player as well. A physiotherapist. You know, one of those annoying over-achievers (laughs).
"But she had this drive and this ability to inspire everyone to be better and better. And you wanted to do it for everyone else in the group.
"I needed that. I was so new to the game. I needed that structure and that drive just to keep me going all the time.
"It could have been easy just to fall away."
Price remembers the World Cup wins that almost bookend her nine years at the top level – the triumph at Eden Gardens in '97 and the 2005 success at Centurion. In between there were 10 Test matches, which included an unbeaten 80 against England in her maiden innings in Baggy Green.
But it is the memories outside the game she savours most, particularly alongside Jones, with whom she would take the chance to explore the world for weeks at a time at the end of each tour. Price laughs when she recalls almost drowning on the Nile during a white-water rafting adventure in Kenya. They trekked mountains in Nepal, visited game reserves in Zimbabwe and sat with gorillas in the Ugandan jungle. They bribed a policeman with biltong in Kruger National Park, having stuck an aerial out the car window on the way so they could listen to the Aussie men taking on New Zealand in the 1999 World Cup. Throughout, the bonds of friendship were tightened, the shared experiences becoming treasured lifelong memories.
"I trained harder to be in the team just so I could go on those trips," Price grins. "It had nothing to do with the cricket in the end."
Wendy Price made it to her daughter's 100th game for Queensland in late 2006 before pancreatic cancer robbed her of the chance to enjoy retirement. An occupational therapist, she had quit her job to care for her son as he battled his addictions. She watched her daughter help Queensland beat New South Wales on a special day for the Price family. Three months later, the cancer had taken her.
"Sort of unfair I suppose, but that's life to a degree," Price reflects.
"My mum sacrificed a lot for my brother. He was an adult, so he should've been able to (look after) himself."
Price's career with Queensland finished soon after but two years later she found herself reborn as a middle-order batter when Tasmania gained entry into the women's national T20 competition (and the 50-over format a year later). She and fellow veteran Jones had been approached to guide the side through its maiden season. They accepted the challenge with alacrity, and Jones remembers the emotion attached to their first win.
"We beat South Australia in Launceston, and Pricey and I were over the moon," she says. "Everyone knows we're not huggers – we could go months without seeing each other but we just don't see the need to hug when we do.
"Anyway, she'd come off after getting us over the line with a ripping knock. We were coming towards each other and I said, 'Mate, I'm going to hug you' and she said, 'I thought so, OK, let's do it'.
"Everyone else was absolutely wetting themselves. I think they all knew how much that win meant to us because we were actually showing some sort of affection."
For Price, the growth of the women's game in Tasmania became something of a personal crusade over the years that followed. It had always been her way. She had earned her coaching qualifications in the 1990s and worked overseas during her playing days, coaching in Ireland, Holland, Scotland and South Africa. For her it was a means of spreading the sporting gospel, offering opportunities to those who might not otherwise have received them. It had been the same at AFL Queensland after her retirement from international cricket. Her mother's illness had put her overseas coaching roles on hold but she relished the new position, which focused on developing Aussie Rules among women in south-east Queensland.
"That was brilliant," she says. "It was an enormous job, but it was a lot of fun."
It was impactful, too; Jones insists the early success of the Brisbane Lions in the AFLW can be traced back in no small part to Price's dedication to growing the women's game in that region.
So when her playing days finally came to an end in January 2012, a couple of days short of her 40th birthday, Price switched seamlessly into coaching, making the permanent move to Hobart to become head coach of the women's team the following year.
Price took great personal satisfaction from witnessing the evolution of women's cricket in Australia's smallest state. From their initial inclusion in the national competition in 2009, they had grown into a genuinely competitive group in the T20 format, the Hurricanes finishing second in the inaugural Women's Big Bash League and fourth the year after that.
"Over the 10 years that I was involved with them, either as a player or a coach, you could really see the growth in the game down there and it was fun to be involved in," she says. "Again, it was that opportunity of letting young girls play cricket if they want to.
"They don't have to, but they've got the opportunity. It was the same with football."
Price was making her mark as a head coach but the ground kept falling from beneath her feet in her personal life. At the beginning of 2014, she and her partner split after a decade together. The decision was mutual, and the pair remains good friends but, says Price, "it was another shift in your life in terms of, 'Which direction are you going to go from here?'"
With her mother gone and her father having made the decision to stop speaking with her brother, she was also required to play the role of supportive sister from interstate, visiting him in jail whenever possible.
It was a stressful period and that feeling was compounded cruelly when in March 2014, shortly after her break-up, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. While a small part of her feared it was a death sentence, Price tapped into her reserves of positivity. She was still relatively young, and she was otherwise fit and healthy.
"It wasn't quite all doom and gloom," she says. "Obviously it wasn't the news I wanted to hear but I don't know, I was semi-confident I would get through it."
Encouragingly, there was also a high survival rate for her type of cancer with the aid of chemotherapy. Price underwent treatments for the next eight months in Hobart. A McGrath Foundation breast cancer nurse was appointed to her (she later took a lot from being able to personally thank Glenn McGrath), while she also had friends visit from interstate as she convalesced. Her dad stayed for a week on the premise of 'looking after her', though Price wryly recalls doing the vast majority of the cooking. More than five years on, she is categorised as being in remission. Typically, she finds an upside when she reflects on the experience.
"It sounds weird but in a way it was a nice sort of time, because I got to spend quality time with people close to me," she says.
"It also makes you reflect on your life, and the direction you're going: what you want to do; what are your values; what do you really cherish in your life?"
For Price, those ruminations were all-too brief. For the four years that followed, she found herself unable to give much consideration to the bigger picture. Instead, she was forced to deal with the fact her family was disappearing around her.
Graham Price's diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis came in 2015, not long after her recovery from cancer. Without her mother around and with her brother in jail, she worried about her father constantly from 1700 kilometres away. The final stages happened quickly, which was merciful in a sense but also took Price by surprise.
"He got put in hospital in September and then by early November he'd passed away," she remembers. "I thought from what the doctor was saying he had another year or two at least."
For the second time in her life, she was left to organise the funeral of a parent. Complicating matters was her brother's ongoing incarceration. Price arranged – and paid – for his day release so he could attend. She says now she can just about see the funny side of it as she recalls her brother handcuffed, flanked by two guards, delivering his eulogy.
"It was almost like a movie," she grins, shaking her head. "Surreal."
Her relationship with her brother continued to be a complex one but in the period that followed Graham's death, she remained a vital support. Hope for Price came with his release from jail; she had lamented the lack of any psychological care on the inside, but, she says, "the fact he'd been clean for a couple of years in jail, I thought maybe that was the break he needed."
He moved into a halfway house and Price remembers catching up with him at one point, maybe six months after their father's death, and reminiscing on their first-ever trip to the drive-in as kids. They had watched Xanadu, and her brother talked about how he would love to see it again.
Weeks later, Price was back in Hobart when she logged into her Facebook account. There was a message waiting for her from one of her brother's friends. Her brother had overdosed in his bedroom – no-one knew exactly when – and died.
She remembers him now as funny and intelligent, more willing to look out for her as 'bigger brother' as they grew, but deeply troubled.
"It was just a shame that the demons of whatever was going through his head – addictions, and being adopted, all those extra things going through his brain – he just couldn't cope with all of them," she says.
"And then unfortunately, when he got out, he was put in an environment that was far too tempting for him, and he was unable to resist it."
Price was left to arrange another funeral. It was the last of her immediate family, though she didn't feel alone, or lonely; Jones supported her through it, and so too did some long-term friends from school.
Several of her brother's most loyal friends attended the service, where she made a point of adding Xanadu to the playlist.
Price feels as though it took around two months of travel to piece herself back together after leaving Cricket Tasmania, but she stayed away for six. She made her way through Central, South and North America, catching up with Jones for a week in Chicago and even maintaining cricket connections; she conducted a training session for the Argentinean women's national team, and worked with the USA women's team during their combine week in New York.
"It was an opportunity, even though it was forced upon her, to actually just stop and probably deal with the last four years," Jones reflects.
"Having that time and space to just go through the emotion of it all – where you're at, what you're feeling – I don't think she'd had that opportunity because life was still going on.
"So it was a massive year for her, probably one of the most draining, because she had to face it all.
"Travel is something she absolutely loves so to be able to experience new and enjoyable things while trying to figure out where to and why was probably the perfect mix for her."
The work in New York proved a forerunner to the position Price currently holds – head coach of the USA women's team. It is a bold undertaking within an organisation that holds lofty goals, such as both the men's and women's national cricket teams representing the USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. Price admires the ambition but busies herself more with the quotidian, as well as the people. She draws parallels between the task she now faces with what she was able to help make happen in Tasmania.
So incredible to see the reward for all the hard work that has been put into @usacricket in the past couple of years paying off @julia_price1. And awesome to see u investing in the next generation! #cricketwithoutboundaries https://t.co/SYyd4lqBNi— Jonty Rhodes (@JontyRhodes8) May 27, 2019
"No-one has a clue what's going on over there but they want to grow the game and it will get big, and it's actually quite fun being involved in that embryonic stage," she says.
"It nearly feels the same (as Tasmania). The numbers are low, and when I started playing for Tasmania they'd only just started a (female) club competition.
"They haven't got a (female) club competition in America at all, or any local sort of stuff, and that's what we're trying to start now so that we can start building up."
Price sees potential in the players. She is excited by some of the talent, most notably a 15-year-old fast bowler of Indian descent named Geetika Kodali, who she believes will in time become an outstanding allrounder. She feels cricket needs to tap into the college system, allowing young women to play cricket while studying, as happens with other sports in the US.
"We've got another girl who's just turned 18 and she's at Sydney University for the next four years," she says. "One of the reasons for that is so she can play cricket week-in, week-out.
"That's what we need to start working on (in the US) … start with one or two on each coast and blow it out from there. The universities want south-east Asian students – they're intelligent and hard-working.
"USA Cricket are starting to fill up their staff, and one of those will be a game development type person looking at how we grow the game."
Price spends one week out of each month in the US, where the power base of the sport recently moved to San Francisco as USA Cricket formed a partnership with American Cricket Enterprises.
Her team is working towards the 50-over World Cup qualifiers in Sri Lanka in July, and Price is looking at ways to have them playing matches more regularly.
After ideal preparation with our new Head Coach, @Julia_Price1, #TeamUSA🇺🇸 Women's Squad get ready for a simply huge 3 days with winners this week securing a place in BOTH the @T20WorldCup Qualifier 2019 + @CricketWorldCup Qualifier 2020 FULL SCHEDULE ➡️: https://t.co/KZU2Ok2j3U pic.twitter.com/ZTj1GpyYIb— USA Cricket (@usacricket) May 16, 2019
"They just don't play enough games," she says. "We're hoping to start a conference-style competition where regional teams (within the US) all play against each other, and then from those regional teams they'll get an east versus west.
"And now we've got the top 24 girls (as part of the USA squad) instead of just 15, so we're stretching those people who are getting exposed to the program."
If Price needed any inspiration in the face of the daunting task she has taken on, she found it last July in Lyon, France. There she sat among more than 53,000 people watching the women's football World Cup semi-final between the USA and England.
"It was just so normal – it wasn't like they had to 'rally the troops' to get people there," she says. "In 1997, when we had the World Cup in India, they went around picking women up in buses and shipping them into games … but these are paying people, flying in from other countries.
"It was fantastic to see that women's sport has come so far."
Those advancements were evident closer to home this summer in a manner that brought a smile to Price's face. The reprising of the famous C'mon Aussie, C'mon, this time celebrating Australia's female players in the build-up to the T20 World Cup, was for her a happy merging of eras.
Around the same time that CommBank-sponsored advertising campaign was being rolled out, Price was also taking her own notable step for the women's game. In joining Darren Lehmann's support staff at the Brisbane Heat, she became the first female to hold a coaching position in the KFC Big Bash League's nine-year history. She has approached the role cautiously, aware that relationships are forged over time and not forced, but already conversations are becoming more meaningful. She is also viewing it in a wider context; if she can begin to normalise for male players the presence of a female coach, it will be that bit easier for the next one who comes along.
"It's that extra little step towards acceptance, or normality, or whatever you want to call it," she says.
Price returned from her travels in 2018 with two key learnings. She fears coming across all "zen and wanky", but one of those was about being more present in the moment.
"When I'm in Hobart and I take my dogs for a walk, I'm taking in the fact I can hear the ocean a few metres to my left – those sorts of things," she says.
"It sounds funny, but when you get older and you've had a death scare, you do look at things slightly differently."
That train of thought rolls easily into the other lesson: using her time to have an impact.
"What's become clearer in the last couple of years has been that I want to be in jobs that are making a difference and helping other people," she says. "I'm doing stuff I really enjoy doing now and I feel like there's a purpose to it – I'm able to help other people do what they want to do.
"I get some satisfaction out of that."
Price has in fact chosen to do that for more than 20 years now. Her coaching and development roles within and beyond Australia have helped offer opportunities for minorities or those who would previously not have received them. It is not difficult to theorise on the genesis of that path; for Price, sport – and its absence – was the fundamental difference in her and her brother's childhoods.
"There are so many people who have gotten out of bad situations or bad crowds or whatever, by playing sport and being around it," she says.
"Maybe through my involvement in sport I didn't go through the issues that he did."
Whatever the underlying reasons, Price's quiet role in the revolution of women's sport in Australia will likely forever be underplayed, though there have been some acknowledgements along the way, such as being an inaugural induction into the Queensland Cricket Women's Hall of Fame last year. Jones, of course, has not let her friend's influence escape her attention.
"I always say I was exceptionally fortunate to have played in one of the best teams Australia has ever put on the park," she says. "But then I look at the people who have gone on and helped seriously shape the sport in Australia, and Pricey's probably been the quiet achiever there.
"I don't think I could handle all that she went through, particularly in that short space of time.
"Then to still develop players and programs and put on this very brave face, it's amazing.
"What she has been able to do is have so many different touchpoints.
"I'm rapt that she's had that different path because it makes the sport stronger, and it's something she loves doing as well."
Price is trying to convince Jones to find a small window in her calendar in April, so they can reprise their days as travel partners.
She has earmarked Egypt, where she has a local friend willing to whisk them away from the well-worn tourist path, and Jordan, which for Price represents more uncharted territory.
She has no idea how many countries she has explored; the idea of keeping count never really occurred to her. Instead she travels, perhaps now more than ever, for a sense of freedom, and a sense of the unknown, both feelings informed by the experiences she has lived, survived, and somehow alchemised.
"I know I'm already on borrowed time; if I hadn't had the (chemotherapy) treatment, I'd probably be dead," she says.
"So I'm quite aware that something great can happen every day, and you just don't know when it's all going to finish."
Read more in our 'Trailblazers' series