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Putting disability centre stage with Julia Hales

05 April 2022

Putting disability centre stage with Julia Hales

The Subiaco actor and writer – and diehard Home & Away fan – Julia Hales is smashing stereotypes and giving visibility to people with Down syndrome.

At age eight, Julia Hales tuned into the premiere of Home & Away and thought, “I’d like to be the first person with Down syndrome on it.”
She hasn’t missed a single episode since that day in 1988. And although that particular dream is still on the bucket list, it has inspired a career on stage – helping to break down stereotypes and give a voice to people with disabilities. "People can see us as just Down syndrome," she says.

"I want people to see us for who we are and what we do as part of the world.”
Julia Hales

In 2019, she wrote and performed her autobiographical play You Know We Belong Together as part of the Perth Festival. Set in a Summer Bay diner, it explores love, acceptance and belonging through the lens of a woman who just happens to have Down syndrome. “I've always wanted Australia and the whole world to see what I can do," she says.

The show was a smash hit, winning two Performing Arts WA awards and returning for an encore season. It also led to Julia being nominated for an Australian of the Year award and scoring an ABC presenter gig for the documentary The Upside of Downs, which explores the rise of prenatal testing and termination. "It was great because I've always wanted to talk to doctors and parents about Down syndrome," she says. Along the way, she had to have some “very challenging” conversations, such as with a parent who terminated her Down syndrome baby. But the discomfort has been worth it. "A lot of people have been coming up to me and saying, 'Wow, you've really educated me'," she says. "They didn’t know anything about how people with Downs syndrome used to get treated."

A voice for others in the community

Beyond the stage, the Subiaco local keeps busy helping others. "I do a lot of workshops, I help people to get their voices heard," she says. "There are so many ways of showing it – through dance, through movies.” She also teaches a goal-setting map method, something she uses personally to achieve her dreams.

One is to be a better leader in the community. Already this year, she has big plans that involve mentoring, a disability skills exchange, and a new gig working with young kids living with disabilities at Sensorium Theatre – alongside her acting gigs. "It's about performance using stories," she says. "They tell me I'm an inspiration for those younger kids. I'm telling other people's stories and helping them raise their voices."

And she hasn't given away those Home & Away dreams yet. "My parents always told me, 'You're an amazing woman – you can do whatever you want.' Mum told me to never give up – and I haven't."


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