One year on: Family’s fears for Tauranga man Julian Varley

The fragments of a family broken by grief, confusion and helplessness will come together today to mark one year since Julian Varley disappeared.

They will let off lanterns and share memories, and have difficult conversations about how everyone is holding up.

As the anniversary drew close this week, Varley’s mum and best friend spoke to the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend, sharing publicly for the first time their fears he will not come home alive.

In the last known sightings of the Tauranga 31-year-old, he was wearing a tie-dye T-shirt and shorts.

Police have footage of him using an ATM at 2.40am at The Lakes, not far from his home in Pyes Pa. About 3pm, he was seen in Chadwick Rd, Greerton.

Shortly afterwards, cameras captured Varley’s blue Nissan Pulsar travelling through the Greerton shops to State Highway 29A, turning off on to Poike Rd.

Ten hours later, the vehicle would be found far down Oropi Rd. It was on fire and, in a sinister twist, police investigators would later reveal it was riddled with bullet holes.

When Varley went missing, he was a father of two children under 10 and his partner had another on the way.

His son, now six months old, has never met his father.

Varley’s mum, Christine Varley, said the family had explained to the children that “Dad may not come home again”.

“They didn’t want to acknowledge it at first, but I think they’ve realised they probably won’t see their dad again.”

She said she was close with her son, speaking to him almost every day on the phone or when he stopped by her place.

The last time she saw him was a few days before he went missing when he and his partner came round for a few drinks and a roast dinner.

She did not think he would come home again.

“It hasn’t been easy at all, trying to keep the whole family together … especially with the baby and his kids.”

Loved ones had searched everywhere they could think of – from Pukehina to Whakamarama – without luck.

If she could say anything to her son, it would be to come home.

“We all love you, come home – please,” she said through tears.

Aaron Thomas-Rose often finds himself bursting into tears when he thinks of Varley, his best friend since they were toddlers.

They grew up joined at the hip, and people said they were more like brothers. They lived together at times, took road-trips and talked at least every few days.

“Not having that is hard, sometimes I just sit here and break down and cry. I just want to hear him give me some advice, or give a cuddle.”

Thomas-Rose said they always spoke about their problems, and Varley hadn’t mentioned anything to suggest he was in any kind of trouble.

“I do hope he is alive … I highly doubt it, just with how long it’s been,” he said.

“He wouldn’t just leave his kids and all of us wondering.”

Sleep did not provide much relief. Thomas-Rose said he would sometimes dream of Varley and wake up suddenly, wet with sweat.

Crippled by the unknown, he has struggled to find the motivation to do much.

He is not an artist, but has been drawing and writing – poems, songs, stories – in an attempt to relieve the pain of loss, and extensive searching in the bush had improved his fitness. Once, he walked for nine hours without food.

This was the first New Year without Varley around that Thomas-Rose could remember. He said last New Year, three weeks before he went missing, his mate called to tell him about the new baby on the way.

“He was excited as.”

Thomas-Rose said his own daughter was the only thing keeping him going.

If he could say anything to Varley now, it would be: “I love my bro. You will never be forgotten. You are with me always,” he said.

Varley was the eldest of four, with two sisters and a brother.

His sister Nayah Mitchell said it has been an “overwhelming … heartbreaking, crazy” year, but the knowledge her brother would keep fighting to find her if the situation was reversed had kept her going.

“I know it’s obviously not good because his car’s burnt and he wouldn’t just go missing off the face of the earth … something bad’s obviously happened, we just don’t know what,” she said.

“I believe he will come home one day, I’m not saying he will walk home or anything like that.”

She often shares posts about her brother to various Facebook pages. She said the family felt lost and helpless, and sharing his picture was the only thing she could do to help.

She hoped someone would come forward with new information, for the sake of the family – especially his children, nephews, and niece.

“There has been enough suffering going on, our family is destroyed and heartbroken. Words can’t even explain the confusion and pain we are in.

“What exactly are we meant to tell them that has happened to their dad, uncle, when we don’t even know?

“Please, we need closure.”

New Zealand author Scott Bainbridge, who has written books on the mysterious disappearances and unsolved murders of New Zealanders, said it was always hard for families when they never got the answers they needed to grieve properly.

– Additional reporting Kelly Makiha


Police continue to investigate Julian Varley’s case, and are urging anyone not yet spoken to, who has any information that might help, to come forward.

Call 105 or complete an online reporting form. Reference number: 200128/0613

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