My plan to blog about last week’s Dis/connections postgrad conference has been rudely interrupted by a breakfast I just ate at the new Gardener’s Lodge Cafe in Victoria Park near the University of Sydney. It was SO delicious and the new cafe is so lovely that I’m doing something unheard of so far on this bookish blog: writing about food.
But the real reason I’m moved to write about the cafe is the story of its creation and what goes on behind the scenes.
The Gardener’s Lodge Cafe, which is mostly Aboriginal owned, is the realisation of hospitality teacher Beryl Van-Oploo’s 8-year dream of a bush tucker cafe in an abandoned cottage overlooking the duck ponds in Victoria Park.
The cottage, built in 1885 as a home for Sydney University’s groundkeepers, had been sitting empty since the early 1980s. The City of Sydney Council has had various proposals for its reuse, including transforming it into a community arts centre, but I think turning it into the cafe Van-Oploo dreamt of is one of the council’s few strokes of genius. (Another is the permanent addition of Michael Thomas Hill’s birdcage installation Forgotten Songs in Angel Place.)
Van-Oploo – or Aunty Beryl as she likes to be called – conceived of her cafe not only as a place for bush tucker (lemon myrtle aioli, wattle seed pancakes, kangaroo pie), but also as a place to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hospitality students valuable work experience. The students come from the Yaama Dhiyaan Hospitality Training College in nearby Darlington, which uses food grown in the brilliant local gardening project started by Chippendale resident and sustainability guru Michael Mobbs (whose brand new book is Sustainable Food).
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Aunty Beryl has for years imagined a day when the lodge would become her ‘little house on the prairie. But now it’s my little house on the prairie with WiFi. We get a lot of uni students so we got to cater for them.’
The cafe overlooks the duck ponds (below) in Victoria Park which I run past most mornings – but until now I never knew I was running past an old waterhole where the Gadigal people of the Eora nation once gathered. As Aunty Beryl says: ‘We’re overlooking a waterhole there and that was an Aboriginal meeting place. It was also a gathering place for the animals and the birds, and there was some bush tucker there.’
So, circles within circles. Including the delicious corn fritters I had for breakfast. (The cafe was officially opened by the Lord Mayor Clover Moore on Saturday 1 December 2012.)