Redfern Now last night, and memories of Aunty Beryl

Lovely acting in last night’s sweet episode of Redfern Now.

In her mid fifties, Coral (Tessa Rose), works in a food van, which sometimes brings her into contact with victims of abuse, leading her to the mistaken conclusion that her daughter’s bruised face is the result of more than just an accident. As a result, Coral and her daughter Rosie don’t talk.

On her way home from the pet shop one day, Coral is knocked down by a bunch of teenage boys in a stolen car. One of them, Danny (Rhimi Johnson Page), hadn’t wanted to be there in the first place and instead of running off like the others, he checks to see if she is okay. He calls for an ambulance and the police are able to trace the call back to Danny’s mobile. He won’t dob his mates in and so takes the blame and is sent to jail.

Back at home Coral starts having dizzy spells and her granddaughter Julie (Shari Sebbens) is reluctantly brought in to help. Coral complains about her daughter Rosie "I knew she wouldn’t come" but Julie just wants her mum and grandmother to get on again – forgive and forget. When the spells get worse, Coral is admitted to hospital and Julie agrees to stay on to look after the house until Coral is better.

Coral (left) was memorable, and in fact she reminded me of a woman I met once in a Redfern pub…

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But it was a small item in ABC News that really took me back.

An overlooked sandstone lodge with a rich history has been transformed into a modern café offering food with a bush-tucker twist and on-the-job training for unemployed people, following a major restoration by the City of Sydney.

Visitors to the Gardener’s Lodge Café will be able to make the most of the beautiful setting in Victoria Park, with the option to try traditional foods served up with hampers and picnic blankets.

"The Gardener’s Lodge Café is a great addition to Victoria Park – a spot much loved by the local community and university students," Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

"We’ve carefully carried out a major restoration of this heritage asset. It has a new lease on life which will allow visitors and locals to experience foods infused with the flavours of the original custodians of this land."

The building was one of *two lodges built in 1885 by the former Colonial Architect to NSW, Edmund Blacket, to provide a grand main entrance to the university.

The Gothic-styled Gardener’s Lodge was the former home of the University of Sydney’s groundskeeper, who tended the sweeping lawns and gardens surrounding the campus.

In 1911, ownership passed to the City of Sydney and the building was later converted into public toilets, or ‘conveniences’ as they were then called. In need of repair, it was closed to the public in the mid-1980s.

Aboriginal Elder Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo, from the Gamillaroi people of north-west NSW, is one of three hospitality teachers who will run the café.

"There’s so much Aboriginal history in Victoria Park because it was once a gathering ground for our people," Aunty Beryl said.

"We hope the new café will also become a place where people gather and enjoy the surroundings of the beautiful park while also learning a little bit of Aboriginal history through our bush tucker flavours, like lemon myrtle aioli, kangaroo with bush tomato sauce, and rabbit pies."

Aunty Beryl runs Yaama Dhiyaan, a hospitality training college in Darlington that teaches students – primarily young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – how to prepare food using bush flavours. The college has an impressive 70 per cent success rate, with most students gaining work.

That’s Aunty Beryl in 2009 when I interviewed her at Yaama Dhiyaan for the South Sydney Herald. Click on the photo for the relevant posts. This is the SSH story I wrote.

Aunty Beryl’s three word dictionary

“My dictionary has just three words,” Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo says. “Communication, Education, Respect. That’s what I tell those students in there all the time.”

Not a bad dictionary that, and there’s a story and a half behind it.

Three years ago, following an initiative by the Redfern Waterloo Authority, Aunty Beryl co-founded the Yaama Dhiyaan Hospitality and Function Centre with chef Mathew Cribb. The Centre is in Wilson Street Darlington just by Carriage Works. Those three years have seen quite a few personal transformations – young students made confident enough by their success at Certificate II Hospitality to go back and do the HSC; families now well fed with good slow food and a real knowledge of nutrition; people finding jobs in the hospitality sector.

Of the 106 graduates who have now completed the nine week hospitality training course with Yaama Dhiyaan, 66% have gained employment or moved on to further education.

Things like Yaama Dhiyaan don’t come from nowhere, and in this case it is a long-held dream that holds the key. As a young girl in Walgett with no formal education Aunty Beryl dared to dream. She knew education was the key and dreamed of one day bringing back to the community whatever skills she might learn. At sixteen she was in Sydney working as a nanny in an upper middle-class Eastern Suburbs family.

“Yeah, I had to learn to read then, what with the kids going to Sydney Grammar.” So she did, and that was just a beginning. She remained close to that family and still does.

Her real formal education began at age thirty-one while she was working as a cook at the Murraweena preschool, then in Surry Hills. She worked days and at night studied nutrition and budget cooking at East Sydney TAFE. This was something she felt she could take back to the community.

Then she met a challenge: an invitation to become a trainee teacher for TAFE. “But I have no formal education,” she countered. That, she was told, would look after itself as she had the life skills and knowledge and an ability to communicate.

It didn’t quite look after itself as she found herself working as before, going to TAFE, and undergoing teacher training. When I asked her when she slept she just smiled.

Graduating in 1988 she went ahead in her new career. When retirement loomed the Redfern-Waterloo Authority made their offer. Here was at last the greatest chance to bring all that knowledge and experience right back into the heart of the community and make a real difference. She decided to give it a go for twelve months – and now it’s three years.

Aunty Beryl has been part of the Redfern community for fifty years now, but her beginnings are with the Gamillaroi people. The Centre’s web site says: “Yaama means ‘welcome’ and Dhiyaan means ‘family and friends’ in Aunty Beryl’s Yuwaalaraay language of the Gamillaroi people of north west New South Wales.”

“A great life,” I read somewhere years ago, “is a dream formed in childhood made real in maturity.” Aunty Beryl would probably reject that applying to herself, but it’s hard to deny.

She wanted to know if this would be a positive story as we had talked a bit about the dark side and the way Aboriginal issues are represented so often in politics and the mainstream media. How could it not be positive? Seeing the college, the students, and meeting Aunty Beryl have been inspiring. Anyone who dropped in would be inspired too – and well fed, if you happen by when food is on offer. As Aunty Beryl told SBS’s Living Black: “We specialise in bush tucker. We might have crocodile – we’ll do that with a lemon myrtle sauce, we might have kangaroo and we’ll just do that with skewers, and make a bush tomato sauce for that, vegetables in some of our herbs and spices.”

But it is the transformation of lives that is the real work at Yaama Dhiyaan. “You can’t forget the past because that is who you are. It’s in your heart,” Aunty Beryl told me. “But we have to move on for the sake of the future generation. Some come here needing their self-esteem building up and we show them they can have confidence, and they do have choices.”

See SSHNOV09.

Hard to believe that was three years ago now! Aunty Beryl is one of the most remarkable people I ever met.

See also Ambassadors for dignity and grace.

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2 thoughts on “Redfern Now last night, and memories of Aunty Beryl

  1. Aunty Beryl, we live on the coast of Maine, USA. We are coming to Australia in February for a too short visit of Sydney and Queensland, only 13 days. I have been reading many Aboriginal legends and have come to have a very high regard for your people. I would love to come visit and taste your bush tucker. My family consists of 2 children, my son, age 14 and my daughter, 21 and disabled (she uses a wheelchair – this trip is her graduation from University gift, she loves Australia), my husband, myself and we always bring along my mother. I’d like to convince them to try something different. Your kangaroo pie sounds awesome. Thanks, Heidi Gordon

    • That’s great but I am not Aunty Beryl. Maybe get in touch with the South Sydney Herald (there’s a link in the post) who can probably steer you in the right direction.

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