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 1888 by the former Colonial Architect to NSW, James Barnet, 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.
“Our café will provide a place for kids coming through Yaama Dhiyaan, so we can perhaps employ them as an apprentice chef or waitress while they continue their studies. It’s in the heart of their community and this will be a great opportunity for them,” she said.
“I know we’re not going to change everyone’s life, but if we can turn things around for one or two people and give them an opportunity, it’s a great outcome. It also has a big domino effect on the rest of the community; I’m so excited about it.”
Gardener’s Lodge Café will sell hampers and hire picnic blankets, allowing visitors to spontaneously step back in time in this unique inner-city location.
“It’s a dream come true to open our café in Victoria Park in one of the oldest buildings in Sydney. Our café will be entirely different to anything people have experienced before,” Aunty Beryl said.
“It’s a great opportunity to make bush foods accessible to new audiences and provide employment and training opportunities, particularly for Aboriginal people.”
The Gardeners Lodge won the The Office of the Valuer General Heritage Award from the Australian Property Institute NSW last month.
Judges said the building was a standout entry, performing well in all of the award criteria, especially demonstrating innovative approaches, sustainability and financial performance.
The entry adopted innovative approaches to sustainability and environmental aspects including LED lighting, a solar hot water system, rainwater tank and grey water for use in the toilets. Impressively, the building has stayed true to its historical look even with the inclusion of these advanced technological sustainability elements. This was achieved by restoring the stone façade and repairing the original slate roof.
*The other building, Messenger Lodge, was demolished in 1940.
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