HOSPITALITY teacher and restaurateur Beryl Van-Oploo dreamt for eight years of running a bush tucker cafe in Victoria Park overlooking the waterhole where the Gadigal people of the Eora nation once gathered.
Three weeks ago, her dream was realised when the mostly Aboriginal-owned Gardener's Lodge Cafe opened in one of the oldest colonial buildings in Sydney.
Aunty Beryl, as she likes to be known, doesn't only want the cafe to introduce people to the delights of foods like lemon myrtle aioli, wattle seed pancakes and kangaroo pie (made in a non-apologetically authentic way so the flavour and aroma stand out). She's using the cafe to give young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hospitality students a chance to hone their knives and develop their culinary skills.
Back in the 1980s there were some bush tucker cafes, but few were owned by Aboriginal people, said Aunty Beryl, who is from the Gamillaroi people of north-west NSW.
Now the woman who came to Sydney from Walgett 50 years ago to work as a nanny for an affluent white family said her people were realising that they also had to own their own businesses.
"It has taken us a while, but we are getting there as our kids get educated. If you have an education, you have a voice. If you don't, you have anger and attitude."
Over the years, the students she has taught at the Yaama Dhiyaan Hospitality Training College in Darlington have gone on to work as waiters, housemaids, concierges, chefs and baristas. Some are working at Uluru. Two students have been given apprenticeships and others will be employed as waiters and kitchenhands in the new cafe.
The cafe is located in the Gothic-style lodge built by Edmund Blacket in 1885. It was originally the home of the University of Sydney's groundskeepers, who tended the beautiful lawns surrounding the campus. From 1911, it was used as a public toilet before the building was closed and fell into disrepair in the early 1980s.
For years, Aunty Beryl 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," she added.
The park was special because there was a lot of Aboriginal history. "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."
The lord mayor, Clover Moore, said the cafe was a great addition to Victoria Park - a spot much loved by the community and university students.