Verandah cafe giving young indigenous kids an espresso shot at jobs in Cape York
In the past, if you found yourself in the upper reaches of Cape York desperate for the taste of a freshly ground, strong, hot macchiato, you were on your own.
Instant coffee has long been the brew – not so much of choice, but necessity – in this part of Australia.
“We had birdwatchers and backpackers and caravaners just sort of turn up,” Chris Gooden said.
“And Lockhart River is a pretty off-the-beaten-track sort of place, so to have those people turning off looking for coffee was magic and to be able to deliver it was awesome.”
Mr Gooden is a Melbourne cafe owner who has helped a group of Indigenous teenagers open Lockhart River’s first cafe, making the only ‘real’ coffee in a 300-kilometre radius.
Last year, the kids visited his cafe in the inner west Melbourne suburb of Seddon to learn how to make ancoffee and take their part-time catering business to a full-blown cafe.
But Mr Gooden wanted to do more to help.
“I was inspired by that story and once I found out what sort of equipment they were using and what sort of challenges they faced in that community, we thought we should get them some better equipment,” he said.
His supplier donated a professionalmachine to replace the home-style coffee maker the teens were using.
Then it was up to Mr Gooden to install it.
After an epic 4,000km journey, he personally delivered the machine to the “Verandah cafe” and spent two days teaching the teenagers how to use it.
“We were making ferns and beautiful milk and silky milk and that’s exactly the money shot we wanted to have,” Gooden said, beaming.
Cafe provides employment, community spirit
Shenika Rocky, 18, who was one of the 12 teens who visited Melbourne last year, has become the cafe’s first full-time employee after graduating last year.
“That’s great to see we now have a career path for one of these girls and to give [them] an occupation and an enterprise they can own and grow,” Mr Gooden said.
The new machine means the cafe has gone from ad-hoc hours to opening six days a week, selling up to 30 coffees a day.
Sandy Marshall, a teacher at the Lockhart River school that started the business, said the cafe had been embraced by the community.
“Obviously it’s not all the kids who are interested in doing coffee, but there’s definitely a few kids where this is going to be something they do for a very long time,” she said.
“I think the community can see they’re doing something positive and they get inspired by that.”
For Mr Gooden, another feat was that the cafe was creating not only employment opportunities, but a stronger sense of community.
“We had a verandah full of people just getting together and sharing coffee and sharing stories,” he said.
“We wanted to create not just a coffee machine but a cafe, and that’s what we seem to have done. So it’s awesome.”
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