Our own Jamie Oliver:
23 May 2006
The Sydney Morning Herald
A new initiative aims to feed minds and break down barriers, writes Jacqui
It's all very well to whip up a meal with an oven, but cooking on an open fire?
"That's an art," says Beryl Van-Oploo. It's a skill she picked up as a child
growing up in Walgett, in north-west NSW. "That was the only way to do it out
in the bush - you learnt those skills from your oldies and they stay with you
for the rest of your life."
Now she is hoping to pass on her knowledge to Aboriginal people who have never
lived in the bush or eaten bush tucker. "Our own mob, they won't try kangaroo
or emu," she says, "because they didn't grow up with it."
Supported by the Redfern-Waterloo Authority, Van-Oploo is due to open a
hospitality training school called Yaama Dinhawan at the North Eveleigh
Training Centre in August. In the language of her people, the Yuwaalaraay,
yaama means welcome and dinhawan means emu, the emblem of the new school.
Joining Van-Oploo are Jennice and Raymond Kersh whose restaurant Edna's Table,
which closed last May, brought indigenous ingredients to fine dining for more
than 20 years.
Raymond will teach in the kitchen while Jennice concentrates on front-of-house
training. Van-Oploo covers culture. "Our goal is the same: to pass on our
expertise," she says. The facilities will include an outdoor cooking area with
an open fire so she can show how to prepare roo, damper and stews without a
timer and temperature-control knob.
Van-Oploo also has plenty of indoor experience. She was already cooking for a
living when she did a TAFE nutrition course and ended up teaching there for 15
years. She was also the chef at Lilli Pilli in The Rocks, which specialised in
Australian native cuisine. Five years ago she retired but a few months later
was back in the kitchen, this time working from a caravan at Marrickville
training mainly young Aboriginal women. Part of the aim was to boost their
self-confidence to enter the workforce.
For the past 15 months, Van-Oploo has taken on more work, at the Redfern
Community Centre, where she is universally known as Aunty Beryl. She recently
helped out at the centre's second birthday celebrations, catering for
200, and she's there on Tuesdays and Thursdays, teaching anyone who is
interested, from kids to elders, in the onsite kitchen preparing lunches for
the local community.
"I'm very big on nutrition," she says. "We spoil them every so often,
apple pie with custard, or pavlova. But it's mostly low-fat, very healthy:
silverside with potatoes - what we call an 'Aussie' meal - or it might be a
She is about to accompany a group of Aboriginal teenagers to a youth expo in
Maroochydore, where as well as presenting a program of song, video and dance,
they will prepare the recipes she has taught them, including wattleseed
and barramundi with lemon-myrtle butter sauce.
At home, she cooks simple things - grills, salads, pasta, fresh vegies. "My
husband and I are looking after ourselves," she says. "Aboriginal women have a
life expectancy of 50-odd years. I'm past that now and I thank my lucky stars
As well as skills, she'd like to pass on her passion for the job and an
understanding of what it can achieve. "Everybody eats food and the way
down barriers is having a meal."