With quality roasters and cafes popping up faster than we can count, it’s easy to forget that there are places in Australia that don’t hanker after the perfect blended roast, or agonise over the temperature of their milk the same way Melbourne does.
Our elaborate coffee culture can (rightly) be a target for satire. But Chris Gooden, owner of Seddon Deadly Sins Cafe, decided it could offer something to people further away from city centres.
After talking to his friend Joe O’Brien about the challenges faced by young people in the Aboriginal community of Lockhart River, Cape York in far North Queensland, Gooden got in touch with Siobhan Jackson (Joe’s sister), who is principal of Lockhart State School. The pair decided to bring a bit of Melbourne’s cafe scene to one of Australia’s most-remote areas. “We can’t help everybody, but we can all help somebody,” says Gooden, who is training marginalised youths in the area in a skill he can impart – coffee making.
A group of students made the trip to Melbourne to master the basics with Gooden in Seddon last year. Then, he visited the community, and helped it find a reconditioned Gaggia espresso coffee machine (a donation from his supplier). That was the start of the Verandah Cafe, initially run as a school project and now trading six days a week. It also employs one of the students full time. At the moment, Gooden points out; it’s the only city-style coffee provider within a 300-kilometre radius. “There is one coffee machine for 630 people,” he says.
Godden says the existing community feel makes the area an ideal environment for hospitality and working with young people. A day at the cafe is spent sharpening skills on how to properly texture milk and press the coffee – and most importantly, engaging young people who were at a loose end. “The satisfaction I get from what I do is priceless,” Gooden says.
Providing youth with hospitality training is just one of many positives to come from the initiative. Community members love the space, which has become a place of comfort and refuge. Gooden observes that Verandah Cafe is becoming a social hub where stories are shared and laughter is spread. “They [the students] are building a rapport and engaging with the customers, finding out about what they like in their coffee so [they] can make it just for them."
And some students have found their calling. “For those of us who love it; this is our passion,” says Gooden.