My husband Rob  and I live in the Blue Mountains, but spend a lot of time in Sydney.  We usually stay in the same hotel apartments on the lower north shore. Conveniently, they are  located  above  a  small shopping centre. Every morning Rob pops down for coffee  from the bakery.



I love the way the coffee comes  in  a little cardboard carrier, with two complimentary miniature cakes….tiny cupcakes, shortbread or, best of all, that iconic Aussie favourite;  lamingtons. What more inspiration could  a writer on social history  desire?

If I write 50 words I can eat this!

If I write 50 words I can eat this!


We are not the only ones who appreciate these little goodies. My associate Editor Des and his friend Milly like to help themselves, given half a chance!










Tiny cupcakes topped with jam...yum.

Tiny cupcakes topped with jam…yum.

But the baker is from a very different cultural background. His name is Diep Hak Thear, and he was born in Cambodia.  Sadly, he and his family experienced the horror of life under  the Kkmer Rouge, and its leader Pol Pot.

Hak came to Australia fifteen years ago, after  spending seven years in a refugee camp, then  five years in Canada.  He told me that during his time in Canada he worked repairing shoes and in cleaning jobs, as he studied to improve his English.

It was because other family members were in Australia that Hak  eventually moved to Sydney and established his bakery in Cremorne.  Once here, he met up with a  family he had known at the refugee camp, and fell in love with their daughter Tia, now his wife.

Hak and Tia.

Hak and Tia, with some of their  special Christmas cakes.

The couple have a teenage daughter, who  helps her parents at weekends, but dreams of becoming a fashion designer. I must say it would be an easier life!  Hak gets up at 3.00am to begin the day’s baking and works through until 2.00pm.  After a bit of a rest he is back  again until closing time. That’s  very long hours, seven days a week.  The only break they have is a few days at Christmas.

And speaking of Christmas, this lovely couple treated us with  our first mince pies of the season. Oh my word, they were sublime. The secret? Brandy!



For a dairy farmer's daughter, the best way to eat a mince pie is deconstructed, with cream!

For a dairy farmer’s daughter, the best way to eat a mince pie is deconstructed, with cream!

Tia told me that Hak is often interviewed by students from the local school about  life under the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge, and his long years  in the refugee camp.

One motivation for  writing this piece  was  the recent anti-migration sentiment being expressed in our country.  How can anyone  deny the enormous contribution people such as Hak and Tia have made to Australia?  I’m sure  those who follow in their footsteps from other  regions  of conflict and oppression will demonstrate the same enterprise, and the same gratitude for being given an opportunity to make a new life.

Postscript – the reason Rob and I are spending so much time in Cremorne is that Rob’s elderly mother is living in a retirement home  nearby.  A couple  of Hak and Tia’s large  Christmas cakes will make  a perfect gift for staff and  residents.          chrissycakes-004

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpse you gave us into how wonderful it is to know people as enterprising as Hak, In spite of the hardships he went through. I believe that’s why he and so many of our emigrants add quality and a solid work ethic to benefit all those around them. I’d love to be able to enjoy the coffee shop and its many delights with you. I really miss mince pies and the fruit cakes we make for Christmas.

    • Pauline

      Oh yes, Heather…would be delightful to have Hak’s coffee and mince pies with you. And a lamington!

  2. What an inspiring story. I am constantly amazed at the human spirit, and love that Hak and Tia have created a successful life in the country that welcomed them after Hak and Tia’s family had sadly endured such suffering in their home land.

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