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?
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!
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.
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!
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.