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Kindness at Bardi's

Updated: May 5, 2023

I can feel the heat of the sun on my driving arm as we gently wind through the Broken Bago forest. As we arrive into the town of Wauchope (pronounced War-hope) the jacarandas and a flame tree are still in bloom. Mum and I look forward to a day out with the anticipation of a little Christmas shopping and a lunch paid for by NSW Government dining out vouchers. It’s a hot, well for me anyway, blue sky day and the rain has stopped for the first time in ten days, with more rain predicted from tomorrow.

At the community arts centre, there is a group of families with young people who have downs syndrome – I emerge out of the car to hear Kylie Minogue on the karoke, to see people dancing and there are early smells of a barbecue somewhere. It’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the celebrations are in full swing. Everywhere we look people are smiling and having fun.

In the local co-operative’s Department Store, it’s lovely and cool – I can see people happily shopping for others, discussing with their friends/family about gifts for loved ones. The store has given a 25% discount on everything today. I’m amazed given it’s the lead up to Christmas and is the time of year when the co-op members will make the most sales.

Mum trots off to have a look at the kitchen stuff whilst I browse around the clothing, on the look out for some cool linen in readiness for the summer here. My body hasn’t been used to Australian summers since 2005, and definitely not used to the humidity here on the Mid North Coast since 2003. We meet somewhere near the Christmas displays of dining ware in the middle of the store. Mum is ready to sit down now and waits for me as I continue my search for clothes and Christmas gifts.

When we arrive at Bardi’s Café for our lunch, we enter a deliciously cool wooden shack with music blaring and the two members of staff laughing and chatting. It’s loud, too loud for us but they are very welcoming. “You’re only allowed one Christmas carol per hour, it can’t be that time yet!”. the owner says to her younger colleague. There are little signals that this café is run by first nations people and I’m really pleased we’ve come. Whilst Mum looks at the menu, I gaze at the artworks around. I ask the owner are any for sale and Belinda says she will come and chat with us in a bit.

Belinda eventually finds a quietish moment to come and sit down to talk to us – she reveals that her great grandfather was from country near Broome in the far north west of Western Australia and he was stolen and taken to NSW. Of all her mob, only her and her father have been on country. Her story makes the hairs on my arm stand on end. She proceeds to tell us about her Bardi, her grandmother, who the café is named for. Belinda describes herself as a Grandma cook – she makes absolutely everything herself (except the vanilla custard slice, because she can’t be bothered with filo pastry!). You can tell the food has love in it, sometimes prepared at midnight because she is so busy.

I ask again about wanting to buy some artwork that is…. and stumble as I try to find the words. Belinda finds them for me and says authentic. Yes that’s it. And preferably by a local artist of birpai country. We have a wonderful conversation and learn that she is from the City – previously a domestic violence case worker in Sydney. The café is dotted with phrases and symbols about kindness, about community, about this place being home. It has her Bardi’s sofa beside a log burner, a community bookshelf and some local honey and pickles for sale nearby. Belinda gives me the names of a couple of local artists for me to look up online.

When we get ready to leave, I head off to the loo – there is another poster about kindness and tolerating differences. As I head back to my chair to get my handbag, I can see a large brown paper bag tied with string. I am a bit taken aback, and then connect with why Belinda had asked me how much luggage can I take back to the UK. Inside the paper bag is a bundle of luxury towels that have fabric with aboriginal dot painting decorating one end of each towel. I’m speechless and turn to Belinda with shock in my eyes. She explains their provenance and after asserting we’ve both been double vaxxed, we give each other a long hug. Belinda’s philosophy of kindness, community and being welcome in her cafe ‘as if this is your home’ exudes from every pore of her body and her mind.

We stayed for two hours and will never forget her kindness. So here is a #Saturdayshoutout to Belinda!

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