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Byron Shire
May 10, 2021

Soul food; and a place to eat

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TGL-a-mullum-portraitStory & photos Matthew Michaelis

Last week I highlighted the Shearwater canteen in a brief history of its custodians and spoke on the effect that a creative, eclectic and healthy menu can have on students.

I know this through experience, and no experience could support such an idea more than the creation of a new canteen in Mullumbimby High School in 2009.

It was the Shearwater Steiner School’s canteen that led on to the Mullumbimby High School’s present canteen. At the time and from where I stood (behind the counter), this seemed to be a shot in the arm for the esteem of this school after the dark time that had come upon it.

The challenge to bring Shearwater’s canteen model to Mullum High became a reality after all hell broke loose in the schoolyard and food was the last thing anyone was speaking of.

I’ll not rehash the details, short of stating the fact that a series of events created a fundamental shift away from a culture that appeared to be present in the schoolyard at the time.

TGL-a-mullum-shot-1The school’s then-principal, Ian Graham, with the help of the school’s administrator, Alex McAuley, had the foresight to speak with me about operating their canteen shortly after it had been vacated.

Their call in bringing in the canteen model that had developed at Shearwater over the years brought to Mullumbimby High a positive and significant change. In order to bring some kind of stability to the extraordinary circumstances of this time, Ian Graham supported the mammoth task and effort that was required for us to bring this menu in.

The school approached the new relationship in a way that demonstrated an intelligence not always present in bureaucratic systems. When completed, the initial changes required for this culinary shift saw the school canteen serving an extensive range of food and drinks that weren’t staples in the public-school sector.

A schoolyard that appeared to have a tangible disquiet about it was transformed over the opening weeks of the new canteen. The general esteem and healthy glow that had been missing from students began to return and soon were present on a daily basis.

This appeared to be, for the most part, the natural business of re-balancing the way of life in the playground – just the ticket for an organic change to occur. What I witnessed was the esteem born of the choices offered students and the associated behaviour that seemed to be manifest with this positive development – quite literally; it was food for the soul.

After an intensive three-year operation at Mullumbimby High School, it was time again to consolidate and pass on the custodianship of the canteen.

TGL-Berry-frappe-(2)Enter Jodee Sydney, a known foodie and hospitality professional in the Shire, and again a parent, who had the essential ingredients for this role – skill and caring. Jodee has brought her personal industry knowhow and embellished the canteen with a natural talent and a theatrical streak.

A sense of fun and colour is now a part of the equation here.

A fresh and bright coat of paint and Jodee provided the Mullumbimby High School with a vibrancy that demonstrates how the individual can provide influence to an important environment within the school system.

The experience for the students is simple: instead of waiting to go out into the world for some quality culinary experiences, they’re surrounded by those choices while at school. Real foods, real quality and an education of expectation that normally kicks off later in life. Here it’s mango, berries and fruits juiced and frapped with smoothies accompanying freshly prepared foods.

Looking around you’ll see more encouragement beyond the plate – a board displays a motivating axiom for the students to digest: ‘Throw your dreams out in front of you and run ahead to catch them’. Jodee is retiring soon from the canteen here.

I asked her how she sums up her involvement in the Mullum High canteen. ‘I consider myself totally and intrinsically entwined in the community here; the students, teachers and the parents. I feel really appreciated for the high energy, my contributions and my time spent here – it’s been a very satisfying role,’ Jodee told me.

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