• The Tin Humpy cafe celebrates Indigenous ingredients and culture. (Instagram)Source: Instagram
Bundjalung woman Yvette Lever creates magic with bush foods, despite being introduced to native ingredients much later in life.
Melissa Woodley

30 Jun 2021 - 12:15 PM  UPDATED 1 Jul 2021 - 2:46 PM

National NAIDOC Week (4 – 11 July 2021) celebrates the history, cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Join SBS and NITV for a full slate of NAIDOC Week programming and content, and follow NITV on Facebook and Instagram to be part of the conversation. For more information about NAIDOC Week or this year’s theme, head to the official NAIDOC Week website


A self-proclaimed water baby, Yvette Lever grew up by the sea in Fingal Head in northern NSW. The owner of The Tin Humpy cafe in Sydney's Redfern recalls fishing and catching pipis with her great-grandmother and great-aunt after school. She appreciated their practical approach to living off the land.

During these years, her great-grandmother began teaching her to cook, which is when Lever's passion for food began. Every Sunday after church, her great-grandmother would cook a communal meal for her extended family featuring traditional English dishes such as roasts, custards with jelly, scones and mulberry pies.

“We grew up white man's way because we were put there,” Lever says. “I suppose if we were more traditional and lived out in the bush, you know, on the missions right out, we would probably have lived much different.”

Over the next few years, she moved between Sydney and Tweed Heads near the Queensland border, before settling on a farm in Kyogle in the Northern Rivers region where she raised her three kids. The farm was only accessible by driving through a creek and Lever laughs when looking back at the more alternative upbringing she gave her kids. They had no electricity and the majority of the produce they ate was homegrown.

From harvesting the vegetables and baking her own bread to milking and slaughtering the cows, Lever loved being able to cook with such fresh ingredients. She dreamed of one day being able to share these meals with more people.

In the early 2000s, Lever and her three children relocated to Sydney where she immediately got a job in childcare. It was during these years that she was introduced to a new world of Indigenous herbs and spices, which she would experiment with her favourite recipes.

“I mainly got into [Aboriginal herbs] 20 years ago when I came to Sydney because I never grew up with it and you can't buy it anywhere at all,” she explains. “I got more involved when I came to Sydney and realised there is a market, and people are interested in Aboriginal flavours.”

After a decade in childcare, Lever finally decided to pursue her passion for food and applied for a job at The Grounds of Alexandria. She started out in the cafe's pastry section and worked hard to develop her skills, while also completing a pastry apprenticeship and night-time degree in a small business. Lever attributes the mentorship she received during her three-and-a-half years at The Grounds of Alexandria as a monumental first step to starting her hospitality business (today, she even sells the cafe's roasted beans at The Tin Humpy).

Then a cafe space she loved became available on the market.

“I actually kept eyeing this cafe,” she recalls. “I used to drive past here and I said: 'one day that might be mine.'”

This site had previously housed Biri Biri, a cafe run by Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo (the Indigenous elder is a role model to The Tin Humpy owner and still pops into the eatery to say hello).

Lever immediately put in an offer for the site's lease. She wanted her cafe to be a safe place for the Indigenous community and a venue where people could discover traditional bush flavours.

If more people are drawn to native ingredients, it can only create more demand and support for First Nations businesses. “We need more Indigenous cafes,” she says.

The Tin Humpy cafe officially opened its doors in 2018 and showcases sweet and savoury dishes that incorporate native ingredients. Star menu items include the kangaroo and wattleseed salad and Tin Humpy omelette with alpine pepper, along with wattleseed brownies, lemon myrtle cheesecake and strawberry gum muffins.

“We need more Indigenous cafes.”

Incorporating Indigenous flavours into her recipes has made Lever feel more connected to her land and heritage.

“I’m proud knowing that I'm using things of my ancestors that I never knew, that my kids didn't grow up on,” she says. “We're bringing these flavours back for our kids, for the next generations to taste.”

Her long-term vision is for Indigenous flavours to be more appreciated, just like any other cuisine, and she hopes that it becomes easier to source fresh Indigenous ingredients. She's now started growing lilly pilly, Kakadu plum and finger limes at her home for use at the cafe.

She also wants to continue using The Tin Humpy as a space to support other Indigenous businesses. She's been inspired by the assistance she received from the First Nations community, family and friends (the NSW Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, for instance, is helping create The Tin Humpy's website). Her cafe is decorated with art from Boomalli art gallery in Leichhardt and sells a range of Indigenous handmade teas, earrings, bags, facial products and cards. She also happily allows First Nations groups, such as Tribal Warrior, to use her back room for meetings.

Today, the Tin Humpy cafe stands loud and proud on the corner of Redfern and Renwick streets with a bright and vibrant mural that's hard to miss. The mural features a humpy, which is an Aboriginal word for ‘hut’ or ‘shelter’. Locals say the cafe lives up to its name as it's a place where many feel at home.

“We have a lot of customers and it's all multicultural, which is lovely … People just come in to sit down and it's really good because it's just not one [culture], it's for everybody,” Lever says. “It’s good for us to all come together, because of the way this world should be.”

Lemon myrtle cheesecakes

Serves 12

You'll need to start this recipe the day before.


Cheesecake filling

  • 1 kg cream cheese       
  • 270 g thickened cream  
  • 240 g caster sugar              
  • 385 g frozen lemon purée                
  • 17 g gelatine                        
  • 20 g lemon myrtle essence 

Pistachio polenta cake base

  • 8 eggs                          
  • 600 g caster sugar  
  • 150 g polenta                            
  • 560 g almond meal             
  • 112 g ground pistachio        
  • 15 g baking powder                
  • 5 g lemon myrtle                                            
  • 375 g olive oil                              
  • 300 g butter, melted       


  1. Preheat oven to 160°C.
  2. To make the cheesecake filling, add cream cheese to a stand-mixer bowl fitted with the whisk. Whisk cream cheese until smooth.
  3. Slowly add cream and sugar to the bowl until it forms a paste.
  4. In a microwave-safe bowl, add lemon purée and melt in the microwave until smooth. Set aside.
  5. In a small bowl, add a cup of cold water. Place gelatine into the water.
  6. Add lemon myrtle essence to the bowl of lemon purée. Add softened gelatine to the bowl.
  7. Slowly pour lemon purée mixture into the stand-mixer bowl with the cream cheese batter. Mix at a low speed. When all combined, place in a tray of 12 dome-shaped rubber moulds (or similar) and clean the bowl.
  8. Place the trays of cheesecake filling into the freezer to set overnight.
  9. To make the cake base, add eggs and sugar to a stand-mixer bowl fitted with the whisk. Whisk until fluffy.
  10. Slowly add polenta, almond meal, ground pistachio, baking powder and lemon myrtle to the bowl at low speed until mixed with the sugar and eggs.
  11. Slowly add olive oil slowly and melted butter into the bowl, until combined.
  12. Grease and line a square tin with baking paper. Pour cake base batter into the tray.
  13. Place the tray into the oven and bake at 160ºC for 25 minutes.
  14. Remove tray from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. To create 12 individual cake bases, use a cutter to cut 12 circle-shaped cheesecake bases from the batter – use the dome moulds as a guide.
  15. Remove cheesecake filling from the freezer and place it onto 12 individual bases to serve.

Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries

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