Last Thursday was a beautiful brisk sunny day for a group of creative young Novocastrians to break bread together on the corner of Bolton and King Street.
Called Piratti Bakery, the not-for-profit launched with workers playing tunes, baking goods and selling to customers, with prices based on a sliding scale. The more you earn, the more you pay for your pastry.
Now open every Thursday, Piratti is one of many interesting initiatives that is happening within what is now known as The Vinegar Hill Workers Club.
Drummer, industrial designer, metal worker and cabinet maker Tim Evans currently owns Piratti, but he aims to turn it into a worker’s cooperative.
“At the moment we pay the rent, we buy the groceries, we see what’s left, we see who’s in need this week and prioritise paying them,” he says.
“But that’s also because we’ve been under production and haven’t done too much marketing. As demand picks up, we’ll increase supply. When we reach full capacity, we’ll be just breaking even.”
He’s working to get a production rate up so that he can employ four or five people a week.
Plenty of volunteer hours have gone into getting Piratti to where it is without having to go into debt. There is trial and error, and everyone is getting creative experience.
“For now the bakery will be once a week, but we’d love to enlist some more bakers or even just passionate keen people. If we had a larger team we could, in three months expand,” Evans says
But, there’s much more to the story than just fresh bread on Thursdays.
Business manager Ruth Tedder and physicist Dr. Karl Mallon, who own the property, also manage and run three trading companies within the space: Climate Risk Engines, Climate Valuation and XDI. They’ve been doing this work since 2006 and now employ over a dozen people all over the country.
They employ activists and campaigners with skills in STEM. They moved in July 2019, and in the last three years they’ve experienced big growth, allowing them to make Vinegar Hill Workers Club possible.
“We employ climate-committed individuals. The overall mission of the company is to shift the dial on climate change,” Tedder says. “People like to hear about it. It’s a good news story where there are few good stories to be heard.”
Tedder and Mallon found their businesses were getting too big for their spare bedroom and they relocated it to the 500-square metre, two-storey space.
The location previously served as a Persian restaurant, a hairdresser’s business and cafe called Jesse’s.
It’s called Vinegar Hill after the Vinegar Hill uprising which started in the late 1700s in Ireland and later happened again in the early 1800s as an Irish convict rebellion in Sydney’s Western Hills. The reconvicted Irish Freedom fighters were then transported to form the fledgling Newcastle Colony, harvesting Coal, Cedar and Lyme.
Tedder finds in the space a thread of being disconnected from land and place, from the Irish to the Aboriginal people before them.
“Vinegar Hill recognises Aboriginal and Irish displacement and by extension the displacement of individuals by the forces of authority or the exercising of power that basically modern capitalism represents. Vinegar Hill holds space for people who don’t have the power to otherwise speak their voice,” Tedder says.
Evans found out about Vinegar Hill after he met Mallon at a local Black Lives Matter Rally. The two connected and it went from there.
We’re really keen, because we wanted to learn how to make sourdough and pastries, and there are other people who were looking for a sense of belonging after leaving other kinds of work.
“Now I’m opening it up to the community,” Evans says of Piratti. “There’s just a lot of artists and other creatives around who wanted to get involved. We’re really keen, because we wanted to learn how to make sourdough and pastries, and there are other people who were looking for a sense of belonging after leaving other kinds of work.”
Evans learned the craft from doing a skill share last year with Sourdough Baker Warwick Quinton. Evans helped him build a shed in exchange for a few days of training. Warwick helped Evans make one batch and it laid a great foundation. He’d never made sourdough before but took heaps of photos and notes and “downloaded the profession” quickly.
Piratti also sell bagels, pastries, focaccia, cinnamon scrolls and more.
“The story of bagels is a really amazing story of Polish Jews being oppressed. They were told they weren’t allowed to bake. If they could find a way to make bread without baking so they could continue to feed themselves. So even the story of keeping culture alive is what we’re choosing to make,” Evans says.
He brought Finnish recipes from his grandmother including Karelian pastries which are rye wrapped around a rice.
(Piratti is Finnish for pirates.)
“It’s that idea of being a bit anarchy, a little bit ‘the good pirates,’ the Robin Hood type pirates. We wanted to capture a little bit of rebel. There’s a lot of us working passionately to find creative ways to exist in the ever gentrifying city. A lot of it is finding ways to share and give. And work together,” Evans says.
He pointed out that musicians and artists have weekend work and often are looking for something to supplement their income during the week. The difference between a job in hospitality and working and volunteering at Piratti is that people at Piratti feel that sense of ownership over the operation.
“It’s really more about the interactions rather than the transactions, putting people first,” Evans says.
When Piratti isn’t in the kitchen, other creative people and initiatives involved.
A new, local handmade gnocchi company, Gnocked up, uses it for day hire.
Nearby cafe Estabar uses it to make gelato.
Local alcohol-free events are happening in the common area with Blue Moon Collective and youth organisation The Y Project.
Tedder is happy that so many people have connected with the space artistically and culturally.
“It’s not just a venue for hire,” Tedder says. “It’s a space to create, ferment, connect and build conversation around key principles of representations of repressed minorities in society.”
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