From a Sycamore vantage point

WE arrived just after one o’clock. All nine tables were occupied. The place had a bright, quiet, friendly atmosphere about it.

The day’s specials were listed on the board. These included two soups (pumpkin and winter stockpot) and ten main courses, including quiches, pies and sandwiches.

We asked a lady sitting on her own would she mind she mind if we shared a table. She was only too happy to oblige. We learned that she lived and worked locally, and was obviously a satisfied regular customer.

Named after the vantage point used by Zaccheus to watch Jesus pass by, the Sycamore Tree Coffee shop is a very successful outreach project of the Heidelberg/ East Ivanhoe parish of the Uniting Church.

Part of the Scots Church complex in Burgundy Street, Heidelberg, it is ideally situated in the main shopping area, close to several hospitals, including the Austin.

The Sycamore Tree has just celebrated its fifth birthday. For the first six months of its existance it was open three days each week, staffed entirely by volunteers. Since then, its doors have been open from 10 to 4, Monday to Friday, with rotating staff of three or four volunteers each day and one paid person.

Ruth Watson, a member at Scots, has been involved since day one. Currently she takes charge of operations three days a week, officially working from 9 to 5 and rarely managing to fit in more than ten minutes for her own lunch.

“It’s such a nice place to work”, she told me. “People come in and say there’s something about this place that others haven’t got. It’s a very friendly sort of place.

“We don’t talk religion”, she added. “People round here call it the ‘God shop’, but we don’t preach to them”.

During the hour or so that I sat over the lunch table with my wife and her mother, we saw a steady stream of customers move in and make themselves at home: alone, in pairs or larger groups. We wondered which parts of the community they represented.

“There are people who meet here once a month”, said Ruth, “but not so many young families – mostly middle-aged and older people.”


Keith Tupper – September 11, 1991