Zachary Green enjoyed a great childhood with his mum, dad and sister. As an everyday kid growing up in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, nothing ever happened out of the ordinary. Once the boy you might find kicking the footy or riding the bike or hanging out at a mate’s house, it all changed when Zach was 12.
While on a trip to his uncle’s house in Bacchus Marsh (Victoria), Zach’s Dad revealed that the family had Aboriginal heritage through Zach’s Nana, a secret that had been kept for many years while Zach’s Dad’s family grew up.
“Life changed a lot that night,” says Zach. “I was proud of the fact that I was Aboriginal until I reached high school. I remember the first day of high school, all my mates from primary school went to a different school, so it was new beginnings, but the first day of my new school changed my life. Knowing that I was Aboriginal, I was proud and said it proudly but after the first day of high school I stopped saying it for five years. Now, I look back and see I was getting bullied because I was Aboriginal. I was too white or my mum and dad were getting paid from the government to send me here, or do I get discounts at petrol stations? I copped that for five years and two different high schools. Throughout those high school years, I tried to commit suicide five times because I didn’t want to be Aboriginal anymore and that’s how life was for me growing up from the age of 12.”
Leaving high school in Year 11, Zach found his path when his mum got him his first job at The Abom Cafe on Mount Buller.
“I fell in love immediately because it made me disappear from the outside world and what I was doing. My first mentor was Megan Knapp and she brought out a hidden talent I never knew I had which was cooking. My career path is very unusual where I left high school in Year 11 because I just didn’t like school. I did my first six months of my apprenticeship at a little restaurant called Willowlake in the north-east of Victoria. It was fantastic but I chose to go back to school to get my VCE, and then after my VCE, I went back and did my apprenticeship down in Melbourne and the rest is history.”
Missing out on a lot of his culture throughout his teenage years, Zach feels cooking brings him closer to and allows him to connect to his Indigenous heritage; being able to sit down with his elders, talk about where the food comes from and the stories attached with the certain food he cooks.
“I think at the moment in Australia we are still finding ways of how to celebrate Indigenous culture, and how everyone can learn about Indigenous culture. I feel celebrating through food is one of the best ways, because every food, every place around Australia has that certain story which allows you to use your imagination a bit and I feel that is a way forward for reconciliation. Cooking is important in Indigenous culture because as a family we all come together and share a meal. From hunting to gathering, it’s all done with family so it enhances those family connections.”
“I have a lot of favourite meals but my favourite occasions are when the family is coming over and we can do a big cook up and all share it together as a family.”
Zach is opening his own restaurant in Darwin in late April 2018. Go To Elijah’s Kitchen on Facebook for further details.