If you are reading this outside of Australia, how do I explain Tim-Tams to you? Have you ever met an Aussie travelling in your country? We are prone to more than a little home sickness. This usually applies most acutely to the foods we can’t get easily overseas. Perhaps the traditional foodstuff that is missed the most, and gets the most attention, is the famous ‘Vegemite’. Nothing like the taste of that distinctive bitter, black yeast extract on toast, melting in with the butter. However Vegemite does have a younger sibling that can spark tears of home-sickness in even the most unemotional travelling Aussie. The Tim Tam.

The Tim Tam is a beautiful combination of biscuit, chocolate cream centre with another outer layer of chocolate. It is delicious on its own but combined with a hot beverage or a glass of port, it takes on even greater powers. By biting opposite diagonal corners off the biscuit, it becomes a drinking straw… dip one corner into the cup of coffee, suck the coffee from the other corner through the biscuit and as soon as the liquid hits your tongue, pop the whole Tim Tam in… it melts in your mouth. This ritual, called ‘shot gunning’, has been taken to every corner of the planet. If an Aussie has shot-gunned fermented goat’s milk with you in a yurt somewhere in outer Mongolia, with their rationed supply of Tim Tams, then you are considered to be an OK person!

Alright, have I sufficiently built the premise on just how sacred the Tim Tam is to the Australian people?… my point is?

If you recall, the last blog post promised a ‘Part 2’ to the wonderful experience of sharing a recent Time & Space canoeing weekend with Simonds College. Some Vietnamese families participated, one of the Vietnamese boys is called Tim and his dad’s name is… you guessed it, Tam!

Around the campfire we had so much fun, laughing and enjoying some friendly cultural rivalry. Tim and Tam were the only father and son team not to capsize into the Yarra River that weekend. So to us, ‘Tim Tams’ were now, not only Australia’s greatest biscuit… our ‘Tim-Tam’ canoeing pair were the undisputed champions on the water. Michael, the other Vietnamese dad, raised his arms triumphantly, declaring, “We are the boat people!” Laughter… great Australian humour with its special brand of irony, is delivered perfectly. The irony of course is that ‘boat people’ is a term in Australia that evokes images of fear and mistrust. Yet Michael turned that mistrust into a moment where all around that campfire, shared delight in his quick wit.

Tam’s brother-in-law was a ‘boat person’, a refugee. He made a risky journey in a leaky boat from Vietnam to Australia. He sponsored his sister, Tam’s bride then of one year, to come to his new country. Tam had to wait five years until he could rejoin his young wife. Imagine that? What’s important is that Tam and Tim got an opportunity to share significant parts of their own stories with each other. Some special things happened at this camp. Dominic, one of the other dads of Italian background is a mad follower of the AFL team Collingwood. He taught Tam how to kick an Aussie Rules footy. Tam skews a kick off the outside of his boot and laughs and claps. It is just a beautiful moment.

Tam explained to me that he took up the weekend as, “an opportunity to learn another way to be close to (his son)… another way of communication.” In Vietnam, communication is often one way. The older generation give instructions and the children respectfully listen. Extended families live close together. Uncles, aunties, grandparents pitch in, collectively parenting, if mum or dad are busy. This is how it happened here in Australia with Tam and Tim. Tam has been busy working. Only, they didn’t really have enough of that old country extended family to step in. So, Tim has felt that absence over the years but in the course of the father-son program, these two had a wonderful chance to explain each other’s perspective. I watched Tim respectfully explain how he felt that absence through his childhood, not really knowing his dad as he was growing up. However, Tim also acknowledged that his dad had put his hand up to participate in the canoeing weekend with him, and he considered that a great achievement. Another beautiful moment.

So what do I learn from this story? Firstly, that when we come together with good intent, like trying to be a better parent as Tam and the other dads did on that weekend, we share more in common with each other than what makes us different. I’m in awe of the determination of Tam to learn ‘another way of communication’ with his son, having journeyed far away from his country of origin and a culture that was familiar to him. Isn’t that the challenge that leads to growth in any relationship? I am honoured too, to have witnessed Tim not shy away from the truth – he told his dad what had been tough but then affirmed him as well… masterfully, he combined kindness and courage. The boy presented himself as a young adult before his father.

Well done Tim and Tam – just like your biscuit namesake – you make our world a better place.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings