In our ‘A Drink with Jeff” series, Campbelltown Catholic Club community liaison Jeff McGill has been catching up with a diverse selection of club identities.

“Bistro Mum” is not an official job description at The Catho — yet Georgina Barry is often described that way.

After three decades working in the bistro, I’m sure thousands of members and guests will recognise her smile.

During my own meals I’ve watched on as Georgina has welcomed families, taken orders, solved problems, skillfully wrangled tricky customers, joined choruses of ‘Happy Birthday’, and pulled off the odd miracle. She reminds us that bistro staff are not really in the food business, they’re in the people business.

If “Bistro Mum” WAS an official title, I suspect it might need the same sort of requirements as a corporate CEO: evaluating people, motivating people, reading people. So, I decided to invite Georgina to be my latest interview.

We met in the foyer, a couple of hours before her evening shift began, got our drinks at Sage Cafe, and wandered down to the big window seats at the front of the club.

I started with an obvious question: if “Bistro Mum” is not her official title, what is? “Harvest Bistro Supervisor,” she smiled — one of four of them.

“I’ve been at the Club since 2002,” Georgina told me, recalling that she wore the original staff uniform with the blue-and-white striped shirt, white collar and bow tie. But that claim didn’t make sense to me because that original uniform was introduced in 1991! (Before then, staff just wore black and white outfits from their own wardrobes). So, Georgina did some quick mental gymnastics and suddenly remembered she had undercut her own resume. She HADN’T started in 2001, she calculated, she had previously worked a five-year stint at The Catho – from 1991 to 1996!

That made more sense.

From our archives: kitchen staff wearing our original 1991 uniform — remember it?

For any younger readers who find 1991 hard to imagine, that’s when Bob Hawke was still the Prime Minister, when Home Alone was showing at the cinemas, and when MC Hammer was singing “U Can’t Touch This”. In the Catholic Club, it was when Steve Muter was CEO and when the Board of Directors still included pioneering names such as Bruce McDonald and Stan Simmons.

In the decades since, Georgina has had everything to do with bistro life: serving customers, cooking, taking orders for the grill, preparing the salad bar and desserts, helping cater functions, working the till, and greeting our customers when entering.

I asked her whether being “Bistro Mum” was regarded a warm compliment, or perhaps an unfair burden? Definitely the former, she beamed. I quickly got the sense, as Georgina listed workmates and their skills and stories that she is very protective of them.

Most of us have seen the odd rude customer: They must bruise the soul, I asked her? Georgina’s reply was firm: “Those sorts of people are very much in the minority — 99 per cent of people are great.” Diffusing the situation is the key in tough moments, but a sense of humor also helps.

Georgina focuses on the 99 per cent. “Most regulars treat us like family, telling us about their lives, their kids, their adventures. I have one family who comes in on Wednesday, it’s the grandparents who bring the kids in. It started with them bringing in one little toddler to have dinner and dessert at the gelato bar, and to play in the kids area, many years ago. Well, that family has now grown and the grandparents now have three grandchildren they bring in every week.”

Georgina also delights in people’s rituals and habits. “We had a really good customer who came in and, as he ordered his meal, he would pay it forward. You know, Pay $10 off the bill of the next people in line. Absolutely gorgeous.”

“We have so many customers, all different from age, gender, nationality, etc, which keeps everything interesting.”

Georgina’s welcoming smile, warm soul, and caring ear have all helped her earn the nickname “Bistro Mum”

I asked Georgina to take me back to the 1990s, the days of the old Kings Food Court. “Well, it was a lot of fun…and the chefs were crazy,” There was always unusual ideas — I can remember us taking turns to walk around the club selling hotdogs from a trolly, which was fun.”

She remembered lots of staff nights out together in the old days, but Georgina doesn’t wear rose-coloured glasses and also speaks highly of the breadth of relationships today. “In the old days I think staff kept to their particular areas more — someone might tell me what such-and-such had done in another part of the club and I wouldn’t know who they were talking about. That’s all changed now, since Covid for some reason. I love how today, us Harvest staff also know everyone else in the club, whether its in the bar or gaming lounge, or wherever. I think we’re all communicating with each other better now than we ever have.”

Georgina loves the new-look Harvest, thinking it’s the best version of the food court she’s ever worked in. “The food is fresher and quicker, people aren’t standing in long lines with trays in their hands, and the place feels more spacious and welcoming.”

I asked Georgina about her background. She grew up in Casula in the 1960s and 1970s, a story not without light and shade. “My father died before I was born,” she said. “A heart attack. He was only 40 and died in the December of 1961, and I was born in the following March. It left my mum with three kids to raise. I guess growing up without a Dad was hard, but they say it’s hard to miss what you never had, but it can still affect you. Some men I’d be a bit scared off when I was little. But I do have great memories of doing a lot of sport when I was a girl: mainly netball and softball. It was great because it kept me focused and in line. All my own kids have done the same thing, they’re all into sport.”

Georgina pictured in the 1980s with husband, Jeff Barry.

Georgina met her husband, Jeff, at Liverpool RSL in the early 1980s and they settled in Campbelltown where they raised their four daughters: Krystle, now 40, Alyce, 36, Samantha, 34, and Emma, 26. All four attended Campbelltown East Public School, but for various reasons went to a mixed bag of high schools. Georgina uses her fingers to list them: Campbelltown Performing Arts High, Leumeah High, Westfields Sports High and John Therry High. (In fact, my youngest son and Georgina’s youngest daughter were in the same grade together at John Therry.)

When Georgina started at the Catholic Club in 1991, she said it was perfect because it fit in so well with her busy life as a mum. “I’d come here to do a lunch shift, go home and grab the kids from school, make dinner, Jeff would come home from work, then I’d pop back to the club…that timing made it all possible.” Like so many other employees, The Catho has become a family affair, with two of her daughters being former staffers: Samantha worked in the bistro and Emma was on the bar at Rydges.

Georgina always has a camera with her on her trips.

Georgina is well known around the club for her love of travel. “I do get away a lot,” she laughed. “Been all around NSW, to Queensland, Tasmania , Perth and South Australia, I’ve been overseas to the USA, Japan, and we’re going to Canada and Alaska at the end of July…already got the tickets booked.” Travel appears to not only broaden Georgina’s horizons but reminds her how lucky she is. “We’ve been to New Zealand a couple of times, and we were on Whakaari [White] Island a few weeks before it exploded in 2019. [In 2019, the volcano — a popular tourist spot — erupted, killing 22 people].  The guide told us on our visit, don’t worry if it explodes, we’ll show you where to go to get off…but, I thought to myself, there’s no way in the world could you get off in time. Those poor people didn’t stand a chance. We were so lucky, so lucky.”

As we chatted, Georgina casually pointed to various staff members in the distance to sing their praises — and only praises.

Georgina also spoke warmly of the passion and attention to detail of Peter Sheppard, the club’s Director of Food and Beverage, not to mention head chef Tim Fuller.

Tellingly, there was also a distinct layer of motherly affection in her voice as she spoke of Madeleine Small, the club’s Assistant Food and Beverage Manager. “She’s helped me so much, I’ve learned a lot from her.” That comment struck me, because Maddie once worked under Georgina in the Food Court — but is now one of her bosses.

Does that feel strange? “No!”, replied Georgina without a flinch. “Even when Maddie was serving ice creams, you’d see the organisation and the care she showed — she was always going places and I felt so proud of her when she took charge of Kyubi restaurant, and now in her current role. Maddie is someone I admire.” Georgina’s humility is unrelenting.

That’s when the “mothering” theme really hit me. On our way out, we stopped to say hello to one of the newer and younger staffers, Jorja, at Cafe Sage. She spoke to Georgina with the same sort of affection and admiration that I had just seen Georgina speaking about Maddie. Respect is a two-way street.

Experience also matters, and starting at the bottom is a good thing. (Several of the Catholic Club’s present Board of Directors once picked up glasses around the club.)

So, as for Georgina being described as “Bistro Mum”, I suspect mothering is just another word for mentoring. Someone who looks out for you, and has your best interests at heart, whether you are staff or customers.

What Georgina does is remarkable…yet completely unremarkable at the same time. Like most mums.

Jorja, at Cafe Sage, is one of many staffers who see Georgina as a mentor.