café auslan: Not Just an Ordinary Café

A new café has thrown open its doors in Battery Point in Hobart, Tasmania. But it’s not an ordinary café.

It’s called café auslan, and it officially opened on 28th May 2019. It combines a love of coffee with a passion for opening people’s minds to the benefits of sign language.

Rachel Freeman is co-owner of café auslan, and she is Deaf. She’s a quiet achiever but is also extroverted, friendly, confident, and fiercely ambitious. She loves cooking, entertaining, and reading.

I love inspiring entrepreneurs, and love a good article to read with a cup of coffee.”

She’s also a strong advocate for equality in the Deaf community.

“I’ve been bullied and discriminated. I’ve been manipulated and taken advantage of. There are too many situations to mention or explain in detail. I’ve had to try harder than the average person to succeed. But I’ve learned a lot from these experiences. I won’t accept or stand for mistreatment now. I won’t tolerate being made fun of anymore.”

Rachel loves being Deaf.

I belong to a rich culture, a vibrant community, and know amazing languages,” she says.

I’m so lucky. #deafgain is a thing! I am profoundly Deaf in my right ear, and severe-to-profound in my left. I don’t have very much hearing left. I have a very rare condition/disability called Mondini’s Dysplasia [also known as Mondini’s Syndrome]. It’s a type of inner ear malformation that develops in the seventh week of gestation that causes the cochlea in the ears to be one-and-a-half turns (coil) rather than two-and-a-half turns. It unfortunately affects my balance, and puts me at higher risk of meningitis.”

Despite growing up deaf, she didn’t see herself as different from others.

I was a regular, normal child who did everything that other children did,” she explains.

I sign and speak by choice,” she adds. “When I was young, I actually thought being able to sign was my superpower!”

She was taught how to sign by Deaf teachers and teacher aides, as well as by members of the Deaf community.

It takes seven years to be fluent in sign language,” Rachel explains, “but when you learn as a young child, you naturally sponge every aspect of it. It didn’t take long! But I’m still learning. Sign language is a living language that continues to change and evolve, and it’s becoming more linguistically sophisticated too. I actually learnt a new sign the other day!”

Learning to speak was Rachel’s biggest challenge growing up.

I was speaking naturally from birth,” she says, “but when I was diagnosed, I had to have regular speech therapy to learn how to pronounce letters and words. I still struggle with some words and ask how to say them, especially if I have never heard or used the word before. Words that have silent letters are tricky, or are pronounced differently than what they are spelled like, are a challenge.”

But she doesn’t lip-read.

Communicating by reading lips is one of the biggest misconceptions of Deaf people,” she explains. “We don’t. We look at your face, your movements, lip patterns, your expressions, your eyes, body language – the whole package. Did you know that we can only see 40% of information from lip reading? It’s quite a challenge. You don’t learn to read lips, though there used to be courses to do this. But it’s not effective because some people have accents, beards, or are quite inexpressive. Try this: say ‘Elephant shoes’ in front of a mirror. Then say ‘I love you’. They look exactly the same, don’t they? How would we know how to lip read or pronounce something if we have never heard the word before?”

Now married and raising a daughter, Rachel wears a hearing aid. She feels incredibly lucky to have it, though she doesn’t have to wear it all the time. It amplifies sound, so when she wears it, she can hear the general ‘noise’ of the world: people talking; music; TV; the tapping of keyboards.

Without my hearing aid,” she explains, “my world plunges into silence. So, I’m able to sleep well! The flipside is that unfortunately I experience tinnitus, and ringing in the ears.”

But there’s no way Rachel would trade one of her other senses.

I think being Deaf is like winning the lottery,” she says.

If I lost my sight, I’d be devastated because I wouldn’t be able to see the world around me.”


The Australian Deaf community is a diverse, cultural, and linguistic minority group. Auslan (Australian Sign Language) was recognised by the Australian government in 1991. It’s a visual and spatial language. It has its own grammar, structure, and syntax.

It’s a personal choice to identify with the Deaf community, and doesn’t depend on the degree of deafness. Instead, people identify with the cultural model of deafness. Deaf people see themselves as normal. They, and advocates of the cultural perspective of deafness, believe that Deaf people are not disabled, instead seeing themselves as a linguistic minority group.

Rachel’s advice for Deaf people who are struggling with the situation is this:

Keep going. Don’t give up, persist, and be your own advocate. The world needs more strong and positive Deaf people!”

Here’s a basic guide on how to communicate with Deaf people.

  • Gain the person’s attention by wave or touch. You can also use vibrations, either by thumping the table or stomping your foot on the floor.

  • Face the person throughout the whole conversation. Don’t obstruct your face, and make sure there’s enough light so that they can see you well.

  • Ask the Deaf person how they prefer to communicate (sign, lip-read, talk, or write). Whichever method you end up using, make sure the Deaf person is comfortable with it.

  • Explain clearly what’s happening or going to happen, so the Deaf person is not left out or left guessing.

  • Watch for indications of understanding: nods at appropriate moments, a negative shaking of the head, a questioning expression, or a slight frown.

  • If you’re not understood when you say something, rephrase your statement. Make sure you establish the topic before making comments or asking questions. Give visual cues and keep messages short.

  • Give the Deaf person time to answer.

  • Don’t hesitate to ask a Deaf person to slow down or to repeat his or her statement.

  • Do not pretend to understand.

In Rachel’s mind, the most important thing people should do when communicating with people who are deaf is respect and patience.

“Do not assume that one size-fits all with deaf people,” she says.

Some deaf people prefer to only sign, some like speaking, while others prefer to write to communicate. Just remember: if you are in a room full of Deaf people who are signing, how would you feel? Most deaf people have to ‘fit’ and immerse themselves in a speaking and hearing-dominant, culture every single day.”


café auslan is located where Bahr’s Chocolate Shop and Milk Bar, a lolly shop that was an institution in Battery Point for many years, used to be.

It’ll be Tasmania’s first sign language café, and it will operate differently than ‘normal’ cafes.

“Imagine stepping into the shoes of an Auslan user and experiencing different ways of ordering your coffee, without speech!” Rachel explains.

“Our café will be a social space for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing. It’ll also be safe place for anyone to come in, see what it’s all about, ask questions, and learn a sign or two. But we do not expect people to order in Auslan. There are some far more easier ways; but if you wish to communicate in your first language, we’ll work with that.”

Rachel adds: “At café auslan, we want to offer work experience, training and employment opportunities for Deaf and hard of hearing people (as well as those proficient in Auslan), and bridge the language gap between communities.”

café auslan offers quality coffee and petite desserts and treats, incorporating the history of the lolly shop. There’s no doubt there it’ll be one of the premier places in Hobart to have coffee and cake!


Rachel and her business partner, Jane Hodgkinson, have been friends for nine years, and worked together for six. They both love their coffee!

Jane has full hearing, and she’s also fluent in Auslan. Auslan has been a part of her life since childhood. She studied the language in Melbourne full-time for two years. She’s spent twenty-five years working in the Deaf community.

The idea of opening a Deaf cafe was something they first thought of six years ago, when a café opened across the road from their work.

“We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be incredible if we opened an Auslan café?’” Rachel says.

“We thought it’d provide Auslan students a chance to socialise and immerse themselves in the language.”

But they didn’t take their Auslan café idea any further. That is, until Rachel saw a coffee van for sale on Facebook last year. She sent the link to Jane straight away.

“I said ‘Look at this!’, not taking it too seriously,” she explains.

“But Jane replied, ‘Let’s do it. Want to go into business?’ I thought she was joking! From that point on, we began to formulate our business plan.”

It took Rachel and Jane three months to find a premise that was fit for what they wanted to do. Once they secured the old lolly shop building, they had plans drawn up by a planner while liaising with the Council, a building surveyor, and various tradespeople. They applied for permits, which were eventually accepted, and then the café was fitted out. It was a process that took four months.

“It wasn’t always easy,” Rachel says.

“There was delay after delay. But we are finally here, and I have to say we’ve learnt to adopt an extraordinary, unreal amount of patience!”

She continues: “There’s been an incredible amount of hard yakka, spending day after day at the café, painting and doing other DIY jobs. We’ve become experts at renovating!”

Rachel is beyond excited (but also nervous) to see how café auslan will go.

“But it’s now more overwhelming and exciting since we’ve gone live!” she declares.

Rachel’s advice to those who are thinking of setting up their own business is this:

It takes a lot of courage, and often ruffled feathers. Find stuff you love doing and go do it. Life is too short! You have to have passion, commitment, patience, continued curiosity for learning, and a healthy dose of madness and obsession. You also have to tap into any and all available resources, and network around you. Your calling often comes out of difficult experiences. Setting up your own business takes time, taking risks, and being ballsy. But most importantly believing in it, your product or service, and doing everything you possibly can (and often making huge sacrifices) to make it a reality. Choose your purpose. It’s about service, not status. It’s about contribution, and certainly not significance.”

Words and photo by Callum J Jones


In conversation with Two-Bit Villains

Recently, I had a chat with Liam Hughes and his mother, Leigh, owners of Adelaide’s iconic soda-bar Two-Bit Villains. The nifty little venue opened in 2011, originally as a clothing store. There was always the plan to add a food element to the business: Liam is a qualified chef, so it seemed fitting! Within six months of opening the store, the pair moved into a slightly bigger space in the Adelaide Arcade, allowing them to put in a kitchen – though it was a very small and simple kitchen –  where they produced some basic food and their legendary homemade soda.

As their food grew in popularity, Liam and Leigh decided to drop the clothing aspect of their business, allowing them to focus on expanding their menu.

In 2015, the Two-Bit Villains team opened in a new space, giving them more room to accommodate their growing demand. Oh boy, this space is really something! It truly is one of the most beautiful spaces in the Adelaide Arcade – high ceilings, character finishes, and a spectacular balcony overlooking Rundle Mall. Liam and Leigh adore it and describe themselves as very lucky to have it.

T.B.V. Interior.jpg

What sets Two-Bit Villains apart from the other eateries in Adeiade is their 100% vegetarian and vegan menu. Interestingly, this is not something Two-Bit Villains push as a selling point, but it is a factor that slips under the radar. Liam and Leigh explain that they simply offer up “a restaurant that happens to not serve meat… The whole purpose was always to be a place where someone who is vegetarian or vegan can bring their friends and share a good meal.” These guys can proudly say that they have definitely contributed to the vegan boom in Adelaide, and they are very happy to be a part of it.

Two-Bit Villains are known for their sodas, which Liam proudly claims are his thing – so much his thing that he makes his own with the Two-Bit team.

I’ll let Liam’s words speak for themselves:

“We pretty much always have ten to twelve flavours on hand. Then we do summer specials – pineapple, watermelon and cucumber soda, and cherry over Christmas. It depends on what is seasonably available. The whole point was to make them the way they were originally made, with original fruit – the blueberry made with actual blueberries. There is no colouring!”

T.B.V. Soda.jpg

Unpacking the vibe of Two-Bit Villains is a rather interesting task. The space is an eclectic mix of furniture and décor stemming from a 50s-60s home bar aesthetic – in one corner you have a horrendously fabulous floral couch, in another a retro radio, and on the wall a bamboo piece of décor finished off with a few life size cocktail umbrellas. I’m definitely all about their vibe: it sweeps you up in its quirkiness, and as you sit there with pals, the vibe allows you to easily forget about the hustle and bustle of the outside world.

Liam is very involved in the Adelaide music scene, or as he describes it “the ‘alternative indie pub stuff” which inspires Two-Bit’s exceptional playlist. The playlists include a lot of Liam’s friends’ music from all over the country, mixed in with his own music preferences. However, as he puts it, there is really no intentional theme: they are just going with the flow and seeing how it works. I have to say this relaxed approach to business must be linked to the ‘chilled’ experience customers have when visiting Two-Bit Villains. Although there may not have been specific intentions with the décor and the music, Liam and Leigh always hoped to provide a safe space for customers, where people can escape the pressures of outside society. Hats off to them: they have created a little oasis up above the hustle and bustle of the Mall.


As an eatery, Two-Bit Villains have a massive following, possibly due to their incredibly groovy merch: everything from keep cups to t-shirts, tote bags to reusable straws. These products mean that the Two-Bit Villains name is no longer limited to Adelaide, with friends interstate or overseas wearing shirts and spreading the “Two-Bit” love. There is even a guy in Finland walking around with his Two-Bit cup.

Finally, I found myself wondering about the origins of iconic name of this business. Turns out the phrase ‘two-bit villains’ doesn’t really exist anymore, as ‘two-bit’ is an old word for 25c. Leigh explained that a Two-Bit Villain is someone who is chasing every dollar because they are so broke, or a poor person trying to do something with themselves. Liam and Leigh see it as a cute name that fits with the old time vibe of the place.

The parting message from Liam and Leigh for you Adelaideians is the team is forever grateful for the support they have received from the Adelaide community and that Two-Bit Villains is here to stay.

Check out all the socials for merch, sneak peaks from their menu, links to their in-house Spotify playlist, or just general info.

A massive thank you to Liam, Leigh and the crew at Two-Bit Villains!


Twitter: @TwoBit_Villains




Words by Michelle Wakim

Spotlight: The Jade

The Jade has long been a staple of Adelaide’s music scene and nightlife. It’s seen live music aplenty, creative readings, album launches, weddings, birthdays, and plenty of other varied events besides. Recently, Liam McNally sat down with Jade owner Zac Coligan to talk about the Jade’s history, it’s unique style, and even the establishment’s year-long absence as they moved venue.


You’ve been here for a while now. How much has the business changed over that time?
A fair bit. When we first moved in, we were expecting the older model of 95% live music and so we’ve set this room up, double insulated the roof. We do get lots of live music still but a lot of it is special occasions. I think some younger bands are a bit intimidated by this room. We get a lot of CD launches and things like that. In saying that, we’ve got a bunch of gigs happening. But what it’s morphed into is a lot more of a café culture here as well.


And perhaps more of an events space as well?
Yeah. People start to hear about us – and for us, it’s always word-of-mouth. We get a lot of different theatre shows, and seminars, and Music SA have done a lot of things here with guest speakers. We’ve got much more diverse events here which has been great.
This space is here to be used and it’s really quite a good space for all sorts of things. Especially quieter events.


How different is it to the old venue? (The Jade Monkey, on Twin Street).
When we initially started it (the Twin Street venue), we didn’t realise when we got our licence, we could only open from 9pm. We got an extension after a few years. It was a night time thing. And it was all about gigs. Every week there was two or three gigs on.
We’re mixing it up a lot more here because the space is a bit more flexible, whereas the old Jade was about the live music scene fundamentally.


Was there a conscious choice in changing the nature of the venue? You call it the Jade now rather than the Jade Monkey.
To be honest, we dropped the ‘monkey’ because my lovely wife Naomi hated that for years.
It was an interesting decision when we set up this place because we wanted to make it bright, and maybe ‘prettier’, if you will. It’s interesting as when you do a place like that, it kind of evokes the style of clientele you have. We get a good range here. Most people feel comfortable. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious shift but at the same time we wanted to entertain everything. And that’s the way it’s rolled, to be honest.
We made a real effort with this space. It’s a great spot for bands and it sounds wonderful in here.


Where did the name come from?
Initially it was because it was hidden little space and there’s that whole thing behind finding the jade monkey which is also a Simpsons joke.


How did bringing the food van, Phat Buddha Rolls, in change things?
It’s made a huge difference. We do everything ourselves, Naomi and I. There aren’t many places when it’s just two people running a venue, particularly of this size. We did food at first and it was very time consuming and difficult to get the numbers out quick. We did it for a little while and then went, ‘you know what? Let’s just outsource it’. We decided to approach Fork on the Road and get a food truck. It’s been really, really good.
It’s been about bringing people here to sit down and have a coffee, for us. And to bring people to sit down in the afternoon, to have a café culture, you need food.


What kind of difference has the location had?


Jade exterior
The Jade’s courtyard.

[The proximity to] Rundle Mall didn’t have any advantage to us at all at the old Jade. We were only really open after 9pm as well. I feel that with this place because we’re lucky enough to have a really nice garden, and we’re set back from the road, people are often a bit confused about what’s going on. We’re not fans of putting a big ‘$10 parmi’ sign on the front. Every day we get someone who comes in and says they’ve walked past the place 50 times and now they’ve come in the door. Once we get them in the door we usually get them back.
Having a garden makes a huge difference. People love hanging out here. In summer, it’s just wonderful. A good space to be.


There are more separated spaces here than there were at the old place.
And that’s a huge difference for me. When you were part of the old Jade, you were part of the gig. If the gig bombed, you felt that. If the gig went off, you felt that. Now because [the bar is] separate [to the performance space] you still feel it but it’s a different thing.
It’s really good in that respect because you can have the front bar open all the time. People can just drop by for a drink any time they like but also you can have your own space here where everyone’s here to see the band.


How did that changeover period between the Twin Street venue and here go?
It took us a year. A lot of the problems were finding a space but also a year before we started looking at this place, a club called Heaven had been started here and terrorised the neighbourhood. They ended up in court and then they did a runner. We still saw some bills coming in that weren’t for us.
The neighbours didn’t want us here. I reckon there were about six months of roundtable discussions with liquor licencing. It was us against the residents, the church, and an architecture firm across the road.
We just persisted and they gave up in the end because we made a good case but they were trying to wait us out to get us to not do what we were doing.
People ask me about that time, did I think it was going to happen again? I had no doubts it was going to happen again. I didn’t know when.


The last weekend of the old Jade was a big event.
We did a big final weekend. I just handpicked all the bands I wanted to play. It was good. It was a really fun weekend. My manager here now, Josh, played on the Thursday night with his band, the Funky Scum Rumour. I got some rock bands like BTA and indie bands like Steering by Stars and my band, The Sea Thieves, played on the Sunday. It was a good way to see it out.


Considering your neighbours in the St Paul’s Creative Space, does that have an impact in who tends to come here?
We’ve done a lot of good things with those guys. And they’ll come over and say they want to do something and we go yeah. We’ve got a really good relationship with them. It’s funny because lots of people I’ve known for years in the music industry are working next door.
As far as neigbours go, couldn’t be any better.
They take up the lion’s share of the building so we wouldn’t have moved in without something like that next door. You don’t want someone starting a club there. Not that they’d be able to. There’s no way anyone’s going to do that ever again because they’ll end up in court before they start.


Did you get to have such a diversity of events at the old place – like spoken word events?


We did, but to be honest, the old place was all about the local music scene. So that’s what we had going on. Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, we had gigs. We did have some spoken word nights though. We were 100% reliant on the event to make our money for the night. We still are to a certain degree here but we’re already open every Thursday and Friday night regardless of whether we’ve got something on or not. You can take a bit more of a punt as well. Some band gets in touch with us and says they’ve never done a gig before and they want to go a gig. We can go ‘sure, maybe a Thursday night, see how it goes and go from there.’ It’s even better for us here because we don’t have to concern ourselves whether they bring 300 people or ten. It obviously helps but it makes it a bit easier to entertain that.
We definitely had to rethink the nights we gave people at the old place because that’s 100% what we were about [there]. Bands brought people, we made money, they didn’t, we made no money.

We’re separate rent, separate tenancy – everyone thought we’re on some government-funded thing which was quite annoying because we are not at all. It’s all down to us.


Words by Liam McNally

Thanks to Zac Coligan.

Pictures: The Jade Facebook page