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Wok #2013-0417

Metal wok with wooden handle.


Shanaka Fernando was born in Sri Lanka, where he attended a Buddhist school and experienced civil war—including the murder of his Tamil neighbour—first hand. In his early twenties he travelled to Melbourne on a rugby scholarship. He studied law for three years and travelled extensively, but was always drawn to social justice issues. His Lentil as Anything concept, launched in St Kilda in 2000, has expanded around Melbourne. Restaurants opened in Belgrave, in Brunswick in 2003, the Abbotsford Convent in 2005 and Footscray in 2009. In 2005 the cooperative established Lentil as Africa to provide Muslim African women skills to run their own restaurant. Lentil as Anything’s website states that the cooperative feeds 1000 people every day.

In 2010 the Abbotsford Convent Foundation’s decision to not renew the restaurant’s lease sparked community protest. According to the Age newspaper, more than 20,000 people signed a petition calling for the restaurant site to be retained. The petition was tabled in Parliament and the Convent subsequently agreed to negotiate the terms of a new lease with Lentil as Anything.
The cooperative also attracted the attention of the Australian Taxation Office, which in a private ruling in 2007 exempted the ‘pay as you feel’ philosophy from GST. In the same year Shanaka Fernando was declared ‘Australia’s Local Hero’ of the year in the Australian of the Year Awards.

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This wok is significant because it was used at the first Lentil as Anything restaurant, opened by Shanaka Fernando in St Kilda in 2000. The restaurant established a policy of ‘pay as you feel’: customers paid only what they could afford, or what they thought the food and experience was worth. Shanaka Fernando subsequently relinquished his capital in the restaurant and turned it into a not-for-profit cooperative that provides training opportunities and assistance to marginalised people. The cooperative now runs at least three other restaurants in the Melbourne area. Mr Fernando says ‘[t]he wok and donation box have enabled me to give back to the country that welcomed me from Sri Lanka. They are symbols of tolerance, equality and freedom. These are essential aspects of democracy and Lentil as Anything’.

This wok is the only object of its provenance in an Australian museum and is useful in telling the story of grassroots activism through a socially responsible commercial enterprise.


Width 540mm
Height 120mm
Depth 355mm
Medium Metal and timber
Creator’s name Unknown
Impression Unknown