Adelaide’s old butcher shops of the 1940s, 50s, 60's - Bob Perry

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SAWDUST on the floor. Huge, stained chopping blocks. Just three kinds of sausages. Here’s what SA butcher shops used to be like.

FOR as long as I can remember, I have had a fascination with butcher shops. Remember the sawdust on the floor, the dark-blue-and-white striped aprons, the oversized belt which had the scabbard on the side for the various and the sharpening steel on the other side?

Back in the 1940s, they’d hear the door squeak, they’d look up and without a pause say: “morning Mrs. Perry”.

Mind you, we didn’t hear all the times he said Mrs. Perry and it wasn’t us, but they were good at recognising their customers.

Whenever I stayed with my grandma, we’d always have to walk around to Mr. Lumsden’s shop, right by the West Croydon Railway Station, and the order always contained chump lamb chops.

Tanunda butcher Jakob Wintulich, the founder of Wintulichs, with an early display of smallgoods.

Mr. King with standing next to the front window of his shop Metro Meats in the Central Market, 1979.

Mr. King with standing next to the front window of his shop Metro Meats in the Central Market, 1979.

Nothing was pre-cut. The slab of lamb would be slapped on the huge wooden chopping block. He ran a knife through to mark each chop width and then the hacksaw through the bone.

If those chopping blocks could talk. Some of them must have been 20 or 30 years old.

Remember the rails that ran around the shop and into the huge fridge with the sides and whole sheep and the sides of beef and pork? They’d push the sides around to get them near the saw. The doors of the fridge would be about eight inches thick and there’d be a heavy “thunk” sound as it closed.

I always remembered that noise because I got locked in a butcher’s fridge one night when I was about eight years old. We’d gone to my uncle’s one night and had been invited to help clean out the family butcher shop.

After a bit of sweeping, I was encouraged to go into the fridge. Just being in there with all the sides of meat was scary enough but when the door closed, I was the only one not laughing. Apparently, it was hilarious.

I’m amazed I ever went into a butcher shop again.

You could almost exist without a newspaper if you went to the butcher every second day.

Every customer left a few gems of scuttlebutt and went home with a few.

You got a warm feeling if the butcher didn’t know the secret the baker had sworn you to, half an hour ago.

Butcher shop menus have changed over the years. When times were tough, more people were looking for mutton or hogget, the aged lamb, and the cuts were different.

Nobody had heard of lamb steaks or french cutlets or value-adding.

I can remember there were three butchers who used to spruik their specials in the Central Market Arcade on Fridays. Crowds would gather as the auctioneers would pull amazing offers out of the air.

“I’ll give you a whole hogget, that’s the whole sheep madam, two chickens, a leg of pork, and a piece of rolled roasting beef for $20. No. That’s not enough. I’ll also chuck in a kilo of sausages and a kilo of fritz and make it $25. There’s only five of these so jump in quick.”

People would kick their way to the counter.

With three auctions going at once, the crowd would work themselves into a frenzy.

I can remember when the sides of lamb were 50 cents a kilo.

You’ve got to remember there’s top quality, economy, and bargain price. Summer was always a tough time for butchers, trying to keep the meat cool and controlling the smells as well as the flies.

Flywire doors seemed to attract the flies as they slammed, and if they didn’t seal it was a nightmare with the butcher chasing around the shop with a fly swat.

I went into a butcher shop on the Yorke Peninsula once that had a veranda airlock, or more like a “fly lock”. If a fly managed to get in, you could swat him in that smaller room.

I once interviewed one of the original Barossa Valley butchers and he talked about life before refrigeration.

They had a huge cellar under the shop.

They used to kill the animals themselves in those days and dress them in the back shed.

Because the meat needed to be fresh they had to kill each day. The only chilling was a Coolgardie safe with water flowing over a bedsheet-sized cloth and a slight breeze.

The apprentices had to carry a forequarter or hindquarter of beef down the stairs on their shoulders. They had horrific accidents if they slipped on greasy or wet stairs.

Of course, in the early days, every butcher made his own smallgoods and these could make or break a butcher. People would travel 10 or 15 miles just to get good fritz or sausages.

At Christmas, a good ham could mean you did all your shopping in the next town or suburb.

People, like my wife, find it weird that when we go interstate, or even into the country, I will stand and look in a butcher shop window for 15 minutes.

There’s just something different in the preparation or display from one butcher to another. In her defence, my wife grew up on a farm out Lower Light way and her father did all of their own killings. They got to eat all the side benefits like offal.

He would warn them when he was going to kill and they would make sure they weren’t anywhere near.

Speaking of offal, isn’t it amazing how trends change. Remember when lamb brains were just about given away and only a couple of years ago lamb shanks were a dollar each? They’re $12 a kilo now.

You have to marvel at the range of sausages that are available now. When I was a kid it was beef, pork, or country style. Now you can get all the spices and flavours you can think of.

The other day, while listening to a report from the Edinburgh Festival, there was a butcher talking about Scotch whisky flavoured snags.

A zip through the internet brought up pork with apple, cider, and cranberry, a breakfast pork sausage with brown sugar and maple syrup, a chicken with tea and bourbon, and a pork pizza sausage with pepperoni and mozzarella.

I had always wanted a sausage-making machine, then one day eBay came to my rescue — an electric mincer with a sausage-filling nozzle.

By the time I bought skins and beef and flavouring, these were not going to be cheap sausages. I had usually steered away from sausages at $15 a kilo, but that’s what they cost to make! Now I ask myself, what’s in sausages that sell for $4.99 a kilo?

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Alan Clarke outside his butcher shop Clarke's, 1957


  • Suvir


    10:27 PM, 22-07-2021

    Fascinating recollections of a bygone era

    0 Reply

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