Hi, my name is Doug Piper; my passions are family, meat and I am proud to be a butcher.
I started my apprenticeship in the Adelaide Central Markets in 1977 in a time when sides of lamb and veal hung from the rails inside the shop with hand written prices on white butchers paper stuck to them, sawdust was on the floors, there was no value adding and we couldn’t sell meat after 12pm on a Saturday.
The shop was owned by a man called Mr Howard James, a tall man, well spoken, polite and always wore a neatly ironed white shirt and black tie. Mr James owned two shops in the Central Markets and a pet shop. Mr James had the respect from all his employees, even though we did not see much of him earlier in the week; he was there on our busiest days.
Our meat came in daily, beef fore’s on a Monday, hindquarters arrived Tuesday, lamb, veal and pork Wednesday. My job was to hang the beef away in the coolroom as quickly as possible as it was broken down by the butchers. I remember the long “daisy chains” of topsides, rounds, silversides, rumps etc hanging outside waiting for me to hang them away. The coolroom was tiny for the amount of meat we sold and it had a very high ceiling. The coolroom had the normal wall rails and bays however; it also had the high roof rails where you needed a long broomstick with hooks on the end to reach the high rails when hanging meat away. It appeared only the heavy cuts like whole blades, chucks, shortloins and pork forequarters got hung up high…..being 15 years old, 50 kilos and just touching 5 foot and a bit didn’t seem to be a barrier to the butchers, to this day I still think it was purely entertainment for them….. bloody sawdust!! Thursdays were our main prep day, all the backup window trays were cut, remaining lamb and pork prep was done and veal and lambs were split in halves with a chopper, one of the jobs I was lucky enough to do after a few months. I did not have to make sausages or corn beef we had the luxury of a factory where all those jobs apprentices usually do instore were done.
Our busiest trading days were Friday and Saturday mornings, when all the market traders were fully open and full of fresh seafood, fresh produce, fresh meat, cheese, freshly baked breads nearly everything you could imagine. It was a hive of activity back in those days; it was and still is an amazing place to visit!
The shop I worked in was one of seven butcher shops that were side by side, the spruikers were spruiking their specials and the shops were full of eager shoppers. My main jobs were to replenish the window trays, and let the tray cutters know what they needed to cut more of, keep the mince and sausage dishes fuIl and my pride and joy was the offal bar. We sold everything from fresh brains (that fresh were only thinking yesterday) tongues, livers, hearts, tails and trotters, tripe etc. In the beginning, the only thing I was allowed to cut was the sausages, split the pig’s heads with a chopper and cut up the kangaroo carcasses on a Monday afternoon at the owner’s pet shop to gain knife skills.
I wasn’t supposed to serve but couldn’t help myself one busy day when a pretty woman walked into the shop, the butchers couldn’t finish serving their customers quick enough so one of them could jump in and take over from me, I didn’t do that again…….for a while.
I think our shop was the busiest of the lot we were too busy to look outside at the others at lunchtime. There was about 10 of us working in the shop on the busy days, we finished each week day at 5pm with a couple of beers for the butchers and the head butcher always left the shop last after carefully crafting a design in the sawdust with the rake in the front of the shop for customers to see.
This was the beginning for me, I got the bug, I loved the hard work, the people I worked with, my boss the trade! There are not many trades where you can do what we do, we have a valued skill where you can take a whole product and create something that looks beautiful and offers such fulfilment and comfort to your customers.
Now 44 years later my career has broadened from working in, managing and owning independent retail butcher shops and meat departments, meat specialist for broad line foodservice companies, selling sausage casings up and down northern NSW and for the past 14 years, sharing my knowledge and educating industry and consumers about the Australian red meat industry for Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA)
During my time at MLA, I have seen the industry change in so many ways and I have been fortunate to work alongside some very talented people in our business and value the input they have had in my career.