What does a butcher do?
Robert works at a small suburban butchery, but the field itself is considerably larger. In general, butchers are responsible for boning and cutting up meat. They can work in butcheries, abattoirs, for supermarkets, and as wholesalers to restaurants and catering companies.
"In the old days," says Robert, "it was just your basic leg of lamb, steak and whatever, where now it's stir-fries, schnitzels, all that type of thing. There's a lot more going into it."
How did you become a butcher?
"I'm more just self-taught," says Robert. "I started labouring at the abattoirs and went from there... I was just boning out beef for about the best part of twenty years, and then I started doing a little part-time work in butcher shops and learning a bit as I went along."
It still takes a flexible apprenticeship that can stretch to five years if you want to become a butcher, but requirements have changed over the past ten years. To become a meat boner or slicer still requires a TAFE course, but it's a Certificate I or II, a less advanced qualification than butchering, which takes more time.
What does a typical working day involve?
Working in a suburban butchery means early mornings - usually around 5am or 6am. Robert starts work preparing meat for the windows and taking deliveries, and then works right through the day. If you want to work as a commercial boner and slicer though, work patterns can vary.
"It's a completely different thing," says Robert. "You've got to be prepared to put in the hours in the butcher shop, where working in the meatworks, you don't put in the longer hours. [In the meatworks] it can get very monotonous because you're just doing the same thing over and over again, where in the shops you can stop and have that break, talk to the customers, watch everyone walking up and down the street and enjoy the sunshine!"
Is it dangerous?
"It can be, yeah," says Robert. "When you're working with band saws, mincers... You've got to treat the machinery with the greatest respect because one slip and you can just cut your hand off."
The industry does have high safety standards, however. "We have mesh gloves for boning, and in the meatworks now they have mesh aprons and things like that so you don't cut yourself," says Robert.
Are there any tips for getting a job as a butcher?
If you take on an apprenticeship, don't expect to leap into shop-keeping right away, warns Robert.
"Like anything, you start at the bottom sweeping the floor, cleaning the blocks, and you just generally learn as you go along. But after you've done your apprenticeship, you're right to go."
On the whole, butchering can be rewarding work. Robert obviously enjoys it: he's been doing it for thirty years.
"I just can't get away from it!" he says. "I've tried many times! Nah, I've done a few different things, but - myself - I enjoy working in the shop."
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