Ditching the 9-5 office job for an unconventional lesson in offal sorting.
How did I end up here? I laughed to myself as I donned my plastic gloves and began the second kidney-peeling shift of my ten hour day, alongside my Taiwanese colleagues working the main organ conveyor belt.
‘Here’ was a sheep abattoir in Dubbo, New South Wales, and I, it seemed, had fallen into the role of ‘Chief Offal Sorter’.
In 2010, I bought a one-way ticket to Australia with hopes of seeing a side of the country that few tourists get to witness. I had purposefully decided to work whenever possible and live the locals’ lifestyle. Drinking and sunbathing my way up the east coast wasn’t on the agenda, and besides, at 27, my friendly travel agent politely suggested that I had possibly missed my chance for full moon parties and frolicking on beaches until dawn.
Dubbo, the final frontier town before New South Wales’ wild west outback country, is home to 40,000 people, and most know a close friend or family member who work at ‘The Abs’. The community is mimicked on a smaller scale inside, where old hands keep young guns in order; everyone knows their rank and daily routine and the locals enjoy Smoko together.
Now, nothing attacks the senses quite like walking into an abattoir in full swing. Industrial machinery churns and grumbles, the noise so intrusive you have to wear earplugs. The hot air that rushes at your face as you push back the door smells of blood and sweating workers, who are busy yanking innards from the animals hanging upside down, swinging precariously on tiny hooks.
Making the journey to the offal room behind the main factory line was an achievement in itself. An obstacle course akin to a Halloween special of Gladiators, I carefully timed each step so as to miss a heavy carcass to the head, or a slippery bit of intestine underfoot.
Once I was at my station, and the strict schedule of boot hosing, hair net adjustment and apron tying was over, another routine began. Days were physically tiring yet simple, watching one hour on the clock, before moving to the next rotation. Variation was the key to staying sane. For example, if you had just spent an hour packing large rubbery livers into decidedly small plastic bags, it was essential to move quickly onto brain-picking or heart sorting, before one of your colleagues got there first, and you spent a further hour wrestling with slippery plasma-splashed apparatus and risking a repetitive strain injury!
However, blood and guts aside, a revelation to me (and possibly to anyone reading this) is that it really was an enjoyable job! There was always plenty to learn and colleagues were friendly and inclusive. Add to that the satisfaction of a hot shower, followed swiftly by a cold beer at the end of the day, and it easily surpassed any feeling of relaxation I’ve ever experienced when coming home from an office 9 to 5.
I could not have asked for a more authentic Australian experience, and as my final day drew to an unceremonious end, scraping off my hair net, hosing down my rubber boots and washing my bloodied hands gave me a true sense of a mission accomplished. I had fulfilled my original goal; to enjoy a slice of Aussie life that can’t be found under the eaves of the Sydney Opera House, nor in the bars of the Gold Coast. An Australia dedicated to traditional industry and good old-fashioned hard work.
I can only hope that more Poms will continue to break the British-backpacker mould Down Under!
Did you know?
Dubbo has more to offer its visitors than just ‘The Abs’ – Old Dubbo Gaol and Western Plains Zoo are just two of the attractions worth visiting in this country town.