Working In An Australian Sheep Abattoir

I ditched my office job for an unconventional lesson in offal sorting.

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 decided to work whenever possible and live the locals’ lifestyle. Drinking and sunbathing my way up the east coast wasn’t on the agenda. Besides I was 27, so my travel agent in the UK had politely suggested that my days of full moon parties and dusk to dawn beach frolicking were numbered.

Well this couldn’t be further from Byron Bay, 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 at a sheep abattoir in Dubbo, I had fallen into the role of Chief Offal Sorter.

Dubbo, the final frontier town before New South Wales’ wild west Outback, is home to 40,000 people and most know a close friend or family member who work at ‘The Abs’. The community is mirrored on a smaller scale inside, where old hands keep young guns in order; everyone knows their rank and the locals enjoy Smoko together.

Dubbo (Tim Keegan via Creative Commons)

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 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!

Blood and guts aside, it 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 experienced coming home from an office.

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 achieved my original goal: To enjoy a slice of Aussie life that can’t be found under the eaves of the Sydney Opera House or in the bars of the Gold Coast. This Australia is dedicated to traditional industry and good old-fashioned hard work.

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