Paul “Spud” Bennett moves quietly around the store where meat has been sold for almost a century.
He and his wife Gail have run the butcher shop in the rural village of Woodstock in central-western New South Wales for the past three decades.
It’s their final day before they shut up shop.
Fewer than 800 people call Woodstock home, and there is a steady stream of nostalgic customers giving their well wishes and picking up their last orders of meat and newspapers, which the Bennetts also sell.
It’s an emotional time for the Bennetts.
“All the meat is gone now. I might just make a stew and that would be it,” Mr Bennett said.
The phone rings, and Mr Bennett tries out a new greeting.
“Hello, retired butcher, how can I help?”
Dog meat to delicacies
The 66-year-old started his butchering career in his early teens and has seen monumental shifts in the trade over his 50 plus years in the business.
Mr Bennett said quality was the key to customer loyalty, alluding to his famed sausages which attracted regular orders from people as far away as Sydney.
“Good cuts and everything else, give them good sausages and they come back,” he said.
One of those “out-of-town” customers, now living in Woodstock, was John Thaine, who bought the last bag of the iconic sausages.
“These have got real skin on them and they are beautiful.”
Supermarket monopoly threatens butcher trade
The retired butcher said he was worried that people had become “lazy” by shopping for meat at supermarkets.
He said the chains had “taken over”, making it challenging for many butchers to run viable businesses.
Mrs Bennett reflected on a “cold” career in the butcher shop after getting “tangled up” with the charismatic Mr Bennett, but said she would miss the people.
She said many friends were made as customers passed through the historic building to buy meat or the local rag.
The last butcher
As customers passed through the butcher’s doors for the last time, their final messages expressed sentiments of thanks and encouragement to “get out of here and take a holiday”.
Mr Thaine said it was a sad day for the village and highlighted the reality of shrinking communities.
“It’s a very sad time because once he is gone, he is gone,” Mr Thaine said.
“We won’t have another butcher here again, so it will be a sad time in the village.”
But the community staples weren’t retiring from all duties, with Mr Bennett still captaining the local fire brigade.
As he closed the doors of his butcher shop, Mr Bennett offered one last piece of advice.
The best way to cook a good piece of meat, he said, was “on a barbie with a beer”.