Ray Hutchinson retired from Westmeat Nelson on Wednesday after almost 50 years as a butcher. Photo: Simon Bloomberg

Butcher retires after 50 years

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Stoke’s Ray Hutchison won’t miss the early morning starts, but he will miss his workmates after calling it quits on half a century of working in butcher shops around Nelson.

The 64-year-old received an emotional send-off from his workmates at Westmeat in Richmond on Wednesday when he had his last day on the job.

It signalled the end of a 50 year career that started in 1967 when he left Nelson College and signed up as an apprentice in a “little butcher’s shop” on Weka St in Nelson.

After completing his apprenticeship, Ray worked “at a few places” before joining the Nelson Freezing Company, which later became Westmeat.

He left to manage a butcher’s shop on Roto St for a few years but, when it sold, returned to the Nelson Freezing Company butchery on Hardy St and spent the next 40 years working for that company.

“There were 14 guys at Hardy St in those days so it was a big shop,” Ray says. “I’ve had 40 years with them this time around and one month short of 50 years as a butcher.”

And not surprisingly, Ray has seen “heaps of big changes” in the trade during those years.

“We used to wrap everything in cellophane back then and I can still remember the guy bringing Gladwrap around to the shop and trying to sell it. We didn’t buy it because we said it would never work – it didn’t have a dispenser and you had to roll it off and cut it, so it was really awkward.”

“When I started, we also used to get all our meat as whole carcasses and have to break them down to all the cuts. We’d make our own hams and smallgoods but now the meat comes in already broken up and everything is brought in.”

“You learned so much back then, it was a real trade. None of the young guys learn that stuff anymore, which is sad in a way.”

Ray also laments the demise of the small butcher’s shops which have been replaced by supermarkets and large retail meat outlets.

Although the industry has been modernised and is more efficient, he says “I enjoyed the old days more because we had a lot of interaction with customers and I miss that.”

“We had regular customers who knew your name and you knew them. At Christmas time, we used to have little old grannies turn up with a flagon for you or some home baking – it was very personal.”

“We even had sports teams in the old days. One year, we had one guy working for us who played soccer and he used to go on about how good he was, so we got a team together from all our shops and played his second division team.”

“All our guys were just rugby guys and we played them at Victory Square and we won 2-0. We put our assistant manager in as goalie because he was so mean we knew he wouldn’t let anything go past.”

After 50 years of early starts, often two or three in the morning, Ray says he is looking forward to sleeping-in and “trying to play a bit more golf”.

He is also a keen hunter and still plays Golden Oldies rugby for the Buccaneers, so he will have plenty to do in his retirement.

“I’ll miss working with the guys. We have a lot of fun and we have a few arguments too. But I’ve been hanging out to go and play some more golf and I have 300 acres in the Marlborough Sounds to wander around, so I can catch a pig or shoot a deer or do nothing.”