Located in an unassuming backstreet of Queanbeyan, Dumbrell’s Butchery is a far cry from the lit-up signs and trolley-scuffed floors of the regional city’s major supermarkets.
The pointed blue roof and leafy suburban surrounds of the shop could lead to it being mistaken for a quaint cottage if not for signs advertising cuts of beef, lamb and pork.
Dumbrell’s is one of only a handful of remaining butcher shops in Queanbeyan, down from an estimated 22 in the 1960s, according to one local butcher’s website.
Dumbrell’s owner Steve Clugston started working at the butchery during his school days in the late 1970s when he was about 12 years old.
He stayed to complete an apprenticeship before leaving in his early 20s, never anticipating he would return as the shop’s owner.
“And then, 10 years later [in 2001], I came back,” Steve says.
“The previous owner was going to close up, but Daniel and I kept it going.”
Steve asked his friend Daniel Dowling, who had also completed an apprenticeship at Dumbrell’s, to return to work for him, and the rest is history.
“Daniel is a great bloke, we’re good mates and he’s easy to work with. We get along well, so that’s why we’ve been here for so long,” Steve says.
Now more than 20 years later, the shop is in the same situation again, but this time without any former apprentices like Steve and Daniel to take over.
“It’s a dying trade … we’ve been trying to sell the business for about the last 10 months and there hasn’t been much interest at all,” Steve says.
Steve, now aged 56, said while competition with supermarkets and cost of living pressures had made it increasingly difficult to stay afloat, it also felt like the right time for him to move on.
“I’ve had my cattle farm for 10 years and that’s another job in and of itself … and I found myself just back and forward, back and forward,” he says.
“It’s only an hour away, but it was just becoming too much. I’d prefer just to do one job for my next 10 years until I get to real retirement.”
Highlights from Steve’s last 20 years in business include everything from sponsoring local sporting teams to simply catching up with his friend Daniel each morning.
But he said his pride is locally sourcing whole animals from Cowra, breaking them down on-site and not wasting anything, including the bones.
“It’s a completely different style of meat and style of butchering [to supermarkets],” Steve says.
While the rise of supermarkets may seem inevitable, right-hand-man Daniel says Dumbrell’s came out on top during COVID.
“In the pandemic, we were the only ones that had meat. Supermarkets had run out, but we had meat all the way through,” Daniel says.
“We were flat-stick. There was no time for a break or nothing. We just sold out of meat every day and got a load in every night.”
Daniel, who plans to become a truck driver after Dumbrell’s closes, says his personal highlight has been the customers.
“We’ve seen [customers] come in here as kids and now they’re here as adults, bringing their own kids,” he says.
“That’s one of the best things, we’re watching people grow up and it’s a bit sad watching the old ones go.”
Both men thanked Dumbrell’s customers for their support, with tributes and gifts rolling in both online and offline.
“That’s so sad. They have the best Cowra lamb,” one Facebook commenter said.
“They make the best sausages in town. Sad to hear they are closing,” said another.
“Nooooooo where am I going to get my meat from now?” asked a third.
Steve said whenever customers ask that question, he always tells them the same thing: “‘See Pete Lindbeck at Lindbeck’s Butchery, just keep things local and support the small fella.'”
Dumbrell’s Butchery will open its doors for the last time on Friday, 14 April 2023.