Saying farewell to career in butchery

A "fair go" from a family friend led to a lifetime of job satisfaction for one southern girl, who draws the curtain on a career in butchery this week.

Lawrence Blue Spur Butchery owner Jan Harper brings a 48-year career in the meat industry to a close tomorrow, one which began as a "bit out of the ordinary" for a teenage girl from Invercargill back in 1973.

"They said I was the first female butcher’s apprentice through Invercargill back then, but to me it didn’t matter. It was just what I wanted to do since I was a little girl."

The owner of Blue Spur Butchery in Lawrence, Jan Harper, retires tomorrow after 48 years in the...
The owner of Blue Spur Butchery in Lawrence, Jan Harper, retires tomorrow after 48 years in the trade. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
She acquired a love of the trade from running messages to her local butchers, where the "pint-sized" youngster would be amiably teased and spoiled.

Mrs Harper’s older brother Gary became an apprentice before her, given the opportunity by family friend and Invercargill butcher Kenny Officer.

A year or so later, she was delighted to be given the same chance herself.

"I loved it — he was the best boss I ever had. Kenny actually came to visit recently, on hearing I was retiring, and he said it was my energy and enthusiasm that won him over. I’d always give everything a go and give it my full attention, which hasn’t really changed since."

Blue Spur Butchery, Lawrence. PHOTO: JAN HARPER/SUPPLIED
Blue Spur Butchery, Lawrence. PHOTO: JAN HARPER/SUPPLIED
Another brother and a nephew had since followed her into the trade, she said.

Like a good sausage, her career had been liberally spiced — with humour and adventure.

When metric weights and measures were introduced in 1976, an elderly female customer strode boldly into the shop, Mrs Harper said.

"She said, ‘I’ll take a kilometre of sausages and a litre of mince’. The boss just looked at her and said, ‘It could be a while collecting your sausages’."

A 15-year spell working as a butcher in Sydney from 1978 introduced the enterprising young adult to a smorgasbord of international culture.

"I was working with a Hungarian Jew, a German called Helmut, a former SS officer called The Old Fox, and a Russian called Boris.

"My dad said, ‘Just you look out, Jan. That’s a regular League of Nations.’ But they always looked after me. I was like a mascot."

In 2009 and back on home soil, the opportunity arose to establish her own butchery for the first time.

Ending up christened "Blue Spur" after a local beauty spot, it could have been quite different, Mrs Harper said.

"I’ve always loved The Rolling Stones, so I was going to call it Jagger Meats.

"But I didn’t think Lawrence was quite ready for that."

She later discovered her grandfather Bill Smith had been born at Blue Spur, bringing the family connection full circle.

"Funnily enough I haven’t been able to find out much about a man called ‘Bill Smith’, but Lawrence has always felt right to me.

"Although I’ll probably head off in my campervan from time to time, this is home now."

richard.davison@odt.co.nz

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