Jim Arrowsmith from Chorley in Lancashire arrived in Australia as a 20-year-old backpacker in 2006.
After realising there was a huge gap in the Australian market for British foods, Jim and his mate Pete Tonge (real name) decided to make their own pork pies.
The pair of British travellers set up a pork pie factory on a pig farm on the edge of the Australian outback.
Fifteen years later, they now sell pork pies, haggis, black pudding and other British goods across Australia and their products have reached as far as Hong Kong.
Bullet points of key topics & time stamps:
● 01:14 – Jim tells us how it all came about
● 07:08 - Find out how many pork pies they make a week
● 09:57 – Jim talks about the nationality of his customers
● 11:40 – Jim tells us what it’s like living in rural Australia
● 14:14 – How Jim met his British wife in Australia
List of resources mentioned in episode, suggested reading & social media handles:
● Echuca, Victoria on Wikipedia
● Moama, New South Wales on Wikipedia
This episode is sponsored by Pacdon Park (www.pacdon.com.au).
Pacdon Park is the only free range British butchery in Australia providing products such as pork pies, black pudding and haggis.
All of their products are made using traditional British recipes.
Find them on facebook and instagram - follow @pacdonpark
Britstralian Producer and Host: Anna Moran
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Britstralian acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the Land we have recorded this podcast on. The area now known as the City of Armadale was originally occupied by the Noongar people many thousands of years before European settlement. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
NOTE: The views and opinions shared by the guest(s) in this podcast are the views and personal experiences of the guest(s) and are not necessarily representative of the views or opinions of Britstralian and the host.
The views and opinions shared by the guest(s) in this podcast are the views and personal experiences of the guest(s) and are not necessarily representative of the views or opinions of Britstralian and the host.
Britstralian will not be liable for any inaccuracies in this information.
It's not until you go abroad, that you really appreciate the food you can get at home. For example, in Australia, if you go to a fish and chip shop, you have to ask for salt and vinegar on your chips, Otherwise, they'll give you something called chicken salt. I’d quite happily pay $5 if I could get hold of a bag of prawn cocktail flavored crisps. And pork pies, well-. Our next guest is a bright spark who decided to make his own.
Hi, I'm Jim Arrowsmith, from Chorley in Lancashire, Northwest England. We're out here being free-range British butchers. And now I'm a Britstralian. And I've been a Britistralian for 15 years.
What would I class you as? A butcher?
Well, not really. Well, I'll tell you the story, I suppose. So-, my business partner, Pete Tonge and I, from Chorley, were backpacking around Australia. We couldn't find a decent pork pie, for love nor money. So this was in 2006. So we thought we'd make them ourselves. So, whereas Pete, he was a chef in the UK-, disillusioned chef; loves food, hates cheffing. I’d got a business degree from Liverpool University and we were traveling around and-, yeah, here we are now.
I love his name. Pete Tonge.
I know, I know. It got him a lot of credence as a kid.
Brilliant. So literally, you just came over from England, with your backpacks. And you were cruising around Australia, were you?
Well, that was it. Yeah, like I said-, just couldn't find a pork pie for love, nor money. So my godfather; he had a pig farm-. And he was from Yorkshire as well. So he-, he said, “Buy my pigs and you can have an old dairy to turn into a little factory, an old farmhouse to live in.” We said, “Thank you very much. We'll do just that”. So we converted this derelict dairy into a commercial kitchen. We built our own stainless steel benches and what have you. And then we got signed off by the local council. And we had to teach ourselves to butcher. So we got this DVD, we took the old TV-, and this was you know, 14, 15 years ago-. Took the old TV from the house into the factory, to learn to butcher. It's a real-, a real rustic start. Where we were in Bunnaloo, the population was like four-, there was-, you couldn't get any staff. So, our first staff were backpackers. So we had 50 backpackers over two years.
How old were you at the time?
wrote the business plan when I was 18. So, fresh out of uni. So what? We would have started the business at 22, I think? Yeah.
Did you intend to come out here and set up a business? Was it part of your plan?
Well, I’d just done business studies, and I didn't know what I wanted to do. Pete had-, hated chefin, and his family were all quite business minded, you know. They all have their own businesses. So I suppose when the opportunity sort of came up, and we didn't know what to do, you’ve got to do something with your life-. So, we thought, well, let's just give this a punt and it’s-, we've had-, we've had highs, we've had lows, you know, but that's what small business is. But it's highly-, it's been an enjoyable journey, really has.
Were you-, were you actually backpackers at the time that you set this up?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So Pete actually had to go back and wait for his visa to come through to come back to Australia. So we'd-. We were backpacking, we’d sort of finished our-, our stint of backpacking. We used the farm as like a base camp and we’d go off to Byron Bay or-, or wherever. And then, wondering what to do with your life, so we thought, well, let's-, let's do this.
Yeah, wow. Okay, so tell us what you do. What do you produce?
Our premium product is the pork pie. We make Australia's only award winning haggis, of all things. Er, we won the delicious award, which was the biggest, sort of, small producers award, the ceremony’s in Sydney Opera House. It was huge; big deal.
Good for you!
But we an’t sell haggis for love, nor money-. Or we thought. Whereas, it's taken us a long time to get it going, but now we sell a huge amount.
How easy is it to set up a business in Australia, especially as a backpacker? I mean, how'd you even do that? That's amazing.
No, well you can’t-. If- if I had my time over, I wouldn't do it the way I have done it. It's been very, very-. Pure naivety of Peter and I, when we started, like, really naïve. But I think that's how you get into business; by having no idea how hard it is. Like, we had a newspaper article; first of December 2009, in the Age and the phone just rang off the hook ‘cause we were doing 48-hour days. I think my average sleep for the month of December was like two hours. I was hallucinating by Christmas-. Like it, it has-, we've had moments like that, you know. We've had equipment breakdowns. We had all sorts of real things, you know-, been on the breadline. But then, we've had all these, you know, wonderful things happen as well, you know. Sort of, shut one door, window opens; that sort of business.
But it's paid off?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, it’s highly enjoyable, good fun. We meet an awful lot of Brits in our line of work, we really do. And it's so nice. You know, I've had people phone me up crying on the phone, because they've been over here for, you know, 30 years and not had a pork pie and, you know, things like that. So it's quite, you get that, sort of, real pleasure from people's excitement and experience. And when I stopped doing farmers markets because of COVID and telling people look, this is my last market, you know, the amount of fully grown men that were in tears was quite incredible. So, you know, I know their monthly pork pie stop; pork pie and a chat.
Aww! Is it people who’ve been over here for years, then mostly?
A mixture, a real mixture. People have been here over here for a long, long time, like 10 pound pumps, they often have an idea of what food is like in the UK, which isn't quite realistic these days, you know. They left at a time when things were quite different. More, the younger generation, I suppose now that we're here, they don't understand the lack of pork pies, like we first found when we got over. It’s-, I don’t know-, it's just um, different experiences, different people, different locations, isn't it.
So just for anyone who is listening in the UK, they probably don't realise this. But in Australia, sausages are predominantly made from beef, aren't they?
In Australia, beef and lamb are the main sort. And I always wondered why do the sausages taste so weird in Australia? And you you don't even think, “Oh, it might be a different meat”. So when we started, Australia's don't understand what a pork pie is-, that-. A cold pie to them is just something unnatural. You know, I always, always use the little catchphrase, you know, ‘warm beer and cold pies’. That's what we poms like, you know. It's a different thing, but they just don't quite-. They do get it a lot now, you know, the food-, the British sort of food period is quite big, you know. Master Chef; the big TV show, two the three judges are poms. You've got Heston, you've got Gordon Ramsay. So we've got a real-, like they understand a lot more now than they did when we first started. So-.
Fair enough. So that-, so you do get quite a few Aussie customers then, that's nice to know. So how many pork pies do you produce in a week?
At Christmas, we do probably triple any other week of the year, but around 2,000 pork pies a week mark.
Yeah, that's a lot.
But then pork pies would be, what-, 20% to 25% of what we do. Puddings would be maybe 30%-. So when I say puddings; black pudding, white pudding and haggis. Bacon would be 25% and sausages and gammon and all that sort of other oddities make up the remainder.
I bet the black and white puddings are popular?
Huge. Winter is just incredible, yeah. We-, summer comes and it's not quite as big. People are barbecuing things, but yeah-. Black pudding we've been really lucky with and Australia-, different states have different food laws. So that's why we're just inside New South Wales because when we started, you weren't supposed to make black pudding in Victoria. Or our council wouldn't let us make black pudding.
Why is that?
Because you're using fresh blood. So they've got the Australian New Zealand food standards, and everyone interprets them slightly differently. So in New South Wales, they interpret them one way, Victoria different. So, being on the border; we actually live in Victoria, the business is in New South Wales-, so we sort of, you know, we have the best of both worlds. We have the worst of both worlds as well.
Do you have the same timezone?
Yes. Yes we do.
Yeah, but there's a couple of towns on the East coast between New South Wales and Queensland.
And they celebrate New Year's an hour apart because of the time difference.
yeah. It's crazy.
Fantastic, isn’t it? Such a big place.
Yeah, it is!
So you were here as backpackers, you set up on your godfathers farm?
Yeah, that's right.
And then you started hiring other backpackers to come and help you out?
Well, backpackers needed-. To get a residency for a year, they had to do three months in rural Australia. So during that period, we’d get backpackers for three month stints, so-. Backpackers are great, but it takes you know, nine months to learn what you're doing in our line of work. So yeah-, no, we've got-, we've got an Irish butcher, there-. We've got an Irish, we've got a couple of English still working for us and then a few Australians and a Srilankan. So we've got a mix.
Ah, right nice mix, yeah.
Has COVID affected your business at all?
Well, when COVID kicked off, half our business was cafes, restaurants and they all had to close down. So that was hugely problematic. But the benefits from that. And I used to do farmers markets every weekend, so I was working every weekend. Whereas, now we've picked up so many supermarkets and butchers and high-end retailers that we do more than we ever have done. And I don't have to get up on a Saturday morning at 3am, which is marvelous.
That's amazing. Well done! So your business has picked up?
Yeah, it's been really good for business.
Would you say that most of your customers are British?
At first-, at first they certainly were all poms. Whereas now, because we sort of target a fine food market as well, certain products-, we'll see-. Like, Scots will be almost about 80% of our haggis sales. Gammon joints-, whenever Nigella Lawson is on telly at Christmas, Aussies all try and get their gammon joints and-, and you must remember, the amount of Aussies that lived in the UK-. So they sort of get hooked on the scotch eggs and the pork pies, what have you.
Did you know that pork pies originate from Leicestershire?
Yep, Melton Mowbray. I know, I've done my research.
Have you been there?
I have. I have. Jane and I we went-, we did a UK pork pie tour. We went to 50 of the best pork pie makers, from Skipton on the Yorkshire Dales, which is like the northern powerhouse, all the way down to Melton Mowbray. So, I was in sort of like pork pie heaven. They just taught us so many tips and tricks. So the pork pie we make will probably be the closest southern hemisphere pork pie-, to theirs anyway.
Brilliant. So you really have done your research then.
Oh, don't you worry. We-. Last, um-, a year and a half ago, we were back in, so we did a black pudding tour this time and for our honeymoon we did a pork pie tour.
I know, I know. I’m a true romantic.
So how often do you go back to the UK?
We try for every two years.
And how long would you normally go back for?
Four weeks. But then, it'd be three weeks on the ground and sort of a week either side traveling, because you know-, get down to the-, the airport, the flights etc. So yeah.
So where you're located-, it looks to me-, I looked at the maps and it looks like you're in the middle of the countryside. It's like a three hour drive to Melbourne and about eight or nine hours drive to Sydney. What is it like being out there, in the sticks?
That, that is quite right. Well, it's funny it's Echuca Moama-, it’s Australia's furthest inland port. The climate is central Italian, so we've got lots of vineyards, there's a huge amount of weddings in Echuca every year, like it's a really-, a really beautiful spot. It is a bit painful being so far away. And Australia isn't like the UK where, you know, you can just nip to your local town. Everything's run through the cities, really. Perth, Sydney, Melbourne-, they are the hubs, you know. Population of Melbourne is, what, 3.5 million? Everything is through that city. So, if we want to supply, you know, even two hours up the road, we’ve gotta send it via Melbourne, Sydney and then back over, you know, which is a 24 hour trip. So it makes it tricky, with our refrigerated logistics, getting to different customers around the country and, you know, a pallet will take three days to get somewhere, which is quite tough when you've got limited shelf life on your-, your pork pies.
Yeah, so where do you mostly sell to?
Yep, so we-, we’re two and a half hours from Melbourne. So Melbourne would be, maybe 70% of our market, but we sell in Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney-, and every Christmas, I send so many boxes of pork pies to Perth airport for people to pick up.
Are you from, sort of, a rural area back home?
W-, Chorley is a small market town. So it’s in between Preston, Bolton, Blackburn, Wigan. So it's sort of a, you know, it's suburbs really. We didn't have a cinema in Chorlie, whereas we've got a cinema here that you can actually take a beer into. This, you know, like the climate is just fantastic, you know. Nice and hot; winter's cold, like it gets down to two degrees, but quite dry. So the sun still shines every day, so you have a barbecue at the end of the day. Like, it has that sort of variance in temperature, just yeah-. It's a really nice spot and we're just far enough away from Melbourne to be, you know, not a pai-. And when you drive; I say two and a half hours. It will take two and a half hours. Like, I do one farmer’s market a month in St Kilda, in Melbourne. Take me two and a half hours to get there, I'll pass about five cars before I get to Melbourne, you know. It's just, there's no one on the roads. Desolate roads, cruise control, audio book, you know-, Britstralian podcast and I'm sorted.
That's right, yeah. You don't need-, you're not going to get stuck in traffic, like on the motorways back home, are you?
I have not-, since I've moved in Australi-, to Australia I've had to queue at all. You don't queue. That's one of the big things. You know, never in a traffic jam, but then I don't live in a city. Even you know going into a supermarket, you don't really queue.
Right, so tell us about your wife, then - she was a backpacker when you met at your farm wasn't she?
So, a school friend of mine; she was a mutual friend of his, they met skiing in Canada. She was an environmental scientist, from Rochdale. I’m from Chorley, so we grew up 20 miles from each other. She came to work in the Great Barrier Reef, came down to visit the farm, to visit this mutual friend. We fell in love and-.
Oh, bless. Yeah. And did she plan on staying in Australia before she met you? Was it her intention to stay?
No, no. Not at all. Not at all. It was just-, I think, much to her family’s mortification, you know, it was just a brief stint-. But you know, she loves it and we've got two kiddiewinks now. So, it's-, and it's a lovely place to bring up kids. as well.
Definitely. How old are you children?
Ones two and a half and ones just over four months. The eldest Isabel, youngest Edward.
And your children are obviously growing up as little Australians now?
Well, yes, yes. We try and give them as many British mannerisms and sayings and things as humanly possible. But no, we can't alienate them from their-, their playmates-, make them the national anthem or anything like that.
So, do you have any other family out here with you?
It's just us. My great aunt has just moved to the local town. She was a GP, down on the coast in Australia, she-, she moved out 40 years ago with her husband. So she's in the-, the only other family we have in town, yeah. But it's nice to have her nearby. She's in her late 80s, so.
Aww! And do you think you're going to stay in Australia forever? Or, do-. Is there a chance that you'll go back?
No, I think we're-, we're set. I'll want to be in a position where I can visit the UK more regularly than I do, but fo-, we always try and plan it to get those two weeks of British summer. And we've got at the last couple of times we've been, so we just sort of plan the right time of year. Whenever I feel like I want to go back to the UK, I just think about February. February in England is so miserable so I pinch myself here.
I made the mistake of going home in February once. I left 40 degrees in Perth and flew into, like-, oh god, it was like one degree, or something, in England. It was freezing. Big mistake.
Big mistake. England is the best place to be in summer. It really is. Well, the UK is the best-, it's fantastic, fantastic place. And it's a very, you know, Australia is great and Australia-, I think every place has a time in the sun and I think Australia is certainly having that at the moment, you know, we've dodged COVID, the food seems great. It's a good lifestyle thing. But the-, the UK just has, I don't know. That-. What I really miss is the history. I miss, you know, you can walk to a pub. In Australia you really have to drive everywhere. You know, it's those little tiny things I do miss but-.
Is there anything food wise that you miss?
Gregg’s sausage roll. Well, look, we're trying to recreate everything that we really miss, you know, pork pies, scotch eggs, black pudding, haggis. Those are-, those are the big things. The sandwich game in the UK is phenomenal. Like, sandwiches aren't as big over here, at all. Really it’s the baked goods. Baked goods in the UK and having the access to European stuff. So, out here, you know, the wine’s very good in Australia, but I go out to the UK and I'll buy Australian wine and it's terrible compared to-, I think they just put in big goon bags and freight it over. So the wine in Australia is very good. Yeah, when I'm in the UK, I drink tea and drink beer when I'm in Australia drink wine and drink coffee. I think those are the big sort of differences.
In last week's episode, we heard from Sarah from Somerset, who came over as a backpacker and is now a mum to two little girls, both born in Australia.
So I asked our Britstralian parents in the Facebook Community Group where their children were born, and half of those who voted in the poll said all of their children were born in the UK. Only one said they didn't have children, and the rest of them had at least one child who was born in Australia.
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