Four Men and a Barbie

20 January 2014 Patrick Witton

Four Men and a Barbie

Illustration by Shamus Hoare

Patrick Witton, Ed#449, January 2014

It just takes a few dads and a few choice ingredients to make a suburban fundraiser a sizzling success.

A wise friend once told me that two men converse best when there’s a third element present: an engine, perhaps. Or a hammer. A lawnmower that doesn’t start well. Or a dog, if desperate (the men; not the dog). Men – generally speaking – won’t ‘catch up for a chat’. They like to talk around something. So when it was put to me that I would be spending four hours with three other men whom I didn’t know well, I hoped the ‘element’ in play would be powerful enough to offset any social awkwardness that might (would) surface.

Luckily, I didn’t have to hope long. It turns out that the reason we four men were to gather was to ‘man’ the final shift at our children’s fundraising sausage sizzle, which had been running since 9am outside a suburban hardware megastore. It was a simple formula: barbecue sausages in bulk, place on bread, take cash, offer condiments. What could be easier? Nothing to panic about. Really. Well, okay. A bit.

Fortunately customers were converging so fast we barely had time to don an apron (always fun), and make quick introductions. Maya’s dad was already turning snags like a Michelin-starred chef. Harry’s dad was adeptly working till

and drinks. Anna’s dad was charming all with his customer service skills and I was managing the heavy responsibility of onions. Within seconds we had changed from a group of shuffling fellows to a crack team delivering ‘nourishment’ to a swelling tide of hardware customers.

You could see the effect we were having: once the sliding doors opened, our prey would be met by that smell. Even if burdened with six beams of two’b’four and 10 litres of exterior gloss, shoppers would float towards us on an aromatic cloud emanating from browned meat. Once we had made eye contact (not me; I was on onions), they were ours.

“G’day!” (times five)

“What can we get ya?” (the only choice was a snag)

“Just a snag, thanks.”

“Onions?” (value adding)

“Yeah, okay.”

And before the customer could locate some spare change in a pocket of receipts, screws, lint and at least one phone, a sizzling product had been plucked from the barbecue, placed upon bread on the diagonal, draped with onion and presented  to the customer to slather in sauce and/or mustard.

We were a well-oiled machine. In fact we felt as if we had been anointed with homebrand cooking spray, but that’s what happens when you’re standing in a tent with an industrial barbecue that has a temperamental temperature gauge. That said, we had garnered confidence and could deal with anything, including customers with dietary issues…

“You got anything vegetarian?”

“Just onions, sorry, and they’ve been cooked with snags on the barbie.”

“Aw, bugger it. I’ll have a snag then.”


Being dads in charge, we took it up a level when kids approached with money at the ready.


Our eagerness – with idiot grins and snapping barbecue tongs – bordered on the certifiable, and children backed away slowly once the transaction was made.

We could even deal with a change to our system: one punter specified that he wanted the onions under the snag, as opposed to tumbling over it like the hair of a mutant Goldilocks. Not only did we oblige, we saw the appeal (less chance of spillage; onion grease permeating the bread) and applied it to all orders henceforth. It was our Point of Difference. A Game Changer. Soon to trend in the snag-on-white-bread world.

By 4.45pm, 15 minutes before closing, we were down to our last dozen snags and had run out of onions (one customer insisted on taking the burnt dregs I was about to commit to the bin). We thought we would finish with surplus, but a sudden surge at 4.55pm left us cleaned out – save for some crusts and a bucket of dripping. All that remained was to scrub down the apparatus, clean the tongs and reconcile the till.

About an hour later, what had been a hub of snaggy excitement was just another empty parking lot outside a suburban hardware megastore. Job done, we wiped the grease off our fingers, shook hands and headed home to our children, who all thought we smelled like burnt sausages. The result: 1000 sausages sold, numerous splodges of sauce dispensed… Oh, and the childcare centre cleared $2162.

Patrick Witton is The Big Issue's contributing editor.


This article first appeared in Ed#449 of The Big Issue magazine.