2004 Origin of Bunnings sausage sizzle

Bunnings Sausage Sizzle in progress in front of a Bunnings Warehouse. Image: realcommercial.com.au

I’ve written elsewhere about the sausage sizzle and its appearance at polling stations during elections – the beloved “democracy sausage”. But another manifestation of the sizzle has also become an icon of Australian suburban life. The Bunnings Sausage Sizzle is an essential part of weekend hardware shopping, with volunteers from local charities lining up behind the grill to hand out a sausage and onions wrapped in a single slice of white bread. Tomato sauce optional.

The origins of the Bunnings Sausage Sizzle are tied up with the hardware giant’s launch into Australia’s eastern states. The company traces its history back to 1886, when the Bunning Brothers opened a sawmill in Western Australia, the company later expanding into building supplies and, in the 1980s, hardware. A public company since the 1950s, Bunnings moved interstate in 1993 acquiring a Melbourne-based hardware chain and opened their first ‘big box’ – dubbed Bunnings Warehouse – in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine in 1994. By 2001 there were twenty stores in Victoria and Bunnings was on the march into other markets.

In 2004, the local Country Women’s Association realised that the hundreds of hardware shoppers provided a ready market for their baked goods and the first charity stall opened outside the Sunshine store. It’s not clear how the cake stall evolved into the sausage sizzle although there’s speculation that the local footy club may have been involved. The aroma of frying sausages and onions was likely much more enticing than an array of cream sponges and, as the hardware chain expanded, so did the sizzle.

Bunnings, to their credit, embraced the event and today, with more than 300 stores across Australia a high percentage of the population is within easy reach of a Saturday or Sunday morning sausage. The phenomenon even extended to the UK when Bunnings opened its first store there in 2018. The response was mixed.

If you want to run a Bunnings Sausage Sizzle, there are rules. You have to be a legitimate not-for-profit group or charity. And Bunnings sets the prices. As of 23 July 2022, the price of a sausage and onions in bread rose from $2.50 to $3.50. The first price rise in 15 years, it made the national news.

Bunnings sausages – with the onions underneath

The price rise, however, didn’t cause the same furore as a 2019 directive that the onions should be placed underneath the sausage rather than on top. This was, reportedly, a because of an accident at the Gympie store, when a man slipped on a piece of fallen onion. The resulting outrage from avid sausage-eaters was even reported in the New York Times:

In a country that prides itself on outback ingenuity and self-reliance, the onion slippage scheme seemed to just confirm (for some, at least) that they are living in a nanny state, where the government legislates too much of their lives: from requiring helmets when bicycling to dictating the times they are allowed to have a drink.

Social media ran hot, with outraged sausage-lovers calling the move un-Australian. It wasn’t an issue in Western Australia though, where your Bunnings sausage is served in a white roll like a hot dog. This has also provoked scorn from easterners, saying “That’s just wrong. It has to be the cheapest white supermarket bread available.” One Western Australian had the ultimate retort:

Where is Bunnings from, where did it start? WA… And it’s BUNnings not Breadings… I’ll see myself out.

So entrenched is the tradition of grabbing a snag during your trip to Bunnings that it was featured in the internationally famous cartoon series, Bluey. They didn’t call it Bunnings, of course. But as the doggy family heads into “Hammerbarn” the kids, Bluey and Bingo, are munching happily on their sausages in bread. It’s a detail likely to puzzle American audiences but here in Oz it’s the ultimate salute to a national institution.

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