1879 Fritz sausages in Melbourne

Advertisement in the catalogue for the Sydney International Exhibition, 1879

Fritz sausage or, as it’s often called, Bung Fritz is a manufactured luncheon meat more or less unique to South Australia. It’s encased in a bright orange sheep’s “bung” or appendix, hailed as more natural than the plastic coating you find around many processed meats. Although there a jokes about which parts of the animal go into the sausage, manufacturers claim it’s all good meat. The original recipe may have been simply meat, flour and spices, but things are a bit more complicated these days. One brand lists the ingredients as follows:

Meat(67%), Water, Starch(Potato), Wheat, Rice Flavour, Salt, Sugar, Isolated Soy Protein, Flavour, Sucrose, Mineral Salts(450,451,452), Antioxidant(316), Spices, Preservative(250), Humectant(422), Flavour Enhancer(621), Food Colours(120,122,124,106B), Anti-Caking Agent(551)

South Australians claim Fritz as a local specialty and, indeed, these days you’re unlikely to find the sausage anywhere else in Australia. However, it wasn’t always so. In fact, the revered sausage may even have been invented in Melbourne.  In 1879, the Melbourne firm of Watson & Paterson exhibited their Fritz sausage at the Sydney International Exhibition, where they carried off first prize.

The firm evidently exported their products to other states including Queensland, where they enjoyed the patronage of the Governor, Sir Arthur Kennedy. In 1879 their Fritz was advertised by Brisbane grocers as “Equal to Best “Bologna”, At quarter the Price.” It was advertised as far away as Perth and, in 1881, in Adelaide.

The earliest reference I can find to locally made fritz in South Australia comes somewhat later.  In September 1885, the South Australian Register reported that:

Exhibited amongst dairy produce, not in competition, was a quantity of ‘Fritz sausage,’ made by Mr. John Lee of King William street south, which was deemed worthy of a special commendation by the Judges, and was equally appreciated by visitors.

John Lee was evidently the proprietor of the Oxford Ham Shop and had exhibited his product at Adelaide’s September Show. His shop, with its specialties (including Fritz) was first advertised in March of 1885 and was located opposite the Glenelg railway station. Lee went on to distribute his product to other stores, where it was advertised as “Lee’s original Fritz Sausage”. All this suggests the story that Fritz was created by a German man of the same name, who worked either in Hindley Street Adelaide or Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills, is fanciful. It may not even be a South Australian invention.

Where Lee’s recipe came from and whether it was copied from the Watson & Paterson product we’ll never know.  However, his sausage may have made his fortune. In the mid-1880s he’d had several run-ins with the insolvency court. However, by 1888 he was doing well enough to install the latest in dry air refrigeration in his store. By 1895 he was Vice President of the Master Butchers’ Association and in 1896 was appointed as butcher to the Governor of South Australia.

He didn’t have fritz to himself: others were soon manufacturing and exhibiting a similar product. Over the years it seems the product thrived in South Australia. There’s even a Bung Fritz Appreciation Society. Often accompanied by bottled tomato sauce, it’s consumed in sandwiches or fried up for a popular post-binge breakfast. It became traditional for butchers to give children a slice of fritz as a treat when their mothers shopped for meat. Particularly popular with the kiddies is smiley fritz, a two-tone affair which, when sliced, looks like a grinning face. There was outrage in 2019 when a Tanunda supermarket banned the practice of giving kids a slice of the happy sausage, declaring it a slipping hazard.

Similar products are available elsewhere in Australia where they’re called polony (Western Australia), Belgium (Tasmania), Devon (New South Wales), Windsor sausage (Queensland) or stras (Victoria). However, to the died-in-the-wool South Australian, none of these comes close to their beloved bung fritz.

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