Monday, March 30, 2015

The Smell of Democracy:The Australian Election Day Sausage Sizzle

My mate Felix posted the following on his Facebook page on the morning of the NSW State Election in March 2015:

Remember, before you vote tomorrow, think first * ....
* oh..and find a good sausage sizzle....’

What a very Australian suggestion, I thought. As you can vote at any polling booth you like, casting an absentee vote if the booth is not in your electorate, it seems entirely reasonable to make the best of what many see as a chore, compulsorily voting, particularly when you don’t want to vote for any of the candidates on offer, by using it as an excuse for indulging in what Barbara Santich rightly points out, is an Australian ‘simple culinary classic’, a sausage sizzle.[i] As one friend put it in response to a Facebook callout from, me intrigued with whether others were similarly minded as Felix:

We, as a family, were Very Disappointed to find that our local high school had not embraced the opportunity to cash in on a dedicated audience for sausos, bacon egg rolls or even biscuits, slices & cup cakes (as they did for the last Fed elections).  Without the anticipation of homemade treats, sausage fat, onions & plastic bottles of tomato, BBQ or sweet mustard sauce, the voting experience was soulless, flat and dull, and the school grounds desolate and characterless. Duty done.’

Sausage Sizzle Darlington Primary School.
Photo courtesy of Fred Oberg
What is this sizzle thing? Here’s is Santich’s description:

‘The sausage sizzle is a uniquely Australia variant of the barbecue and almost by definition a public event – no one would ever invite friends to  sausage sizzle at home, even if the identical foods are cooked and eaten. It can be set up anywhere, from the beach to the supermarket car park, to feed large numbers of people cheaply, free from the annoyance of smoke.  The ingredients and equipment are absolutely basic; a large hotplate, typically gas heated, plus a vast supply of sausages, sliced onions, sliced white bread, and unlimited tomato sauce. Offering mustard, barbecue sauce and other nods to gastronomic fashion is considered to lift the status, but only by a notch... And like any simple culinary classic, it lends itself to countless variations – even soy sausages fit the standard formula.[ii]

The particularity of its public persona is that the Aussie sausage sizzle is most often used for fundraising for community or charitable projects. Churches have always been big on it to raise funds but also to welcome new parishioners and inveigle the locals into the churchyard if not the church. Schools have incorporated it into their fetes, P & C mums and dads taking revenge for cuts to education spending as they char the skins of several kilos of fat pale pink blobs donated by the local butcher. And what Saturday shopper has not been assailed by the smell of caramelising onions and the hiss of sausage fat as it hits the briquettes outside Bunnings.

Just when the sizzle became such a fixture of the Australian culinary landscape is unclear. While putting a sausage or other piece of barbecued meat and blackened onions between slices of carelessly buttered bread and dousing it with a sweetened sauce has been a long-standing favourite of the backyard barbecue Santich suggests that the term sausage sizzle, and, I venture by extension the event itself, ‘seems to have come into prominence around 1980.’[iii] Their association with polling days may have come at the same time or perhaps a little later. Another friend posted:  

I've been doing polling booths for the greens for nearly 20 years now and l reckon they've really taken off on election days in the last 10.’

Santich suggested that the connection is an extension of the practice of running cake stalls at polling booths.

       Cake Stall at Darlington Primary School.
Photo courtesy of Fred Oberg
‘Once upon a time, before we were born, and before we were old enough to observe, women had time (and will) to make cakes, biscuits, jams, etc for worthy causes. Today the worthy causes start by buying the cheapest sausages, sliced white [bread] and tomato sauce from the nearest supermarket.’[iv]

Whatever its beginnings the sizzle has become an integral part of election day, so much so that
Queenslander Grant Castner set up the Election Sausage Sizzle Site in 2010.[v] Some 323 were registered with his site by 8am on polling day stretching along the East coast from Ballina, near the Queensland border in the north, to Pambula, just shy of the Victorian border to the south, and as far West as Goolgowi, around 650 kilometres west of Sydney.

The function of the election sizzle remains raising money for charities, not for political parties as perhaps might be expected.

‘Hoxton Park High School, a sausage Sizzle and coffee bar run by the students, to raise money to "trendy up" the school’s student run cafe, where they love to "extract money from the teachers”.[vi]

 I did postal vote in Bellingen before I came to Sydney. I'm staying in Pyrmont and my hostess just went to vote up the road. She said the sausage sizzle was to raise funds for the local Men's Shed.’[vii]

Not every polling booth has a sizzle.

' I vote at the Masonic Hall. There is no sausage, no food of any kind and no water.'[viii]

At Marrickville Town Hall where I vote, electors are similarly maltreated. This year, for the first time in my 25 years of voting here, the church around the corner took advantage of this and held a sausage sizzle on a grander scale, throwing in a cake/coffee/tea stall, a DJ, and a jumping castle. Directions to it helpfully were chalked on the footpath from the Town Hall to the churchyard.

But where there is a sizzle, its popularity is attested to by the disappointed late voters.

‘Nothing left by the time I went to vote!’[ix]

‘Well, no sign of the sizzle at Belmore South PS at 3:30, though they'd left their sign up, which drew me in. Not good.’[x]

‘As to the sausage sizzle - you obviously need to get there early. At 2pm all you could get was the last three bits of sausage, two bacon and egg rolls and one bacon only roll AND you had to pay $4 each for them! And this is in an electorate that voted for the Greens - middle class aspiration in spades!!’[xi]

That last comment points to the growing sophistication of Santich’s ‘simple culinary classic’. The humble cake stalls remain - though none of my correspondents commented on whether here too the offerings are increasingly sophisticated.

‘Great site to find a sausage sizzle on Election Day next weekend. If you are in The Shire, come on down to Sylvania Heights Public School. Cast a vote, enjoy a sausage sanga or bacon and egg roll, wash it down with a cappuccino, then head off home with a plant and a homemade cake.’[xii]
‘We always vote at Erko Public. Their menu changes through the day, they had pancakes and brekkie rolls, then the classic sangas etc through lunch, cake and lemonade stalls, even Erko Love t-shirts.’[xiii]

Perhaps the clearest indication of the cementing of the place of the election sausage sizzle in the Australian culinary landscape, however, is captured by this respondent to my call out:

‘MKR hero Colin Fassnidge manned the BBQ at Malabar Public. It'd be interesting to know how the voters ranked the sausage sangers /10. ‘[xiv]

Fassnidge Instagrammed a picture of himself tonging said sausages.

Equally, the enshrining of the sausage sizzle as part of the Australian political landscape is captured by Australia Street Infants School in Newtown promoting its sizzle with a sign that declared:

‘The Smell of Democracy. Eat a sausage on State Election Day and support your local school’

Australia Street Infants School.
 Photo by Paul van Reyk

[i]Santich, Barbara Bold Palates. Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage. Wakefield Press, Kent Town, South Australia, 2012 p146 - 149
[ii] Santich 2012
[iii] Santich 2012
[iv] Barbara Santich in a personal communication with Paul van Reyk 30th May 2015
[vi] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[vii] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[viii] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[ix] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[x] Andrew Brownlee posting in snagvotes on Faceboook, an adjunct to the Election Sausage Sizzle site
[xi] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[xii] Todd Brunton posting in snagvotes on Faceboook
[xiii] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[xiv] MKR – My Kitchen Rules, a highly popular cooking competition program on Australian television. Dublin born Australian celebrity chef Fassnidge was in his third year as one of the judges in 2015.


  1. What a great post Paul, I love it. There were unfortnuately no sausages in sight when I voted absentee down the coast last week.

  2. Great post, good observation. I come from Melbourne, Victoria, and the times when I've voted at the Town Hall in the city, there were no sausage sizzles. But I have walked by numerous schools on voting day here and I never fail to see a sausage sizzle.