When Joe Bennett took a punt on an oyster farm on Tasmania’s Bruny Island he couldn’t have predicted how his pristine product would take off; Get Shucked Oysters has been a real Bruny success story.
It wasn’t really my plan to be an oyster farmer.
I grew up and went to school here on Bruny, then later went to school over on mainland Tasmania. After I finished school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for work and I ended up getting a job on an oyster farm at the top end of the bay here.
(See more... Walk and eat your way around Bruny Island)
I was working for this nice old fella called Des Wayman; he taught me what I needed to know. It was very physical work, so I had to work hard to keep up.
Compared to some other types of fishing or farming, it’s pretty tough work.
There’s a fair bit of labour in oyster farming. I had a good few years working with Des then I’d had enough. After four years I was like, ‘Nup, don’t want to know about oysters. Heavy, stupid things they are’.
Going into business like this wasn’t really an ambition for me back then. After I left my job with Des, my partner Nicole and I left Bruny and went to the mainland and did a big road trip around Australia looking for work while we were on the road.
This oyster lease and the block of land I’m on now had just gone up for sale when we left, but at that stage I really didn’t want to know about oysters.
I was young and it was just hard work; I’d come home stuffed every day. I was over it.
On that trip I talked to my Dad and He was keen for me to have a crack at a business of my own.
He was pretty interested in oysters himself; he had a little cafe down in South Bruny where he sold them.
Dad could see that it was a good product, and because I’d had that experience working with Des, I suppose he had a bit more vision about what was possible than I did at the time.
When we first started it was just out of a shed.
Then I realised we had no money, so it all went a bit pear-shaped but eventually it came good. Nicole was working selling the oysters and we basically put a sign out on the street saying ‘oysters’ and our market found us.
Back then we would have sold five to 10 dozen a day in the summer; now we do up to 250 dozen a day.
My day usually starts at about seven o’clock in the morning.
When we arrive we break out the Blend 43 and discuss the plan for the day. Mondays and Thursdays are harvest days and we usually harvest anywhere between 100 and 2000 dozen.
On other days, we just head to the farm and pull out however many we think we need for the day.
Oysters naturally open and close during the day when they’re in a natural tide range.
When the tide’s out, they close up. When it comes in, they open up again. This makes them strong.
Our farm is what you call a sub-tidal oyster farm, which means that the oysters are submerged in sea water 24 hours a day.
To fatten them up and give them condition we need to pull them out of the water ourselves.
This process gets the meat into the oyster. They beef up when they’re knocked around and stressed, which makes them much better for eating. Every oyster farmer will tell you that his are the best.
If it’s a harvest day we get them onto the barge.
Then we put the barge onto a trailer, drive it up to the hopper and unload all the trays of oysters. Back in the shed we put them through our automatic oyster vision grader.
They then go up a series of conveyors, one of which is an inspection conveyor where any dead shell or seaweed is pulled out. They then go through a machine that sorts out the size and counts them.
There are about 15 oyster farms on Bruny Island.
They range from Cloudy Bay Lagoon down south to Great Bay in the north of the island, where we are. Most are run by owner-operators; only a couple of them employ people, they’re mostly a one-man show.
The island produces around 250,000 dozen oysters each year.
In general, the oyster farmers down here on Bruny are a pretty cruisy bunch and are happy to produce smaller numbers of a higher quality rather than the other way around.
Bruny has some of the cleanest water in the world, which makes the oysters here taste damn good.
Because ours are grown in the sub-tidal range they’re down in a really clean, crisp zone in the water column, away from that top level of fresh water.
They have a more subtle, sweet, clean taste and have more of that oceanic tang to them.
Spring, summer and autumn are the best months for oyster conditions in Bruny, and although winter can produce amazing oysters, it just takes them longer to fatten.
We get huge numbers of international oyster lovers at our oyster bar.
We see heaps of visitors from China and also from France, India, the US and Malaysia.
I’ve always found it very pleasing to watch people as they experience our oysters. It can be an almost uplifting experience for them. The freshness just blows people away.
When I travel myself, it’s not so easy. Sadly, I’ve become a complete oyster snob and will only eat the freshest oysters I can get.
The best bit about the job is being outdoors in the fresh air, in this beautiful part of the world where I grew up.
The other great thing about farming oysters is that they’re a really natural product. Unlike other farming methods, you don’t have to feed them anything or spray fertiliser.
There are no chemicals involved so it’s a really clean, honest, simple job.
People often think you have to work stupid hours and get freezing cold in this job but it isn’t that bad.
Most days are fine and you can rug up with wet weather gear and stay dry if it’s rough. A lot of the work is done in the shed, with the radio on and the coffee cup full.
People are often amazed at my job and always ask how I got into it; then I ask them what they do and I’ll get a response like ‘accountant’, ‘banker’, or ‘IT specialist’ and I’ll be like, “Wow. How do you do that?”
I just can’t comprehend a job like that. I have to be outdoors and preferably near the water.
Explore more of Tasmania… South Coast Track – walking the wilderness ‘underworld’
Love oysters? Head to Australia’s largest oyster festival… South Australian road trips: The Seafood Frontier