Jim Yiannaros has been raising his pet oyster, Georgie, for nine years and he hopes she will take the crown in Australia’s Biggest Oyster Competition at this weekend’s Narooma Oyster Festival.
Georgie is one of the first batch of Pacific oysters introduced into the Clyde River farms in 2013 and she, as well as many of her enormous siblings, are still going strong.
While many of the giants died off following the Black Summer bushfires and floods that followed, Jim says there are still some impressive specimens in the region that will give Georgie a run for her money this weekend.
While he cannot give away her exact weight, he says his pet is about 35 centimetres long and around the size of a football. Pacific oysters can weigh up to about 2.5 kilograms.
Over the weekend, he located Georgie in her deep-water growing spot and she will be scrubbed clean ahead of the competition.
“She’s looking pretty good, but I don’t know what the other guys have got,” he said.
“We’ll see how she goes. She hasn’t grown that much over the past year.”
The competition is a bit of fun between the South Coast oyster farmers, with the winner always proving a hit with spectators keen for that perfect Insta-worthy selfie.
Georgie has become something of a festival celebrity and Jim said he almost lost her one year when she was passed around the enthusiastic crowd.
“It was a bit like losing your kid in a shopping centre,” he laughed.
Georgie arrived in Batemans Bay from a hatchery in Tasmania nine years ago as a 2.2-millimetre spat (baby oyster) about half the size of a match head.
Jim says he hasn’t really done anything special to grow Georgie and a few of her siblings to the giant size, and says the Clyde River is the ideal waterway for farming oysters.
“I just keep her in clean, deep water and check on her every now and then,” he said.
Georgie is a special oyster to Jim and his family because she is named after a special girl who loved spending weekends at the river catching crabs, fishing and helping sort and grade the oysters.
Georgie was tragically killed in a boating accident at Narooma in 2018. She was 15.
“Georgie was very close to our family, we considered her as our niece,” Jim said.
“Her grandfather and my dad became good friends when they came to Australia from Greece and our families have had a tight connection ever since.
“Georgie was visiting with her family from Canberra when our first batch came in from Tasmania and she and her brother often visited when it was time to grade the batch.”
When Jim decided to enter the first Biggest Oyster Competition in 2018, he asked Georgie’s dad Jimmy if he could name it after her, and he loved the idea.
He says Georgie is a “goer” and has continued to thrive when many other oysters perished when ash and sediment washed into the river after the fires.
“She’s been thrown those same elements and she’s survived,” he said.
The Biggest Oyster Competition is just one of the exciting events planned for this Narooma Oyster Festival, which will showcase Sydney Rock, Pacific and native Angasi oyster varieties, as well as seafood, wine and other local produce over three days from 5 to 7 May.
Jim is also hoping to take out Narooma’s version of the Melbourne Cup – Australia’s Oyster Shucking Championships – again, which will see him off to Ireland for the world champs, and he’s also part of Oyster Farmers’ Alley when punters can meet and greet around a dozen local oyster farmers.
More than 10,000 visitors are expected to slurp down about 70,000 plump South Coast rock oysters over the weekend, and festival chair Cath Peachey says the signature event pumps around $3 million into the Eurobodalla economy.
The festivities will kick off on Friday evening with live performances on the Club Narooma Main Stage with a picnic vibe and fireworks overlooking Wagonga Inlet.
Super Saturday is the “main event”, with thousands of hungry punters set to enjoy a smorgasbord of seafood, local beer, spirits and wines, markets, art, cooking demonstrations and Yuin cultural experiences.
The festival will wrap up on Sunday morning with the inaugural Hangtown Fry breakfast, featuring crumbed oysters and bacon inside a soft pillow of fluffy eggs.
Festival-goers can catch the local shuttle bus to the event from around town, and coaches will be running from Batemans Bay and Bermagui.
Be quick and grab your tickets at the Narooma Oyster Festival website.