19 December 2023

Jim Wild's Oysters is a 'shucking' great family farm

| Lucy Ridge
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Sally holds a trophy and smiles in front of the Jim Wild's Oyster Shack counter

Sally McLean is the current oyster shucking champion in the women’s category in Australia. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Jim Wild’s Oysters is a family-run oyster farm at Greenwell Point, just north of Jervis Bay. Jim and his wife Robyn started the business in the 70s and have now passed the reins to their daughter, Sally McLean.

From early on, Sally knew she wanted to join the family business.

“I honestly couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else,” she told Region, “so it’s a good thing I love what I do!”

A green shed with sign reading "Jim Wild's Oysters Freshly Shucked, welcome"

Jim Wild’s Oysters are a favourite location to enjoy fresh seafood. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

The family has several leases in the Shoalhaven River where they farm native Sydney rock oysters and introduced Pacific oysters. When Pacifics were first introduced into Australia, the fast-growing variety quickly took hold, threatening the local species. But growers can now purchase spat (baby oysters) that cannot reproduce from a grower in Tasmania, making it a safer alternative for the environment.

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In fact, oysters are an environmentally sound choice: the filter feeders require no external inputs and can positively impact the water quality. The stringent quality testing also means there is a real focus on the health of estuaries and river systems overall. The flow-on effects of this result in a healthier ecosystem and oysters were recently given the ‘green light’ in Australia’s sustainable seafood guide.

Plate of natural oysters next to waterway with boats.

Enjoy the oysters by the water. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Both Jim and Sally are champion oyster shuckers – Jim’s held the world record for 10 years! Sally was the recent women’s champion at the 2023 Narooma Oyster Festival, and she’ll be back to defend her title next year.

Jim explains that once you know the basics of opening an oyster, it’s just a matter of practice to get it right. Despite his speed, he recommends that beginners take it slow and steady.

“It doesn’t matter how fast you are. It’s about getting a perfect oyster every single time.”

“Speed comes with lots of practice.”

Sally’s husband Todd joined the oyster farm operation a few years ago, and their oldest son Hunter is the newest addition to the farm, so it’s a multi-generational family operation these days.

In addition to purchasing oysters to open at home, customers can also buy freshly opened plates with various toppings to enjoy next to the water. Wakame seaweed is a favourite and classic cooked toppings like Kilpatrick are also available.

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Most Sydney rock oysters are two to three years old by the time customers eat them, and over those years, they may have been brought in and out of the water up to 30 times as the farmers thin them out for growing space, clean them of barnacles, and monitor their growth. It’s a labour-intensive process that can be thrown into disarray by heavy rain or weather events.

“I think people really don’t understand how much goes into growing an oyster,” Sally explained.

“It takes a few years and we really do work very hard.”

Sally recommends people coming to the oyster shack try a few different things. Compare the taste of Pacific and Sydney rock oysters, try a cold topping and a cooked one. Jim Wild’s also sells Grande Pacific oysters, which are up to 10 years old and, simply put, enormous! One of these oysters is practically a meal in itself!

A very large oyster topped with green wakame seaweed sits on a plate next to a wedge of lemon.

Pacific Oysters grow much faster than Sydney Rock Oysters and, in eight to 10 years, can become ‘grande’ oysters. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

In addition to selling straight from the farm – as fresh as it gets! – they also supply oysters to several local restaurants and occasionally run pop-up oyster bars at events.

Jim Wild’s Oysters is located at Lot 2/170, Greens Road, Greenwell Point. Follow them on Facebook or Instagram.

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