When Batemans Bay’s Australian champion oyster shucker Gerard ‘Doody’ Denis competes at the World Oyster Opening Championships in Ireland this month, he hopes to bring home more than the silverware.
After taking out the national title at the Narooma Oyster Festival in May, Doody will compete on the world stage on 23 September and, at the same time, festival organisers will make a bid to host the world cup.
“I want to take this opportunity and grab it by the horns and run with it. Look out Galway and look out the world – here I come,” he said.
Following the huge success of this year’s event, Narooma Rocks chair Cath Peachey hopes the World Championships can cross the globe from the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival on Ireland’s west coast, to the Narooma Oyster Festival.
Cath will travel with Doody and be there to cheer him on as he competes for the acclaimed international accolade. She also aims to progress a pitch to organisers to host the world championships in Narooma in the future.
“We are so proud to host Australia’s oyster shucking championships each year, and would love to bring the world cup to Narooma,” Cath said.
“New South Wales is almost exclusively home to the rock oyster, so hosting the world cup at Narooma presents an exciting opportunity to showcase the region and the rock oyster on the world stage.
“If we can secure the world cup, it would build on the economic benefits of the festival which this year topped $3.4 million.
“Plus, it would be quite the experience to have the world’s best shuckers competing right here next to one of the world’s best oyster producing estuaries.”
The first Indigenous Australian to compete on the world stage, Doody is a proud Gamilaroi/Kamilaroi man from Walgett, living on Yuin Country at Batemans Bay. He works in Aboriginal health and engagement, but says the industry and the Narooma Oyster Festival will always be close to his heart.
“I have always helped where I could with the Narooma Oyster Festival, and I am proud and happy to say that I have always placed at Australia’s oyster shucking championships which has provided me with memories for life,” he said.
Doody claimed the 2023 national title in a heart-stopping, tiebreaker ‘shuck-off’ against his friend and mentor Jim Yiannaros of Batemans Bay Oysters, who represented Australia in 2022.
Despite not having shucked commercially for two years, he cleanly opened 40 oysters in two minutes and 41 seconds, pipping Jim at the post.
“I am so pleased for Doody, he has been a great friend to the festival over the years and the crowd has never been louder than during that tiebreaker with last year’s winner, Jim Yiannaros, it was a once-in-a-lifetime finish,” Cath said.
In Galway, Doody will be faced with a flat oyster, requiring an entirely different technique and, to help him prepare, he has been spending time with the Yiannaros brothers.
In 2022, Jim was the first Australian to compete in Ireland in almost 30 years after narrowly beating Doody by 0.25 seconds.
“He’s got all the tricks,” Doody laughed.
“I actually beat him in the shucking, but he was quicker to drop his knife.”
Doody said he was also honoured to compete alongside 1984 world champion Jim Wild from Greenwell Point who picked up his knife again for this year’s festival.
“To be in that competition in May with the person who taught me and Jim Wild, who came out of retirement to compete, was a pleasure,” he said.
“Jim and John taught me everything they knew about oyster cultivation, processing and how to open an oyster.”
If Narooma’s world cup bid is successful, it will be the first time the event is held outside of the Northern Hemisphere and a chance to showcase the unique bivalve to the world.
“We almost take it for granted here on rock oyster country, but in reality, the rock oyster accounts for less than 5 per cent of the world’s oyster consumption,” Cath said.
“It is a remarkable native food with a rich complexity of flavours that are unmatched by any other gastronomic experience. Nothing says the NSW South Coast like a rock oyster.”
This year’s festival injected $3.4 million into the local economy, with $700,000 spent outside the festival gates over the festival weekend. The not-for-profit festival provided a platform to showcase the rock oyster to key markets in Sydney, Canberra and regional NSW.
Oyster lovers responded in droves, with 9500 attendees quaffing 60,000 oysters during the festival where stallholders showcased some of the best produce and beverages the region has to offer.
“The economic benefits are delivered right when we need them as we head into the quieter winter period and the media coverage helps to raise awareness that our region is a year-round destination with much to offer,” Cath said.
She said the festival was also a driver for the development and promotion of new food experiences and products, including Aboriginal cultural tours, barnacle encrusted marine aged wine and a swathe of new recipes from smoked oyster pates to rock oyster po’boys from New Orleans.
“Oyster farmers are a truly innovative group of people, and that mindset goes beyond growing techniques and estuary care to thinking of new ways for people to experience oysters,” she added.
Dates have been set for next year’s event, with growers, chefs and shuckers to celebrate the rock oyster on the shores of Wagonga Inlet, Narooma on 3 and 4 May, 2024.