7 May 2024

Triumphs and upsets as possible world record set at Narooma Oyster Festival

| Marion Williams
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Oyster Shucking Comp winner 2024

Gerard ‘Doody’ Dennis triumphed in the 2024 Oyster Shucking Competition. Photo: David Rogers.

There were thrills, spills, a potential world record and one of last year’s oyster shucking champions was toppled despite being first to put down their knife – the 2024 Narooma Oyster Festival had it all.

Narooma Rocks chair Cath Peachey said the oyster shucking championship always brought the house down. This year was no exception, with several heats neck and neck. First-time entrants included a former chef from Victoria, a champion bull rider from the Hunter Valley and Charlotte Richard, all the way from Brittany, France. She had just five months’ experience with the unfamiliar Sydney rock oyster.

Last year’s male champion, Gerard ‘Doody’ Dennis, who represented Australia in the World Oyster Opening Championship in Ireland in September, again triumphed.

“Doody is so fast and so clean. He didn’t make one mistake,” Ms Peachey said. “I know he is going to be super competitive in Ireland as he understands the oysters in Galway.”

Riley Norris with ‘Aphrodite’ and Avia Norris with ‘Finneas’, both entrants in Australia’s Biggest Oyster competition. Photo: Marion Williams

Riley Norris with ‘Aphrodite’ and Avia Norris with ‘Finneas’, both entrants in Australia’s Biggest Oyster competition. Photo: Marion Williams.

Last year’s female champion, Sally McLean of Jim Wild’s Oysters, Greenwell Point, Shoalhaven, was first with her hands in the air after shucking 30 oysters at speed. In line with international standards, entrants are penalised if there is any grit or shell or any cuts in the meat. Two tiny bits of shell in Ms McLean’s shucked oysters saw her lose the title to Sue McIntyre of Broadwater Oysters in Pambula.

Bernie Connell with previous winner ‘Jack’ (mounted) and this year’s winner of Australia’s Biggest Oyster competition ‘Jill’ (with the sunglasses on). Photo: Marion Williams.

Clyde River oyster grower Bernie Connell has won Australia’s largest oyster competition several times in the past, firstly with ‘Jack’ and more recently with ‘Jill’. She had weighed in at 2.74 kg in last year’s competition. This year she tipped the scales at 3.01 kg, potentially taking the record for the world’s heaviest oyster.

The Connell family won the trifecta. Bernie’s wife Sharryn was in second place with ‘Big Boppa’, which weighed 2.4 kg. Their son Steven came third with ‘Keithy’, also weighing 2.4 kg.

Ms Peachey loves the camaraderie of the oyster farmers in Oyster Alley. The farmers proudly spruik the merits of their rock oysters that have taken three to four years to grow.

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“They are finally connected with the consumers which they rarely get to do and to connect with each other. They are competitors but they love to help each other out,” she said.

The cooking demonstrations are hugely popular and Courtney Roulston, of TV’s Farm to Fork, is an entertaining host. Canberra chef Hao Chen from Raku drew a huge crowd.

“His team were like rock stars with people from Canberra coming here just to see him,” Ms Peachey said. He filleted a 4 kg kingfish in just 45 seconds.

“Courtney held up the fish by its tail and there wasn’t an ounce of flesh on it,” Ms Peachey said. The one local chef was Belinda Dorsett, the talent behind the three Mossy group cafes in the northern end of Eurobodalla Shire.

Narooma Oyster Festival 2024

Visitors flocked to Narooma for the weekend’s festivities. Photo: Andrew McLaughlin.

It is the state’s largest food and beverage festival and some of the region’s best produce was showcased. Banjo’s Oysters from Wallaga Lake was serving oyster po’ boys, a recipe from New Orleans. South Coast Sea Urchins in Pambula had a long queue to sample the delicacy, while Mystery Bay Kelp and the Bodalla Dairy Shed also proved popular.

On the beverage side were North of Eden which produces its iconic oyster shell gin and award-winning oyster shell vodka, Borrowed Cuttings which produces picpoul wine, the perfect match for oysters, and Sailors Grave Brewing from Orbost in East Gippsland. Its range includes Law of the Tongue, a smoky oyster stout brewed with organic oysters from Wapengo Lake.

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As well as live music on the main stage, there was performance theatre by Project Alchemy in the shape of Roving Pearl Beauties, plus Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour with Disco Duk Duk.

Ms Peachey said running the festival was an extreme sport. “It is an extreme sport finding the money to put the festival on and on the weekend to deliver it,” she said.

Seeing the town of Narooma pumping with crowds of people made it worthwhile.

“The weather was patchy, but the crowd was there to have a good time. It is such a happy atmosphere,” she said.

Each year it comes together thanks to the huge effort of the tiny Narooma Rocks team and board, their band of big-hearted volunteers and the festival’s sponsors who make the event possible.

Original Article published by Marion Williams on About Regional.

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