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Australia’s champion oyster shucker begins journey to world cup

By September 6, 2023Latest News

“Lookout the world, here I come!”

Not many oystermen have competed in the world’s most prestigious shucking competition but Australia’s Oyster Shucking Champion Gerard Dennis is about to do just that.

He will also be the first Indigenous Australian to compete, and is a proud Gamilaroi/Kamilaroi Man from Walgett, living on Yuin Country at Batemans Bay on the NSW South Coast.

In May he claimed the national title in a heart stopping, tie-breaking shuck-off at Narooma Oyster Festival, home of the Australian Oyster Shucking Championships and champion of the region’s native rock oyster.

He hadn’t shucked commercially for two years, but cleanly opened 30 oysters in 2 minutes 41 seconds.

While he has held the title before, and for consecutive years, it now comes with an invitation to compete at the World Oyster Opening Championships which are held as part of the Galway International Oyster Festival in Ireland each September. Doody will compete on Saturday, September 23, from 10pm AEST. 

‘Doody’ as he is known to his many friends, has decades of experience opening the Rock oyster, New South Wales’ native oyster but in Galway he will be faced with a flat oyster, requiring an entirely different technique. 

To help him prepare, he has been spending time with his mentors, the Yiannaros brothers of Batemans Bay Oysters. The three men consider each other family after working together and competing at the Narooma Oyster Festival for over a decade.

Australia's champion oyster shucker, Doody Gerard Dennis reaches for the trophy while his mentor Jim Yiannaros smiles proudly on.

In 2022, Jim was the first Australian to compete in Galway 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.” 

This year, Doody was honoured to compete alongside both mentors, along with 1984 world champion Jim Wild from Greenwell Point, Shoalhaven. 

“To be in that competition in May with the person that 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,” Doody said. “From there I went on to work with Australia’s Oyster Coast and became their number one opener, then factory foreman and factory manager.”

Cath Peachey, chair of Narooma Rocks will also be in Galway to cheer on Doody.

“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 tie-breaker with last year’s winner, Jim Yiannaros, it was a once in a lifetime finish,” Ms Peachey said.

A champion of the rock oyster and the NSW South Coast, Ms Peachey hopes to bring the Oyster Opening World Cup to Narooma and showcase the unique bivalve to the world. If successful, it would be the first time the event is held outside of the northern hemisphere.

“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.”

“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. ”

“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.”

Doody now 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,” Doody said.

“For me, 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!”

Doody’s participation in the World Oyster Opening Competition is sponsored by Narooma Rocks, home of the Narooma Oyster Festival, with support from Australia’s Oyster Coast who sponsor the Australia’s Oyster Shucking Competition and Australia’s Biggest Oyster Competition at the annual festival.

In 2024, the Narooma Oyster Festival will be held on May 3 – 4. Tickets will be on sale in late November.