Lee Macefield is comfortable with the name of his business, Get Shucked. “I enjoy shucking,” he says straight-faced. “And I will shuck.”
It’s an accurate motto given Macefield’s recent career turn as a part-time oyster farmer (and according to Macefield, full-time raconteur), who, with his wife, Suzanne, is celebrating their two-year anniversary as owners of Get Shucked, Bruny Island’s most salubrious seafood producer.
The pair haven’t always been farmers. Originally from Byron Bay, Suzanne worked in healthcare, and Lee was a dive instructor and high-school teacher. Like many in Byron who have seen the region’s natural lures become less able to support the tourists, the Macefields decided to sell up. Tasmania – and its seasons – were calling.
“All of Australia’s coastline was once like this,” says Lee. “Even Byron Bay was a sleepy little fishing village. There are so many places that start off like this. But being an island, I think Tasmania, and Bruny Island, is going to stay like this. There’s a certain drawbridge mentality: when the last ferry is finished for the day, no one else comes onto the island. There’s something about it.”
Get Shucked was originally established by former owners Joe and Nicole Bennett at Great Bay on Bruny Island more than a decade ago, as a wholesale-only business. It was was they who installed a small caravan and started selling oysters to daytrippers by the dozen. As the business grew, they added the purpose-built oyster bar. It was this set-up Suzanne remembers driving past and seeing a "For Sale" sign out front.
The Macefield's continued the Bennett's legacy, upgrading Get Shucked to a bricks-and-colourbond restaurant. Now, even on an unpredictable day in winter, demand doesn’t flag. “On a busy summer’s day, we could sell 300 dozen oysters,” says Lee. “Which is 3600.”
Get Shucked exclusively grows Pacific oysters. It’s the most common variety served around the world. Lee likes that Pacifics are fast-growing and have a flavour that's cleanly of the sea. “You taste the ocean when you eat them,” he says. “And at different times of the year, the texture will change. In the warmer months they may start to spawn, so you get a more creamy texture. But I like them most in the winter. They’re quite plump and cold. We have people who come here for summer because they love that creaminess, but they’re great all year round.”
Unlike many other oyster farmers – and seafood producers in general – you won’t find Get Shucked’s oysters at the fish markets – be it Tokyo, Sydney or even in Hobart. The only other place Get Shucked supplies its oysters to is the butcher shop in Snug, a coastal Tasmanian town opposite North Bruny.
That’s because Macefield believes a diner is missing something essential if they’re not eating an oyster right next to the water it lived in. “I think the fact that they’re not out of the water for long before they’re consumed – that’s the secret,” he says. “You’re here on Bruny Island now getting blown by the wind. You can smell the ocean. That’s what you’re eating. We would rather people travel to get here than our oysters travel to them.”
The Macefields’ oyster lease in Great Bay has about 40–50,000 dozen oysters at any one time. They’re purchased as tiny spats and attached to racks when they’re about 40 millimetres in size. Lee believes it’s the exceptional quality of the water here that makes his oysters shine. With minimal urban buildup, there’s little going into the bay apart from the fresh, cold inflows from the Derwent and Huon Rivers, which carry nutrients from the old-growth forests deep within the island.
“The ocean has collected everything from the land,” says Lee. “All the minerals and nutrients. These oysters give you back all those minerals and nutrients. Oysters are filter feeders, so whatever’s in the water they’ll take in. If it’s good quality water, the oysters are good quality. If it’s lousy water, they’re lousy oysters. The water here is perfect.”
It’s not just the pristine environment that makes Get Shucked’s oysters among the island’s best. Lee gives credit to David Roser, Get Shucked's long-time oyster farmer. “We have probably the best oyster farmer in the world,” says Lee. “David’s got an instinct. He’s constantly thinking about how to produce the most perfect oyster. I tell everyone he was washed off a boat as a baby and raised by oysters.”
As we’re speaking, about a quarter past the hour, every hour, the ferry disgorges another boatload of travellers who all swing into the car park here at Get Shucked in search of a dozen – or more. Lee says some visitors will regularly and easily eat three dozen. What happens to them afterwards, I enquire? “They walk away looking really, really good,” he says. Umm. “They do!”