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On fine days, Mark Kilmartin
paddles in the clear
shallows of Coffin Bay,
maintaining the beds of
the Pristine Oyster Company. "As
we clear off the barnacles, salmon
and trevally swim around our legs,"
he says. "We bring out an Esky, a
frypan. It's a crackin' lifestyle."
Here in the central zone of Coffin
Bay on the western coast of South
Australia's Eyre Peninsula, a hec-
tare of water is worth $500,000. It's
widely considered the best oyster-
growing territory in Australia.
There are no creeks, rivers or
drains emptying into the bay to
muddy the water that is forcing its
way from the Southern Ocean into
the bay's nooks. Not far away, the
ocean drops off the continental
shelf, making it nutrient-rich,
encouraging the growth of the algae
oysters feed on.
"The little buggers will be getting
force-fed today," Kilmartin says,
because today is anything but fine.
The wind spears rain into the eyes
of the crew and we thump and crash
over the waves. Against the current
and the wind, Kilmartin manages to
manoeuvre the flat-bottomed boat
up against the oyster beds, knock-
ing two of the posts anchored into
the seabed on the way in, an error
he jokes will cost him a slab of beer
a post. He hops into the water to
help hang bags of graded oysters on
to wires stretched between posts.
This is the "fat paddock", where
oysters spend their early days
developing flavour. They are then
shipped to Cowell on the western
side of the peninsula to grow shell
before coming back to fatten for
market. Pristine's owner, Brendan
Guidera, got into oysters after his
brother, a former fisherman, picked
up 10ha of oyster leases just after
they were released. Brendan joined
three years later.
"It was untested," he says of
growing oysters in Coffin Bay. "No
one knew anything."
In the 1870s, however, the
oyster industry at Coffin Bay was
booming. The native angasi oysters
were simply raked out of the sand,
transported in wet hessian bags
by horse and cart to Port Lincoln,
then shipped to the oyster rooms of
Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.
When the angasis were gone,
Coffin Bay ceased being oyster
central, until the introduction of
the Pacific oyster in 1969.
The gem on Pristine's order
sheet is the kumamoto, a small,
deep-shelled oyster. The shell of the
kumamoto is about the size of a 50c
piece and the oyster inside is plump,
creamy, briny and sweet.
They look like baby oysters
but are the same age as any other
harvest-ready Pacific. To form
the flavour and unique shape, the
kumamotos are hung close to the
surface, where the strong current
tumbles them against each other,
knocking off new shell growth
around the rim and forcing the shell
to grow deep.
A couple of bags are filled for an
order from Sydney, then we go back
to the processing plant, where the
oysters are put through a grading
machine for sizing. An expelled
jet of air pushes them into the
That's as far as oyster processing
goes. The rest is how you eat them.
Freshly shucked and straight up is
hard to beat but for a change, just
down the road at The Oysterbeds,
Guidera's kumamotos are tossed in
a wok with olive oil, garlic, herbs
and lemon, then slurped from the
shell while enjoying the view.
Coffin Bay oysters are best
between April and November.
The South Australian oyster industry
pumps more than $38 million into
the state's economy every year, says
the Oyster Research Council. Of the
seven main growing areas -- Coffin
Bay, Smokey Bay, Ceduna (Denial
Bay), Streaky Bay, Cowell, York
Peninsula and Kangaroo Island --
Coffin Bay is the major producer with
more than 40 growers operating
leases. Growers harvest more than
4 million oy
cent feed t
for the remaining 0.5 per
a half shell
It's crystal clear why
Coffin Bay oysters are
among the best in
the world, writes
Brendan Guidera at
the Coffin Bay oyster beds.
Photo: Quentin Jones
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