Heard of the name? Graham Barclay is the man behind two of the region’s most renowned businesses.
How long have you lived in the region?
I have lived in the Great Lakes all my life. I was born in Tuncurry. Born and raised there, it’s the best place in the world, and I have been to a lot of places.
How many staff do you have working for you at the oyster site?
I have about 35 permanent staff, and I always hire staff over the Summer holidays – university kids who need to make some pocket money and keep busy over the break. They make a few bob that way.
If someone was to work for you farming oysters, what would their job entail?
All staff must be able to do everything … from driving the tractors to driving the boats, grading oysters. If they can do the lot, it greatly benefits the business.
Ever get tired of eating oysters?
No! They are beautiful. But I guess for some people, it’s like living in a chocolate factory … You can get sick of it and you don’t eat them all the time. Even the blokes who work here would not eat them every single day, because it’s their job.
What did you do before Graham Barclay Marine and Graham Barclay Oysters came to fruition?
I was a passionate and successful water skier. Still ski today. Skiing took me all over the world, from Milan, Hawaii, France, England, America … but after my father died, I came back to Forster to help my family out. I met my wife Kay and we began our life here. Being on the water and being involved in the sport led me to an amazing opportunity which kick started the two companies.
What was this particular opportunity?
I was skiing one day at a competition – a big one too. There were hundreds of people that came along to watch us. I remember being pulled aside by a bloke and asked to be featured in a campaign to promote Johnson Outboards. I said, “Sure!”
I was then featured in the papers and on front covers, and before I knew it, the company had asked me to be a part of the business and handed me products to sell. I remember them being laid out on my front yard and me thinking, “I can’t pay for all of these!” Their reply was, “They are yours to sell!” So while I worked at the oyster farms, my beautiful wife Kay spent her time helping to build the business.
It went extremely well, because it was an exciting, new product, and there began my passion for selling all things water sports.
How did the oyster industry catch up with you?
When my father passed away, he left an oyster lease to my mother, who then gave it to me to start off with. But the big break came when the currency changed, and a big firm called Alan Giles and Company, one of the biggest on the coast, went into receivership and that time I was selling lots of Johnson Outboards products.
So I went to the auction and bought the company out! That was a huge goal we kicked. We got this great big oyster farm at a price I could handle, just by selling outboards. Since then we bought a handful of oyster leases from farmers who had retired. That has made us one of the biggest oyster farms on the East Coast of Australia.
Any other great achievements that will impress us?
Yes. My grandfather came through the turn of the century to manage the Wallis Lake sector for Woodward and Company, who was the biggest oyster company in Australia. And it was me who bought them out exactly one hundred years later … the day I did that, I felt a great sense of achievement.
What makes these particular oysters so good then?
Well, an oyster only tastes as good as the environment it lives in. If you have beautiful crisp water, that is what your oyster will taste like. But if you have murky, dirty water – no good. The way the council has kept Wallis Lake is beautiful, and that’s why we are winning competitions. The flavour is back in the oysters, the plankton is back in and we also have a beautiful waterway.
How did it feel to take home the recent award for best oysters in the country?
Richard, our manager, attended on the night, as I was away on business. But we were thrilled when we found out that night that we had won. We were recognised among 500 people in the industry, and we felt really privileged.
Where do you hope to see the business in ten or more years?
There seems to be a bit of a trend towards lab oysters that are grown in laboratories. However, we are a bit old fashioned and really love the authenticity of naturally grown oysters. But we are trying the new methods too. We have a great big production, and this lab technique is very intricate.
We will try the new ways to keep up with the times, but we also enjoy the traditions too much to give it up just yet!
What would you say to people who don’t eat oysters?
Well, it’s funny because some people just can’t eat them. Like me, I can’t stand the smell of chicken – I hate chicken! So I won’t eat it. It can be the same with oysters, but me personally, I love them.
What is one of your key business tips for readers?
Planning ahead is important for all businesses, and particularly oyster farmers. Oysters take three to four years to grow, and like a lot of business people, there is emphasis on short-term capital.
I like to forecast, and have plans laid out so that the business is seeing a nice cycle of growth and profit. That’s what I do and recommend.
What does a ‘farm’ look like?
The best way to describe it is like a big living nursery under water! There are a mix of baby oysters and adult oysters. The fish and stingrays get to them if you don’t use a particular style of layout.
Aside from your businesses, what else interests you?
I love swimming in the Wallis Lake for half an hour each day, something I have been doing for over thirty years – I still ski!
I like tennis and of course, overseeing all business facets of both Graham Barclay Marine and Graham Barclay Oysters.
Last but not least Graham, How do you like your oysters?
My favourite would have to be Sydney Rock, all natural. I enjoy Kilpatrick when I go to restaurants for a meal. I love oysters; I always have.
Thank you Graham.