Gerard “Doody” Dennis, a Gamilaroi man, grew up in Walgett, a land of black soil and murky brown waterways. Never could he have imagined that he would end up shucking oysters for a living, let alone competing to be the best shucker in the world. But that’s exactly what he’s doing now. After being crowned the Australian Oyster Shucking Champion in May, Mr. Dennis is now traveling to Ireland to compete in the International Oyster Opening Championships on September 23. He is not only the third Australian to participate in the championships but also the first of Indigenous descent.
Mr. Dennis’s upbringing in Walgett, 600 kilometers away from the coastline, was far from the world of oyster leases on the south coast. Seafood was a delicacy for him and his family, as anything from the ocean was considered special. However, when he moved to Batemans Bay 22 years ago, he started working as an oyster farmer and learned the art of shucking from Jim and John Yiannaros, two renowned shuckers. It was under their guidance that he honed his technique and now he has the opportunity to compete against the world’s best shuckers in Ireland.
In a surprising turn of events, Mr. Dennis defeated his former boss and mentor, Jim Yiannaros, to become the national champion at the Narooma Oyster Festival in May. Their final showdown ended in a tie and a head-to-head “shuck-off” ensued, with Mr. Dennis emerging as the victor. He credits Jim and John Yiannaros for teaching him everything he knows and considers Jim his “sensei”. Now, after years of learning and practice, Mr. Dennis feels confident to showcase his skills on the international stage.
Preparing for the championships, Mr. Dennis has been practicing on native angasi oysters, which differ in texture and shape from the Irish molluscs he will be shucking. He is aware of the challenges that lie ahead but believes that his technique and ability to stay calm under pressure will be crucial to his success. He will be competing against five-time winner and reigning champion Anti Lepik from Estonia. Meanwhile, Cath Peachey, the organizer of the Narooma Oyster Festival, is supporting Mr. Dennis in Ireland and also working to bring the Oyster Shucking World Cup to the NSW south coast. Hosting the competition would not only raise awareness about the rock oysters from the south coast but also highlight the region as a tourist destination. Ms. Peachey is confident that Mr. Dennis has what it takes to be the world’s best and regardless of the outcome, he will always be a champion in her eyes.