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Byron Shire
May 22, 2022

A passion for oysters

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Noel Baggaley smiling through the tough times.

It’s been nearly four months since the familiar smiling face of Noel Baggaley has been seen at the Mullumbimby and New Brighton farmers markets. Noel farms the Sydney Rock Oyster, rated as the most flavorsome oysters in the world (the Irish are second and the French are third!).

Almost all our community have been affected by the floods in one way or another, but oyster farmers are particularly vulnerable to flooding. When you’re an oyster farmer, the rain only has to reach 30mm in 24 hours before a 21-day closure period is put in place. Even then, the water testing has to meet the highest standards for ensuring freedom from pollutants before you are allowed to continue.

The rains started playing havoc with Noel in January, forcing closure. This was followed by the big floods, which saw him lose over 2,000 oyster baskets, with only a couple of hundred finding their way back to him. The force of the water lifted Noel’s shed up off its footings as the water reached chest height, whereas previous flooding had only reached his ankles. This meant he also lost all his processing equipment, and the contents of his shed, and business infrastructure. This was not the first time he has had to start again.

After Noel lost 60 per cent of his stock three years ago he doubled his capacity to make himself more resilient, so this time he has the stock to rebuild his farm. Noel says when you look at it like that, he’s only really lost ten per cent! Which is fortunate – as an oyster is handled 18 times and takes three years before it reaches the consumer. 

When I asked him why he sticks with it, Noel let out one of his much-loved chuckles and said, ‘INSANITY!’.  But in all seriousness, he said he has been involved in seafood for over 40 years and used to have several fishing boats. That’s a long time to be in the business, but over that time his interest in oysters grew to become a passion – it’s just what he loves.

Find Brunswick Oysters at our New Brighton Farmers Market every Tuesday from 8–11am, and Mullum Farmers Market every Friday from 7–11am.


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