A shucking good time

A shucking good time

A family dinner table conversation in 1975 about oyster production piqued Jon Poke’s interest, leading to a 40 year passion in the industry. 

Wanting to know more, Jon contacted Allen Hansen to explore the opportunity and Bolduans Bay Oysters was born. 

Purchasing 1.5 metre sticks for catching natural spac or oyster larvae in the Tamar River, the first few years from 1976 to ’78 were lean but with a good catch in 1979-80 Jon was able to help develop the first hatchery in the Southern Hemisphere. 

With his first employee Robert ‘Fleas’ Hutton on board, Jon’s first crop went into the water in April,1979. 

Jon’s objective those first years was to grow 80,000 dozen oysters, a figure Bolduans Bay would surpass in the years ahead with peak production growing to 18 million juvenile oysters ranging in size from 10 to 60 millimetres. With extended wet periods in Circular Head, it became a much more productive business to grow juvenile oysters, rather than from seeds with a shorter period of growth required; 12 to 18 months compared to 24 to 48.

In 1979 Jon bought the land that would become Bolduans Bay Oysters’ home and that of Tarkine Fresh Oysters. 

“Warden Frank Britton came to inspect the plans, I showed him what I wanted to do, he said ‘Good idea, get on it’ and that was it. He trusted developers to do the right thing,” Jon said. 

He went on to purchase the neighbouring property, Duck Bay Shellfish in 1997, doubling the size of his operation overnight, clearing coastal scrubland and the old sawdust site to begin the dream of a retail front cafe. 

“Its been 20 years in the making,” Jon said of the cafe. With land purchased across the road and plans for car parking and more storage underway, Jon has invested over $1.5 million into growing his business. 

“You’ve got to invest in the future to have a future,” he said.

Having employed over 350 staff in the last 40 years, including Kerry Wells, Leighton Stewart and David Nibbs who started out working after school and went on to reach long service leave, Bolduans Bay Oysters currently employ 26 full time employees. 

Long time employee, and Jon’s nephew Jarrad Poke also began his working career on the oyster farm after school, leaving for university where he gained a computer science degree before returning to the business. 

Working with Jon, Jarrad helped to develop computer programs to track stock movement and grading. The programs have gone on to be sold to similar operations Australia-wide as well as overseas to New Zealand, Scotland and Canada. 

Jon and Jarrad have worked closely with SED Shellfish Equipment in Wynyard to design and manufacture industry specific equipment, including washers and graders, which have been patented and sold to other producers in the industry. 

In 2011 Jon expanded his operation south, purchasing another oyster production in the Pittswater growing region, run by his son Josh and a production crew of seven. 

With daughter Cassie in charge of the administration of the business as well as being instrumental  running the sales and setting up the cafe, oysters are in the family blood and a passion shared by all.

Jon attributes his success to never resting on your laurels and says his dad Doug Poke really set the parameters of how to run a successful business. Also to his wife Annette, who has stood by his side, keeping their home running smoothly and raising their three children.

With 40 years under his belt, over a dozen gold and silver trophies lining the shelves and an ever growing tourism operation, Jon now looks to hand over the reins to Jarrad and Cassie as Tarkine Fresh Oysters showcases the best of what our region has to offer through the cafe and soon to come tours of the oyster production process. 

Jon will continue to work in the background as he sits on various boards and committees in the industry and still enjoys being involved and thinking up with new ways of streamlining the handling process. 

Jon Poke of Bolduans Bay Oysters reminisces on 40 years of business and looks toward a successful future with Tarkine Fresh Oysters.