A visit to Broken Bay Pearl Farm will give you a unique insight into New South Wales’ only pearl farm. The Cellar Door is located in Mooney Mooney, just an hour’s drive north of Sydney. Members of the Pearls of Australia Team will welcome you with a passion for oysters.
We learn the turbulent and triumphant story of Australia’s pearl farming before embarking on our cruise. The indigenous peoples of Australia’s coastal nations have been cultivating oysters for millennia, both for consumption and as a source of cultural and commercial value. The indigenous Darug and Darkinjung communities of Broken Bay have a deep connection to the surrounding waters and the land. In the late 19th century, Western Australia began to industrialize pearling. Broome produced 90% of all the pearl buttons in the world before WWII.
Australia has a resurgence as a producer of sustainable, high-quality pearls. This is in part due to Pearls of Australia’s owner, James Brown, whose ethical farming practices were recognized with the 2021 Australian Farmer of the Year Award. Brown is a third-generation pearl farmer who maintains the highest standards in his leases at Cygnet Bay, Broken Bay, and Broome to ensure the best quality of locally produced pearls are brought to market.
We head to Hawkesbury in order to see some of the Australian Akoya Pearl hatchlings at Brisbane Waters. On the water, we’re in oyster country. We glide by Spectacle Island – a sanctuary of wildlife humming to the song spring, with vibrant color reflecting off the river. Farmers are on oyster punts, visiting their leases marked with white poles. The majority of farming in this area is food-based, but pearl farming fits seamlessly into the landscape.
Our knowledgeable guide, upon arrival at the lease site, uses a pole and a netted container to raise the oysters. This is a very delicate form of farming, quiet, precise, and non-intrusive to the landscape. Pearls are the only precious gemstone that comes from a living organism. Their agriculture is meticulous. Over a five-year cycle, a single pear is produced through a series of labor-intensive stages that are climate-dependent.
In just a few days, the 2021 floods wiped out years’ worth of work as millions of oysters from saltwater were destroyed by an inundation with freshwater. Climate change is a major threat to the pearling industry, as rising sea temperatures make breeding conditions difficult for oysters. Increasing oyster populations is just one way to impact the planet positively.
Oysters filter feed, meaning they remove algae and plankton from the water. This helps sunlight penetrate deeper into the water. The healthy seagrasses and the underwater habitats that serve as important aquaculture sites and carbon sinks are created. After the 2019/2020 severe bushfires, the Hawkesbury area’s dense oyster population has accelerated the regeneration of waterways which had been covered with ash.
We return to Shellar Door with greater respect for oysters’ silent work and for the hard work done by the farmers who care for them. We examine the pearls produced on this farm as well as those from Western Australia. These pearls are stunning in terms of their shape, size, and color. The transparency of their growth, which is made possible by a farm visit, adds dimension to these local jewels.
I have a new appetite for food that matches my desire to wear pearls. We sit on the bank of the river and eat oysters that are grown locally. Sydney Rock Oysters or Pacifics are delicious, and they’re as fresh as possible. We also taste an Akoya oyster with a refined and distinct flavor. This species is relatively recent on the menu, but it is delicious. The pearl meat is served on a mother-of-pearl plate.
These are the abductor muscles from the Australian South Sea Oyster Pinctata maxima and are only available for consumption once the oyster is finished producing pearls. It’s one of my favorite things to eat. While we enjoy our feast, we drink The Pearler’s Gin, a Moontide Distillery product that includes oyster mantle, a part of the oyster that produces mother-of-pearl.
Broken Bay Pearl Farm offers a unique experience in natural beauty, luxury, and aquaculture. It is the jewel of the central coast, not to be missed.
Some tours fit into a variety of price ranges, from boat tours for $65 to 4-hour adventures with private experiences and your pearl.