I’ve been writing the monthly Day in the Life column in the Port Macquarie Focus Magazine since 2013, so I was thrilled to be asked to write a version for the Manning Great Lakes edition this month! I grew up in the quiet coastal village of Old Bar, went to school in Taree, and spent many happy summer days exploring the turquoise waters of Foster/Tuncurry. Many of my family and friends live in the area, and it still feels like home. For my first column, I was privileged to feature local legend, Graham Barclay.

At 85 years of age, Graham Barclay says he is now too old to retire.

After a varied career playing professional football, representing Australia in water skiing, and building two successful local businesses, Graham shows no sign of slowing down.

“I enjoy every day – being involved with my staff and out on the water,” Graham said.

Graham’s affinity with the water began as a young kid growing up in the Great Lakes. He learnt to water ski on Wallis Lake in 1957. Now, 60 years later, he still gets out on the lake every day to check the oyster leases.

Graham says Tuncurry, where he was born and raised, is the best place in the world. And that’s from a well-seasoned traveller who visited the waterways of Milan, Hawaii, France, England and America during his international water skiing days.

After several years away working on construction projects and playing football, Graham returned to Forster when his father passed away, to run the oyster leases for his mother.

In 1962, he married Kay and started Graham Barclay Oysters.

Over the 55 years that Graham Barclay Oysters has been operating, there have been many setbacks and challenges. However, Graham’s passion for selling, ability to forecast and plan, and commitment to his staff have seen him through the tough times.

“During the well-known Wallis Lake oyster scare of 1997, it was important to me that we kept all our staff employed, regardless of the huge financial cost to the business,” Graham said.

Graham’s wife Kay has been a great support. “When my water skiing links led to an opportunity to sell outboard motor boats, my beautiful wife Kay spent her time helping to build the business while I worked at the oyster farms.”

Running two businesses side by side would be an impossible feat for most, however, Graham’s entrepreneurial spirit meant he saw opportunities to leverage one to grow the other.

“I bought out one of the biggest oyster firms on the coast, called Alan Giles and Company, when they went into receivership. We managed to buy it at a price I could handle, with funds that had come from selling boats,” Graham said.

Graham Barclay Marine now employs 12 people and includes a dealership, showroom, service workshop, and fishing, water ski and boating accessories.  It is regarded as one of the best total marine centres on the east coast.

The award-winning Graham Barclay Oysters employs around 35 people. The staff have a hand in all aspects of the business, from driving tractors and boats, to opening and grading the oysters.

But Graham can still match it with the best of them.

He keeps fit with an exercise routine at the end of each work day, something he has been doing for more than 30 years. In the cooler months he walks around the depot, and as the weather warms up you’ll find him back where it all began, enjoying a swim in Wallis Lake.

My Day

5.30am Start my day listening to first edition news and events
8.00am Arrive at Oyster Dept on Wallis Lake. Discuss work program with outside managers, Gary and Matthew
8.30am Quick boat trip around oyster leases to assess if any repairs are required
9.30am Check in with oysters General Manager, Richard, on any business decisions that may need my input
10.30am Daily visit to Graham Barclay Marine. Talk to Manager, Mark and staff for an update
11.00am Accompany Mark on any valuations or boat pick-ups if required
1.00pm After lunch, check on outside crews working at stripping oyster sticks, repairing trays, operating grading machine, opening oysters for our retail outlet and local restaurants
3.00pm After most of the workers leave I do my daily exercise then head for home around 4pm