Stories of the coast…

Dunalley Fish Market: stop and eat or keep driving?

Russ Grayson
Nov 2 · 6 min read
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Set where the canal flows into the bay, Dunalley Fish Market couldn’t be better located.

THE ROAD FLOWS around the curves, past the Bream Creek turnoff where we diverge to head to the farmers’ market, past field and farm and through open forest until we slow on entering the small town of Dunalley, population 316.

We’re going camping at Lime Bay State Reserve and to explore the crumbling, convict-built sandstone and brick ruins of the Saltwater River penal settlement built in the 1830s. With two young granddaughters in tow, a lunch stop is advisable. We pull over on the shoreline at Dunalley Fish market.

Perched on the shore where the Dunalley canal pours into Norfolk Bay, the humble, white timber shed reveals its industrial origin. It’s strange, but there’s something about this building that bothers me. My brain offers no clues. Still, that feeling is there. It troubles me like a mosquito buzzing menacingly close but somewhere out of sight.

We walk in past a couple outdoor dining tables, through a dim entrance with tanks which once held the catch of the day and into a space which gives the impression we have just walked through a time warp into a 1960 fish and chip shop.

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Redolent of past times and bedecked with maritime artefacts, the fish shop has a disorderly but unique ambience.

No mistaking the nautical theme here. There is a room with maritime exhibits and a larger room with dining tables, and more tables along the shore of the canal outside. It’s low-key, it’s make-do and it’s worn. Don’t expect anything upmarket here. Informality and maritime is the ambience.

What about the food?

Sure, there are no gourmet treats here and although I have no idea about critiquing food, I classify the offering as so-so, meaning it was alright, not bad, but not the best I have eaten.

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The dining room.

Curious, I looked up the Fish Market online. Here’s a few reviews from Tripadvisor …

This is the genuine article: a country fish market and fish and chip shop. It’s genuinely rustic, filled with an impressive collection of photos of life on and about the sea, items of craft and art and old bits of farm and fishing equipment all without being contrived. We had the Fisherman’s basket for three — a pile of chips, octopus pieces and great hunks of fish wrapped in butchers paper and newspaper. Eating at the benches, seated on mismatched chairs we watched the Dunalley bridge open to give passage to a small yacht on a chilly day in early December. Perfect.

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Drive on by. So disappointing.

On my last day in Tasmania I’d hoped for oysters and freshly caught/fried fish

Instead the Dunalley Fish Market offered old tasting fried fish and calamari — no choice — at least the seagulls enjoyed the remains .

This place has a great location, full of character — there must be someone in town who can see a business opportunity — this place gives a bad impression to the town which is attempting to ‘catch’ tourist trade to and from Port Arthur and has quite a good local catchment for tourists and local visitors.

Definitely a spot to stop on the way back from Port Arthur. Very fresh fish. So fresh you see the boat arrive at the shop and unload the fish, the fisherman gutting and scaling the fish in the shop, a woman batters the fish and cooks it while a young girl serves the customers.

The process was a little slow and the only choice on the day was a seafood basket with chips. The fish was running out as the workers yelled to one another “We are out of flake and trevally and now only flathead”

Working in a kitchen before I know the oil needs changing when a lot of food is cooked. It could have been changed.

However the experience was worthwhile and a bit of a step back in time.

This absolutely basic fish market does a basically REALLY great fish and chips. No frills. No choices — just whatever has been caught — freshly cooked and wrapped in newspaper. Sensational.

Don’t bother. Scraps of fish cold chips.

‘This place was packed so we thought must be good, please don’t bother, not only was it filthy dirty, no eftpos??? We waited half an hour for a two person seafood basket wrapped in newspaper. Cold chips, crumbly dried out tiny pieces of fish and rubbery squid could not chew. I gave feedback but the girl looked frightened of the man cooking. AVOID at all costs.

Making sense

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Beyond the large tanks which once held fresh fish, Dunalley canal links Norfolk Bay to the open sea.

How do we make sense of such variable reviews? Does the quality of the food vary day-to-day or do some of the reviews come from mainlanders who are used to flashy-looking fish and chip shops and having choice on the menu? Some come from people with expectations that don’t match the reality.

Is it the food or is it the ambience created by the nautical artefacts and its location by the sea which attracts people? Are we so jaded with modern eateries that we flock to any that look authentic and rustic?

What was it that had bothered me as I walked into the fish market? What was it that was vaguely familiar about it? To resort to the well-worn cliche, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it dawned. The Fish market reminded me of the little cafe that projects out into the river at Dunbogan on the NSW Mid-North Coast. It is no fish market, just a converted utilitarian shed which was probably a dinghy hire place or something similar before tourism gave it new life. Very different to the fish market at Dunalley, sure, but the building and its settling must have been what triggered the likeness in my mind.

People like authenticity and in a tourism industry where that is often so contrived and fake it is kitsch, it is understandable that the Fish Market with its ramshackle collection of marime artefacts has some appeal.

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Dining on seafod basket, the one-and-only item on the menu, beside Dunnalley canal.
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By Road & Track

By road and track — journeys, people, places and encounters…

Russ Grayson

Written by

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the Tasmanian coast after nine months on the road in a minivan.

By Road & Track

By road and track — journeys, people, places and encounters in life.

Russ Grayson

Written by

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the Tasmanian coast after nine months on the road in a minivan.

By Road & Track

By road and track — journeys, people, places and encounters in life.

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