Celebrating 60 Years of Dawson’s

For sixty years, Dawson's has been a fixture in our community. As we mark this milestone, we sit down with Malcolm Dawson, the founder of Dawson's Oyster Supplies, to hear about the beginnings and evolution of the business.

Join us as we uncover the enduring legacy of Dawson's—a testament to dedication and resilience in the ever-changing landscape of the oyster industry.

Malcolm Dawson inside the shop at 67 King St Warners Bay holding a tray of prawns

Humble Beginnings
When Malcolm Dawson married Julia Moffat, in the late 1950’s, he was marrying into a third-generation oyster farming family based in Swan Bay, Port Stephens.
“In 1964, George Moffat, my father-in-law, offered myself and my brother-in-law, Paddy Hunter, an opportunity to run the processing side of the business rather than work as growers,” said Malcom. “Julia and I lived in Warners Bay, we had three small children by then, and I was commuting to Swan Bay every day.”
Back then, the business had a big contract with Woolworths, providing oysters in jars. Malcolm recalls “They were long days processing oysters, there were no shortcuts, it was a slow, hard job and sometimes when I was driving home, I had to pull over and have a sleep. I kept that up for three years but couldn’t really see a future at Swan Bay. In 1967 I bought out my brother-in-law and moved the operations to the garage of our home.”
“I would pick up the oysters in big sacks and pay for the stock as I got it and we worked seven days a week, processing and then delivering – Julia worked with me, opening oysters, refrigerating them, packaging them and we would do same day delivery.”
Julia and Malcolm continued to process oysters from their garage in Warners Bay, selling to Woolworths and take-away food outlets often run by Greek families back then, until 1970 when they moved operations into a facility in Cardiff South.
“By the time we were operating out of Cardiff, we were supplying a few Chinese restaurants, and a small amount of other clubs and restaurants although there weren’t as many around as there are now.” reminisces Malcolm.
Julia Dawson celebrating a birthday in the shop at Warners Bay, Jane Dawson behind her
From Cardiff to 67 King St, Warners Bay
“We ran the business from Cardiff for ten years and then in 1980 there was an opportunity to buy a fresh seafood retail outlet in Warners Bay. We moved the whole operation there and really started to expand.”
The Dawson family catered to local family run establishments like Red Funnel, alongside motels and restaurants, primarily within the Newcastle area. “It was too far to the coalfields areas of Cessnock, Maitland and Kurri – it took up too much time to deliver out there.” Malcolm reflects, so they concentrated their efforts to supplying Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
Sons Brett and Grant joined in 1975, with daughter Jane following suit in 1980 upon relocating to 67 King St. The 70’s and 80’s were a significant time for the family and the business.
Brett and Grant Dawsons + others out the back of the shop in Warners Bay
Testing Times
The oyster industry went through some difficult periods, notably an Australia-wide outbreak of oyster-associated food poisoning in 1978 in Georges River area in NSW. This event emerged as a substantial economic challenge for the oyster farming and distribution sectors in the aftermath, effecting not only the local region, but the industry nationally.
It was during this time, that Malcolm and the family had the only holiday they ever took. “The only two continuous weeks break we ever took from the business was during this time. We went to Surfers Paradise.” He recalls.
In the aftermath of the oyster-associated food poisoning, the Dawson family bought a deli, next door to the current shop to keep them going. They also branched out and started to sell new products “The whole family worked together and that’s when we started selling other types of seafood to complement the oysters. We got through the difficult period, we survived by diversifying and working hard.”
Makings of a World Champion
The 1980s also saw Malcolm’s son Brett Dawson, who still works in the business today, become the world champion oyster shucker at the Galway International Oyster Festival in 1981 and 1982. To date he is still the only Australian to ever become the world champ.
Newspaper article about Brett Dawson after winning the National Oyster Shucking Competition, before heading to Ireland
Decades of Growth
In 1990 the Dawson’s formed a company and the business continued to flourish with a reputation for the freshest seafood, and excellent customer service day in, day out.
“Our customers came from everywhere,” said Malcolm. “They knew they could rely on us. At some of our busiest times we would be up all night working, or we’d be starting at 2am in the morning. I think we ended up being the second longest continuously run business in Warners Bay beaten by a local hairdresser! I really feel like my biggest achievement has been lasting so long with such a great clientele. There was no plan B when I got married – we just had to work hard and make a go of it. And it was bloody hard, but we were determined.”
Malcolm retired at the ripe age of 84 years young and is about to turn 88 in June of this year. He keeps busy on a couple of acres and still loves oysters.
“I love oysters – I still eat them regularly. I visit the shop every now and again, but I don’t want to make a nuisance of myself. And to be honest, I don’t miss it. As I got older, the technical side of running the business was becoming more difficult for me. The new owners are of a different generation, and they’ve done a lot. I think my strength was that I’m a communicator. I like talking to people – that’s what life’s all about.”
Jack Dawson and Brett Dawson at the shop in Warners Bay
A Fresh Start
The current owners of Dawson’s Oyster Supplies are inspired to take on the challenges of this industry and have made several major changes to the business since taking it over in 2021.
The COVID pandemic really hit in 2021 and Hannah and her team pivoted to home deliveries to make up for the revenue lost by lockdowns. It was during this time that they took the opportunity to do a refit of the premises and make room for some new products.
“Since taking over the business in 2021, I’ve loved experimenting with new products. Some more successful than others. I always keep things as local as possible, and I’d say condiments from Aussie brands like Beerenberg, Tasteology and Sticky Balsamic are definitely favourites. We’ve also partnered with Ferguson Australia and Sunshine Coast Seafood Co this year and are stocking a range of great Australian seafood.”
Dawson's Gourmet - Oyster Vinaigrettes x 4 front view with grey background
The other significant changes have been a rebrand, that marries a sense of tradition and family values with a contemporary style and a new product range with an online ordering system launched just this month.  
With all these changes it’s good to see that there are still some familiar faces on the Dawson’s team including Malcolm’s son Brett, along with Brett’s wife Karren and their son Jack.
Hannah who overseas the day to day running of the business is never short on ideas and brings her values into her work. “I think it’s an exciting time to be working in the seafood industry. We are seeing more and more women in this workforce. We have had a rough 18 months with environmental impacts to the oyster industry, but things are looking up”
“In the Hunter region, Sydney Rock Oysters remain the crowd favourite. However, a noteworthy shift is emerging, with a growing interest in the Port Stephens Pacific Oysters. Pacific oysters thrive in the cooler months so we look forward to seeing an abundance of these this Winter.”
Unopened Pacific Oysters at Dawson's Oyster Supplies
Dawson’s still delivers oysters seven days a week to more than 40 restaurants and clubs in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
As we reflect on sixty years of Dawson's Oyster Supplies, it's evident that dedication, resilience, and a commitment to quality have been the cornerstones of this enduring family business.
From humble beginnings to facing industry challenges head-on, the Dawson family's journey is a testament to the power of hard work and adaptability. The legacy that Malcolm and Julia Dawson left is in good hands, and as the baton passes to the next generation, we eagerly anticipate the continuation of this legacy, infused with fresh ideas and a steadfast dedication to serving both tradition and innovation in the seafood industry.