When you drive down the hill and around the bend, the sights of the beautiful Boomer Bay appear on your left. A slow cruise into the small township of Dunalley will deposit you at the bottom of the hill, where the Dunalley Fish Market stands.
I use the word “stands” with caution. This place is an old institution. A jumble of buildings resembling a once-bustling fish market is one of Tasmania’s most-loved (and probably most blogged about) fish and chip eateries. A humble enterprise of 18 years, the Dunalley Fish Market sits at the water’s edge a little past the turn-off for the bridge over the Denison Canal that continues the highway towards Port Arthur.
Like summer itself, fish and chips form an essential part of many family holiday memories. Like walking on hot bitumen with bare sandy feet, the memories of your favourite fish and chippery will have you making a hasty run for the car for a fix of the battered, crumbed and salty.
In years gone by, the humble local would entice us through a curtain of plastic strips towards a Laminex counter perched high with museum exhibits of pickled onions or, worse, pickled eggs. Before long menus and choice arrived. However, in the days when a Greek salad was unheard of and quinoa was something you fed to the chooks, fish and chips came served as exactly that. There were with few options: battered or grilled.
The Dunalley Fish Market, which evokes bygone eras like few extant fish and chipperies, comprises several rooms containing fishing paraphernalia that’s been collected over the years. There are photographs of families and boats, shell necklaces and the odd ancient motorbike.
Next to the indoor tables sit all things nautical and faded, including industry posters of fish species, wall-mounted cray baskets and long-retired buoys. A series of photographs on the wall shows the devasting Dunalley bushfire of January 2013, a fire that tore through this small seaside town, destroying much of it. By sheer luck, these premises were spared.
Most likely when you arrive at the Dunalley Fish Market, the first person to greet you will be Bill, the 18-year-old, slightly deaf, salty sea dog. He’ll slowly but surely follow you to your seat and has been known to raise a paw to a kind customer with a spare piece of fish. Bill’s humble beginnings began by being dumped on the owner as a puppy in a box. And looking around at this magical location, I suspect this faithful friend and gracious host has never looked back.
Your menu options here are to satisfy rather than to send the imagination into overdrive. This was my first visit, and expectations of personal choice were quickly put back in their place. The only “menu” is a sign on the wall behind the counter which advises that the customer has four choices: serving sizes for one, two, three or four people. That’s it. That’s your options. No rocket and pomegranate seed salad, and no plans to introduce it or anything like it.
Your order is exchanged for a raffle ticket, and the person behind the counter, also the cook, states they will come and find you. And they do.
Weather permitting, you can sit at the wooden picnic tables secured alongside the building by the water’s edge where you can see through the clear waters to the bottom. On most days the local stingrays will float past as if on queue to enhance the surrounding seaside ambiance.
Your order arrives as promised in a parcel neatly wrapped in a few pages of last week’s national broadsheet. You’ll unwrap a generous serving of small pieces of lightly fried and crumbed, firm, white, fresh fish, with calamari pieces, excellent chips and lemon wedges.
The quality of the fish is excellent and is clearly due to the lack of distance it’s travelled. This fish didn’t require a passport, wasn’t farmed or processed. The owners only buy from the locals and know exactly what’s available and when. Unfortunately, with competition from commercial fishing operators, the variety and availability of fish has diminished over time, but this newspaper wrapped bundle of summer memories remains for me one of the best. Worth a visit next time you hit the Arthur Highway. Bill will meet you at the door.
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