26yr old Burg Thurston a kitchen hand at the Innes Boatshed Batemans Bay hand feed's fish fillets to some local stingrays. Photo: Colleen Petch
Popping over to the Boatshed at Batemans Bay for a feed of fish is one of the sweeter summer treats for many Canberrans and clearly the true seafood connoisseurs agree.
These giant stingrays have made the Clyde River fish and chippery a favourite haunt for half a century and like any discerning diner when they find a good waiter they stick with him.
Boatshed kitchen hand Burg Thurston slides into the water and gingerly feeds the rays raw grenadier fillets, the same fish battered and served to hoards of holiday makers upstairs.
He doesn't exactly get a big tip for his services but a cuddle from a monster stingray measuring two metres in diameter is hard to forget.
Mr Thurston has been feeding the rays for years, so he is used to their ''slimy jelly'' embrace. "There has to be a high tide and it has to be clear water. When it's raining the water gets really dark and murky so you can't feed them then,'' he says. "In summer that's about three times a week.''
Steve Irwin's death after he was pierced in the chest by a stingray barb does not worry him, though he always keeps an eye on their tails.
"I've done my research and if you stay still and don't interfere with their space they are OK.'' To protect himself from little barbs, which can enter the skin when the rays rub up against his legs, the 26-year-old wears half a wetsuit.
"Just stroking the spine the little barbs can make you fairly crook. But it's the big ones on the back of the tail you have to worry about. There can be two or three and they scorpion you.''
Boatshed owner Stephen Innes, whose family has run a business on the site for three generations, considers the rays old friends.
"Andre the giant was here this morning and he got that name because he's just the biggest of them and Moby is a real light grey colour,'' Mr Innes said.
"Stumpy has a cut-off tail and Nobby has a nob on the end of his spine, a calcification at the end of it. They have been here as long as I can remember.''