As Mitch McCrae puts it, they were the best of times and the worst of times. When the Black Saturday bushfires of February 7, 2009 ravaged across Victoria, destroying more than 400,000 hectares of bushland and thousands of homes, claiming 170 lives and devastating the towns of Marysville and Narbethong, his family business, the Buxton Trout Farm, was among the casualties.

Salmon Farm Salmon Farm

“With the fish ponds on one side of the house and the Steavenson River, which feeds those ponds, on the other, we believed we were in a good position to defend ourselves against the fire,” Mitch explains. “It proved correct thanks to our firefighting efforts and those of friends who came to take shelter at the farm. The pumps that aerate the ponds kept working up until the fire actually came through and we lost power so we were able to keep wetting the house down until the last minute. Finally we took refuge indoors, put towels under the doors and just waited it out. Amazingly we survived.”

Salmon Farm Salmon Farm

The next day, however, they began to count the cost. Australia’s first commercial trout farm, which had been going strong for more than 50 years was a smouldering shadow of its once picture-postcard self. Sheds, fences and mechanical equipment were gone and then there was the very pressing matter of 40 tonnes ( with an estimated value of more that $500,000) of dead fish, including brood stock for the coming years.

Salmon Farm

“Before the fires we were shipping our fish all over the countryside,” Mitch explains. “But as we rebuilt, we came to the realisation that we have a very fine product. Our ponds are gravity fed from the river, which carries the purest water down from the melting snow from Lake Mountain, and we decided this was something to celebrate. So now we focus on Melbourne only, and the restaurant trade. Our focus is quality rather than quantity and it’s working well for us.”

Salmon Farm Salmon Farm

The wood-fired smoker, which Mitch describes as “the espresso of smokehouses” also swung back into action and Buxton’s smoked trout and trout pate are back on the market.

Salmon Farm

Another by-product of the farm, salmon caviar, also leapt to national attention, when Buxton’s fish eggs starred on an episode of MasterChef Australia in 2011. During a short period in winter when the eggs are fully ripe they are gently hand-milked from the fish, cleaned, separated and brined for the distinctive taste and extraordinary popping mouth sensation that sends foodies into swoons.

Salmon Farm

This story was originally published in the June / July 2014 issue of Australian Country magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.

Click here for more food files.

Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass

More Like This

Douglas Blain

The Extraordinary Journey of Douglas Blain: Preserving the Past with Passion

Douglas Blain’s remarkable life has been devoted to rescuing old buildings and turning them into boutique hotels.

Montville Mist Springwater

The Collins’ Montville Mist Springwater Success

Alli and Peter Collins juggle raising a family and running, Montville Mist Springwater from their home in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Paper Pocket Australiana

Our Top 10 Favourite Calendars and Diaries to Kick Start Your 2024

Discover Australia’s favourite range of 2024 Calendars and Diaries from Paper Pocket. Keep track of your year, organise your appointments, plan your […]

Date & Ginger Bundt Cake

Date & Ginger Bundt Cake Recipe

This date and ginger bundt cake is an adaptation of my mum’s much-loved sticky date pudding recipe.

Lemon Cake Recipe

Weekday Lemon Cake Recipe

A (very) simple melt-and-mix number, perfect for when a lemon cake is in order, but fuss is not. A while ago, […]

Australian experience

The Perfect Australian Experience In Sydney

 The Perfect Australian Experience In Sydney Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens offers a smorgasbord of opportunities to learn more about Aboriginal heritage, […]

Edited 30

MEET THE CHEFS – Flinders Island Food & Crayfish Festival

For the first time, two of Australia’s most popular chefs, restauranteurs, authors and TV presenters Karen Martini and Tobie Puttock will be joining the Flinders Island Food & Crayfish Festival

fox hill farm

The Kitchen Gardener At Fox Hill Farm

After sad loss in the Victorian bushfires, Lynne Derwin has made a new beginning in the NSW Southern Highlands.

Follow Us on Instagram