The expertise required to locate, collect, husband and distribute live wild animals in premium condition has been developed over a period of 47 years. In 1964, Vic Oke and his family moved to Cairns in Far North Queensland from the south-eastern Australian state of Victoria. Vic was a pioneer and an adventurer who had built his own underwater breathing apparatus and who took his family holidaying across Australia’s then roadless northern expanses in a home-made caravan.
Vic and his brother Gordon purchased the Cairns Baths on the inner city waterfront and converted it to an oceanarium. The site is now occupied by the Hilton Hotel. Animals at the oceanarium were collected in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef and exhibited to locals and visitors alike. These displays predated large scale marine tourism and underwater documentaries and many people had never imagined that they would be witnessing the wonders of the sea at such close proximity. Some of the animals at the oceanarium had been brought in sick or injured and the family soon became proficient at nursing animals back to health. This included an orphaned baby dugong named Dolly that Vic hand raised after it became entangled in a fisherman’s net.
Vic’s four children worked at the oceanarium. Daughter Bev married co-worker Lyle Squire, a champion spear fisherman who would go on to become a highly respected consultant in tropical fisheries research and marine conservation. When the oceanarium sold in 1979, Bev and Lyle worked in fisheries research for much of the subsequent 15 years. Bev and Lyle have two sons, Lyle jnr and Cadel, who spent their early years at the oceanarium and later became aquarium fish collectors in Cairns. In 1994, the Squire family purchased the company that employed them – Cairns Marine.
The company operated from a small wooden boat and housed the specimens for distribution in adjoining Queenslander style houses. In 2001, the company moved to custom built, state-of-the-art holding facilities nearer the airport and soon became Australia’s largest supplier of marine specimens, servicing not only the domestic market but establishing an international reputation for reliability, supplying big animals for large public aquaria worldwide. In 2002, Cairns Marine won the Cairns Region Export Award at their first attempt.
Today, Cairns Marine deploys two fully customised 22m vessels and operates multiple licenses in fisheries on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Coral Sea. The company has grown from humble beginnings to become Australia’s largest and leading supplier whilst retaining the core values of an organic family business that have underpinned their success.