Oyster farmers David Corstorphine of Tuncurry, aged 78 and Fred Selmon of Georges River, aged 70, enjoy oysters at Dolls Point

Oyster farmers David Corstorphine of Tuncurry, 78, and Fred Selmon of Georges River, 70, enjoy oysters at Dolls Point. By Sam Hood. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, A368001/PXE 789 (v.38),1

Lisa has been doing a bit of a summer theme over the last couple of weeks on 2SER Breakfast with Tim Higgins and this morning she is gave us another great piece of Sydney history – Sydney Rock Oysters.

In 2004, the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide noted that ‘the little Sydney rock is loved for its unique flavour and long shelf life’.

Not to be confused with Pacific oysters (their larger, less succulent, more rubbery cousins), the Sydney Rock is smaller, softer and has a more distinctive taste. It takes about three years to reach maturity, while the Pacific takes 12 to 18 months.

Sydney lies in the centre of some of the best oyster-producing regions in the world, from Port Hacking and the Georges River to Broken Bay.

The city’s history is alive with references to the oyster and its culture – from the suburb named Oyster Bay, to the lime mortar in many early buildings, to the popularity of oyster bars in the late 19th century, the Sydney Rock Oyster has a special place in Sydney’s history.

The commercial cultivation of Sydney rock oysters began only in 1872. Early European settlers had taken to the local product with gusto, but they also burned the shells to produce lime for mortar. This depleted the natural population, so the government banned the burning of oysters for lime, leading to deliberate farming.

Opera House Hotel, Castlereagh Street c1888

Opera House Hotel, Castlereagh Street c1888. Contributed by State Records New South Wales 4481_a026_000058

By the late nineteenth century, oyster bars were common in Sydney and often run by southern European migrants. They were a staple part of the diet, not a luxury, and it was due to their abundance. It’s fair to say that oyster bars rivaled pubs in their spread and popularity across the city.

During the twentieth century, tastes in eating changed and for a while, oysters went out of fashion. Oyster bars began to disappear and fish and chip shops began to replace them.

Today, oyster bars have made a comeback, and Sydney rock oysters are back on the menu at many chic restaurants. Today Sydney rock oysters still account for 94 per cent of edible oyster production in New South Wales.

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