The history of the Sydney Rock Oyster, our industry, farmers and our company spans thousands of years dating back to the earliest recorded Australians. Below is a brief snapshot of the incredible stories and events that have helped the Sydney Rock Oyster become one of the world’s most sought after delicacies and together forge the East 33 story.
THE FIRST OYSTER FARMERS
The Sydney Rock Oyster has thrived in the waterways of New South Wales for thousands of years. Its original consumers were the Aboriginal People of now ‘New South Wales’. The nutrient rich meat of the Sydney Rock Oyster meant that it provided much of the vitamins and nutrients required in a healthy daily diet. In addition to being the Sydney Rock Oyster’s original consumers the Aboriginal People pioneered many techniques now widely adopted by the aquaculture industry creating a sustainable food and an almost unlimited source of sustenance.
SAVIOUR OF THE FIRST FLEET
When the First Fleet arrived in 1788 many of the crew were malnourished and in poor health. Diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and whooping cough were common and a lack nutritious food meant many had immune systems not equipped to defend against illness. The Sydney Rock Oyster became a saviour of sorts, providing many of the essential nutrients critical to strengthening the human immune response and helping the crew fight off potentially fatal diseases.
A BOLD MAN
Thomas Holt was the true father of scientific oyster cultivation in Australia. Holt’s interests encompassed almost every facet of colonial life, including politics, law, industry, finance and agriculture. By 1865, the Sydney Rock Oyster had widely been plundered as a natural resource. Holt was fundamental to the establishment of Australia’s first oyster cultivation beds at Weeney Bay (now known as Botany Bay in Sydney, NSW). Holt’s bold move laid the foundation for the future of Australian oyster aquaculture. In 1876, Holt was appointed as chairman of a Royal Commission into oyster culture, which in 1880 resulted in parliament passing laws to enable the formation of oyster leases as we know them today, ensuring the survival of the native Sydney Rock Oyster.
WOODWARD & WALLIS LAKE
Enter Henry Woodward, a merchant banker from Sydney’s CBD. Woodward was granted the first oyster leases in Wallis Lake following parliament passing Thomas Holt’s Fishery and Oyster Farms Act of 1884. With these leases, Woodward not only owned one of the largest collections of oyster leases in Australia, he pioneered the ‘oyster saloon’ in Sydney’s CBD. Well before Australia’s love of ‘Fish & Chips’ shops there were Oyster Saloons. These saloons brought oysters as a product into the mainstream. Due to their incredible health benefits, smaller oysters would often be placed into bottles and sold in bulk, this is where the term “bottle” comes from, referring to oysters of a lower grade or smaller size. Many of Woodward’s original Wallis Lake leases still exist today and are owned by East 33 farmers.
THE SCIACCA FAMILY
Phillipo Sciacca arrived in Wallis Lake with his brother-in-law Vincenzo Fazio from Italy in the late 1880s. Both were fisherman and soon after began farming in the area. In 1916, Phillipo’s son Maurice acquired the family’s first official oyster leases in the Wallis Lake area. Maurice would continue oyster farming until he was 82 years old. Passing in 2015, Maurice is today survived by his two sons and third generation East 33 oyster farmers Anthony and Phillip. The Sciacca family remains one of the oldest intact generational family lines of oyster farmers in Australia.
THE BROWNE FAMILY
As one of the earliest pioneering families Percival James Melville Browne arrived in Port Stephens in 1886 establishing the farming operation. After the Great Flood of 1916-1919 the Browne turned solely to oyster farming with Percival’s son Harry Remington Browne (“HR”) acquiring the family's first official leases in 1920. HR worked the leases with his son John Benson Browne who today at the age of 86 still frequents the oyster farm weekly. John’s son and East 33 farmer Glenn Browne took over operation some 35 yrs ago making Glenn one of the longest continuous family lines of active oyster farmers to this day.
THE VERDICH FAMILY
Of Danish descent, Carl Ingersol Verdich started the family in oyster farming in the Georges River in 1930. It was his son, Maurice Sydney Verdich, the propelled the family business into one of Australia's largest “Highway” farmers opening operations in Port Stephens in 1945 and Wallis Lake in 1970. Maurice’s son Stephen has been oyster farming since the age of 16 and now leads the family business. Joined by his two son’s now 4th generation oyster farmers Brad and Rhys, the Verdich’s are one of Australia great oyster farming families.
In 2019, these farming families and many others have united together as the East 33 Group1. Collectively they combine hundreds of years of farming knowledge creating the world’s foremost collective of Sydney Rock Oyster farming expertise. The East 33 mission is to bring the very best Sydney Rock Oysters to Australians and the wider world, improve the industry through shared knowledge and new technology and ensure it continues to prosper for years to come.
1 Reference to 'the farmers' refers to farmers of entities and assets owned by East 33 and entities and assets to be acquired following completion of a number of target acquisitions. These target acquisitions are subject to execution of final documentation and completion of a number of conditions precedent.