History of Oysters on the Islands

Sandy Beach Oysters on the rocks Russell island

The Islands have a rich history of Oysters. Southern Moreton Bay Islands | Redland City Council (Pdf can be downloaded here)

An 1884 map shows oyster leases 19, 40, 16 and 18 around Macleay and Lamb Islands. Oystering was biggest fishery in southern Queensland for years; at its peak the industry employed about 200 people.
Lamb Island – One of the earliest European settlers on the Bay Islands was Thomas Lucas, who was born near London in 1836 and came to Australia aboard The Queen of the South in 1865. He settled on Lamb Island at Corroboree Point and was a pioneer of the oyster farming industry in Moreton Bay. He married in 1886 at the age of 49, and died at age 58 in 1895. His grave is on the hill above the Lamb Island jetty, and is the only one on the island.

One of the main attractions of the oyster industry was in fact converting the shells to lime rather than the fish itself. Lime was much in demand in the building industry. One of the main sources was middens. As they ran out of middens and other deposits, but this practice was banned in 1863 and as a result the live oyster trade took over.


The oyster fishery died out because of mud worm 1895-1901, but recovered and re-built to a peak in 1910. At that time every available spot in Moreton Bay that would support an oyster was under lease. Licensed banks in the Bay totalled 849 leases covering 10,100 ha.

During the heyday of the industry, many oystermen lived in rough camps on the bay islands. Dwellings comprised simple shacks made of bark and slab, as well as sugar-bags, with two-room cottages being built as incomes improved. They used small cutters and flat-bottomed dinghies for transport.
In 1889 the need to control the industry was recognised and the Queensland Government gazetted 26 reserves around the Bay and Sandy Strait where for an annual fee oystermen could camp, build houses and fence small allotments etc.
One of the biggest oystering families in the 20th century was the Levinges, an Aboriginal family of North Stradbroke Island. Albert Levinge managed the Moreton Bay Oyster Company’s operations at Dunwich, and in 1916 he took over the company’s camp at Currigee. His sons also took up trade, and their company was named the Levinge Oyster Company after WWII. It went into receivership in 1965.

Oysters—Saccostrea sp.—once lived in abundance in the complex of estuaries between
Moreton Bay and Wide Bay in southern Queensland. Until the 1890s, these estuaries
were thick with intertidal and subtidal oysters. As the cities and towns of Queensland
grew from the 1860s, locals demanded more oysters from the fledgling oyster fishery. A
lover of oysters could buy these Queensland foodstuffs as close as Maryborough or Brisbane or as far away as Sydney and Melbourne. This early trade between 1860 and 1900
saw the destruction of largely self-sustaining populations of oysters. As settlers scrambled to sustain this industry, fishing communities moved from being oyster harvesters
to oyster farmers.

These were embayment estuaries, where fresh water from the rivers poured into the large salty
bays that were partially sheltered from the ocean swells by barrier islands. There were
four ocean-facing sand islands: Stradbroke, Moreton, Bribie, and Fraser. In between
the islands and the mainland, the bays were dotted with further islands large and small.

………Born free-moving animals, oysters become spat when they attach to substrate
material. In both intertidal and subtidal areas, the best substrate for oysters is the older
oyster shells anchored together as reefs. In principle, oyster reefs form in the same
way as coral reefs: as older animals die, new animals grow on the residual matter. For
coral, the skeletal limestone remains of individuals compound into solid structures to
house new animals. For oysters, the new animals anchoring onto old shell eventually
build enough layers to create large, three-dimensional assemblages. Like coral reefs,
oyster reefs are home to a range of other plants and animals. In addition to being food
for some species, they are especially important as shelter for juvenile fish and shellfish
of the estuary. Additionally, oysters play an important role in filtering the sediment from
upstream in southern Queensland rivers. They extract micronutrients for themselves
and remove the detritus from the water columns, contributing to the water quality of
each estuary.

Local Aboriginal people left huge middens of oysters and other shellfish all over this
region. Archaeologists date the earliest remains in these middens to 3–4,000 years ago,
although Aboriginal people contest this date, arguing that their occupation was from
the beginnings of time. The Dandrabin-Gorenpul peoples of Quandamooka deployed a
range of strategies to ensure that subtidal oysters were plentiful in Moreton Bay. They
carefully monitored the oyster reefs, translocating young oysters to enhance growth and
introducing spent shells to build new substrate

The first settler groups to move into the estuaries from the 1860s were not interested in
the stewardship of oysters. They were only intent on extracting as many oysters as possible from any given place to reap a financial reward. To meet the growing demand in
the cities, oysterers travelled along the coast to find the fattest oysters. While oyster fishers hand-picked oysters from the mudflat areas, they also harvested the reefs by dredging from small boats. In the intertidal area, this entailed breaking the reefs apart with a
steel spike to allow oysters to be bagged into 120-dozen lots for market. In the deeper
water, fishers dragged a wire-dredging basket along the estuary bed, destroying the
reefs as they went. Using these methods, fishers worked oyster reefs for approximately
three years, taking off every animal, before moving to the next spot in the estuary. They
called this “skinning” the reef, replicating a stage in the processing of terrestrial animals
for meat. Oysterers expected that reefs would regrow naturally and that, after a period
of time, they would be able to come back to the reefs and start again. To their surprise,
they found that once destroyed in this manner, the reefs did not grow back

Mudworms, Polydora sp., like oysters, are also estuary creatures; they co-exist with oysters all over the word. Mudworms co-habit with oysters, boring into the interior shell,
collecting sediment courtesy of the filtering from its host, and then secreting a muddy
This content downloaded from
https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/26241428.pdf
122.148.105.253 on Tue, 14 Jun 2022 01:22:06 UTC

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