11 September 2019

Everything you need to know about the Narooma Oyster Festival

| Elias Hallaj
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Could one of these be the world’s biggest oyster? Clyde River oyster farmer Bernie Connell thinks he’s in with a chance at the weigh-in at Narooma Oyster Festival this Saturday. Photo: Supplied.

Could one of these be the world’s biggest oyster? Clyde River oyster farmer Bernie Connell thinks he’s in with a chance at the weigh-in at Narooma Oyster Festival this Saturday. Photo: Supplied.

Oyster lovers, fine foodies and many families from Sydney, Canberra, and south-east NSW will head to the annual Narooma Oyster Festival this weekend.

The Festival launches on Friday (4 May) afternoon at 4:30 pm with a free family concert featuring the Steve Edmonds Band, a freestyle motocross display, climaxing with fantastic fireworks at 8 pm. Saturday’s Festival starts at 10 am.

The Narooma Oyster Festival showcases south coast oysters grown in one of the most environmentally sustainable regions in the world, with participants from Wagonga Inlet, the Clyde and Shoalhaven Rivers, Merimbula, Pambula and Wapengo Lakes.

The Festival is a great opportunity to compare the flavour and texture of oysters from different estuaries, either from the stalls, in the Australia Oyster Coast Marquee, or in the Ultimate Oyster Experience (ticketed event sold out).

2018 Program

If you’re not an oyster lover, there’ll be plenty of other fine food available from the many food stalls on site, including other local seafood. On Saturday, cooking demonstrations feature an incredible line-up of chefs who are ‘a who’s who of fine food’.

Chefs include Corey Costelloe of Rockpool Bar and Grill, Colin Barker of The Boathouse at Blackwattle Bay, Nick Gardner of Hampden Deli Dining and School, Steven Hodges co-author of the Australian Fish and Seafood Cookbook, and Wade and Evan Woolhouse of Wheelers at Pambula.

Yuin artist Cheryl Davison has organised most of the Aboriginal programme at Narooma Oyster Festival this Saturday. She says members of the local Aboriginal community are excited to be demonstrating their traditional cooking of seafood over a fire pit.

Local Aboriginal people will also demonstrate their traditional cooking over a fire pit. Artist Cheryl Davison is organising most of the Aboriginal programme and wants to show off her love and pride of indigenous culture.

“We’ve usually just had an art tent at the Oyster Festival,” Ms Davison said, but this year food cooked in the traditional fire-pit method will be shared by all.

“When we go camping we cook this way; it’s beautiful tucker, good family cooking and our way of getting back to our culture.”

Ms Davison said six groups from the Narooma region each have an hour to cook a dish of oysters, aboalone, bimbalas, or mullet.

“Each family has their own way of cooking,” she said. “We’re hoping the fire pit will have that spirit of welcoming people in for a feed.”

Unlike last year’s oyster shucking competition shown here, this year’s will have separate women’s and men’s competitions. John Susman, left, will again be the judge.

The popular oyster shucking competition, this year with separate women’s and men’s competitions, will be judged by John Susman who is one of the biggest names in seafood in Australia, being a seafood judge, critic, author, commentator and marketer.

This writer wonders if the same man who won the last three Oyster shucking comps, Jim Yiannaros from Batemans Bay Oysters, will win again?

The main programme, including displays of local Yuin culture, a display by the Royal Australian Navy, and free kids’ rides and activities, ends at 4 pm. This year’s music line-up includes Johnny Huckle, Jazz Alley, Beautifully Mad, Mo Chevy, The Somedays and Claude Hay. Check the times on the website.

The world record for the biggest oyster could be broken at Narooma Oyster Festival this Saturday.

“It should be fun because we’ll have several possible contenders, all Pacific Oysters from the Clyde River,” said Festival chairman Niels Bendixsen.

The Guinness Book of Records (GBR) lists the current world’s biggest oyster as a Pacific Oyster (Crassiostrea gigas) found on the Danish shores of the Wadden Sea in 2013. It measured 35.5 cm long and 10.7 cm wide, described at the time as ‘the size of a man’s large and sturdy shoe’. It has five oysters attached, and the cluster then weighed 1.62 kg.

It was estimated to be 15-20 years old and it is still alive and apparently still growing.

Clyde River oyster farmer Bernie Connell reckons some of his oysters weigh more. “I’ve got a few that would weigh more than the world record and one is nudging 2 kg,” he said.

“They’re single specimens with no other oysters attached and what’s amazing is they’re only four years old. If I do end up with the world champion, I won’t be selling it. I’ll keep it growing.”

He thinks a few other Clyde River farmers also have oysters that would beat the world record, but adds whether one of his is the biggest will have to wait until the judge’s decision on Saturday.

All contenders will be weighed and measured at the Festival on the Katungul Main Stage at 12:15 pm when they will also be photographed. That information will be then sent off to the Guinness Book of Records office.

Entry to the Oyster Festival on Saturday is $15 for adults; children under 16 accompanied by an adult are free. Festival Chairman Niels Bendixsen is thrilled with how the wider community has embraced the Festival this year.

“About 100 volunteers will help out with a range of jobs during the Festival,’ he said.

“We couldn’t stage a Festival of this calibre without their help. Narooma Men’s Shed has built an entranceway for the Festival and members of Montague Arts and Craft Society have made many beautiful kites to fly over the Festival site.”

South Coast Sea Planes will run charter flights over Wagonga Inlet with its extensive oyster leases and Montague Island on Saturday, while Narooma Oyster Tours will take people out on the Inlet.

Narooma Chamber of Commerce instigated the Oyster Festival as a signature experience for oyster lovers, particularly from outside the area, and to help brand Narooma as a destination.

On Sunday morning, Yuin Elder Noel Butler will conduct Native Food Walks to discover native foods right outside your door. Bookings are essential, through The Whale Restaurant, Narooma.

Make sure you don’t miss out on Australia’s biggest and best seafood festival, you can buy tickets here.

Many Canberrans would be familiar with the many things to see and do around Narooma but if you’re not, this recent RiotACT article lists a few of them and certainly convinced the writer to make the drive down to one of Australia’s hidden tourism gems.

Brendan Limon finds Sydney Rock Oysters are in prime condition on Australia’s Oyster Coast lease he manages on Wagonga Inlet.

Elias Hallaj (aka CBRfoodie) is a part-time food blogger and full-time political staffer who has joined RiotACT as a regular contributor. He enjoys freshly shucked oysters a lot and can’t stop eating it because they taste good! All opinions are his own. If you have any tips or feedback you can find him on Twitter @CBRfoodie.

*This article first appeared on RiotACT

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