In the days before the supermarket most urbanites utilized their local markets. These places, like Les Halles in Paris or Faneuil Hall in Boston, were where the citizenry would find farmers and wholesalers conveniently gathered in one spot, where they could buy anything and everything. Over time many of these bazar-like markets faded away or were reshaped into many of the not so charming market squares found in numerous cities. Some old-time markets have hung on. Among them is the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, Australia.
This workhorse market has more than just survived, it has thrived. There were lean years in the 1960’s, known as the era of The Raids, when five shootings took place in the market by members of the “Honored Society” — a group of immigrant thugs whose allegedly principled organization was not unlike the Mafia. And yes, when the market was originally constructed in the 1840s it was set on top of Melbourne’s neglected cemetery. But despite all this the market began fairly sedately as the place of commerce for the new city of Melbourne — a settlement that narrowly avoided being named Batmania after hero or flimflam man John Batman.
In the 1850s gold fever swept through Victoria, the population swelled and the market grew. As more vendors came with everything from wool bales, hay and grain to fruits and vegetables, livery supplies and cured meat, more space was needed and soon vendors were atop the graves of the early Victoria pioneers. Not being the types of entrepreneurs to let the remains of about 10,000 people get in the way of progress, city leaders went to work exhuming and replanting as many of the deceased as they could identify in other cemeteries. They exhumed 914 bodies total, one of them being John Batman, and left the other unidentified 9,000 in the ground which is now covered with asphalt and is the market’s main parking lot. The Batman memorial obelisk that stands on the grounds of the modern market has been the source of controversy and a challenge to those whose political-correctness alarm bells have been clanging for decades. The issue with Batman is that no one will say definitively if he was a great statesman or an unscrupulous land-grabber who exploited the Aboriginal population. What has been stated is that he lost most of his nose, then his mind, then his life to syphilis.
Following the relocation of the dead, city leaders defined the market spaces East, West, Upper, Lower and Hay that still exist and are still peopled by butchers, green grocers, fishmongers and purveyors of sundries who continue to loudly call out to passing shoppers just as they have done for almost a century and a half.
The Queen Victoria Market remains one of Melbourne's great institutions and the food market Melburnians visit the most. The market is so popular and so heavily trafficked that one is hard pressed to find grocery stores of any size or merit in the central business district of Melbourne. In Australia, where nearly everything is new, it’s refreshing to visit a market as florid and friendly as the Queen Victoria Market.
The Market is located at:
513 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: 03 9320 5822