The Queen Victoria market in Melbourne is one of the city’s prime social and commercial epicenters. Check it out here.
The shiny cement walkways were clotting up around selected store fronts from the lunchtime crowd of families, couples, and other market goers. I had deposited myself into the Queen Victoria Market’s Deli Hall from its eastern entrance on Elizabeth Street. The Deli Hall is part of a section known as the Lower Market, which also encompasses the Meat Hall, H shed (fruit and vegetables), and I shed (organic produce), as well as a food court and shops. Fresh from my meeting with Harmonica Jim, I continued to see and hear more buskers.
I wandered, taking in the various gourmet options — an assortment of preserved meats and dressed poultry, an extensive range of local and imported cheeses, cakes, pastries, pasta, oils, nougat and chocolates, and a coffee shop that embodied highly sanitized minimalism in its appearance. The Deli Hall, which was built in 1929 (the last building to be built in this part of the Vic Market) retains many art deco features, including the original marble counters, which were the equivalent of today’s refrigerated cabinets.
Continuing, some stores indicated their products explicitly through their nationality, such as The French Shop and the Polish and Hellenic Delis.
With smoke rising from its gills, the famous Bratwurst Shop & Co was the popular choice at this point of the day, courting a large enough audience to fence off the store front. The Borek Shop (boreks are baked filled pastries originating from Turkey which are made from a thin flaky dough known as phyllo or yufka) was not far behind in terms of attention.
Running above the Deli Hall like the top of a T is the Meat Hall, where men with improvised advertising boards entered the fray to alert anyone in earshot of their latest specials as the Vic Market’s 3 PM Saturday closing time drew closer. A mixture of seafood could also be seen laying motionless through the glass cases of the 10 fishmongers in operation in this part of the market.
The original brick building of the Meat Hall was erected in 1868 as a wholesale meat market, although it was turned over to a retail meat and fish market and slaughterhouse in the same year. In 1878 the Meat Hall gained a loading bay and the hall itself was then extended in 1880 with the construction of the Elizabeth Street shops, with the present facade constructed four years later in 1884.
The Meat Hall is not an advisable destination for vegetarians, although upon using the south exit visitors enter two of the four fruit and vegetable sheds (H and I shed), one of which offers organic produce (I shed). These were constructed in 1878 and marked the first wholesaling and retailing of fruit and vegetables at the Queen Vic Market.
Despite a quick detour through H and I sheds I re-entered and ultimately left the Meat Hall via the western exit, passing the long line in front of the American Doughnut Kitchen and coming out on Queen Street, which cuts vertically through the market like an artery for pedestrians. The larger half of the market, what is known as the Upper Market, lies on the other side of this street.
As I was crossing Queen Street I found the HIV/AIDS Youth Awareness Wall which was being spray painted that day in relation to the 20th International AIDS Conference (20-25th July) being in Melbourne this year. This was an example of some of the other activities that take place at the market, which you can always check in the ‘What’s On’ section of the Vic Market website.
Around thirty young people were gathered along the wall that was being painted. It was part of a traffic island toilet block on Queen Street. Some of the group were spray painting in disposable face masks, many wearing the grey Melbourne Youth Force (MYF) jumpers, while others were taking pictures of their artwork or just chatting. A few people flitted around the edges of the scene taking photos or just passing by.
It was now 2pm – the scheduled finishing time, and with the wall mostly done. It was the perfect time to grab someone for a chat. I caught the attention of a young woman. Her name was Joelle and she was 22, from England. Dropping her face mask, she told me the young people here were youth delegates who had come together in combination with YEAH (Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS) and MYF to create this mural. Gathered for the 2014 AIDS Conference, all the delegates present had attended the MYF AIDS 2014 Pre Conference.
A host city for the conference is chosen every two years, but Joelle said this was the first related street art project. I asked her what the aim of the wall was. She told me it was to increase awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“We want to encourage young people involved in the situation to be involved from the beginning to the end of this pandemic in accordance with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals,” she said.
Goal Six of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and the mural represents the face of HIV/AIDS awareness in Melbourne.
“It’s our mark on the city,” said Joelle.
Joelle also told me that the day had been a lot of fun, and was an opportunity for the youth delegates to incorporate their individual ideas and thoughts into a visual work. I asked her what her personal link to HIV/AIDS was.
“I’m personally affected, I have been working in HIV organisations in the UK for eight years,” said Joelle.
The previous day, the youth delegates had practiced spray painting their stencils on a temporary wall about thirty metres away under the guidance of Melbourne street artists.
Today the real thing was currently being overseen by one of these artists, Fred, who stood out from the group in a fluorescent orange visibility vest.
I took a picture of Joelle next to her stencils. She had chosen two symbols that make up the MYF logo – the red ribbon, symbolising awareness and support for those living with HIV, and the colourful peace sign, standing for peace, victory, strength and diversity.
I left Joelle and the mural to step into the Upper Market (sheds A -L and Stringbean Alley), which lay on the other side of Queen Street from the Deli and Meat Halls. Like H shed, the laneways of A and B sheds also offered fruit and vegetables, nuts, spices, beans, seeds, tea and more. An eclectic mix including (but not limited to) sporting jerseys, footwear, Australian artifacts and souvenirs, jewelry and accessories, artwork, leather and electronic goods and memorabilia also hang high in this sprawling shed section.
This section was not originally reserved as a market but had a number of other uses, including being a school and drill hall, though it’s predominant use was as Melbourne’s first cemetery. Construction of A-F sheds began in 1877 at the northern-most edge of the market.
Splitting the sheds of the Upper Market horizontally is the F shed laneway, with a wide range of merchandise and a dining precinct offering South American, Italian, Malaysian and Japanese cuisine. The F shed laneway was originally constructed in 1878 along the southern boundary of the Upper Market to divide it from the cemetery.
The southern tip of the Queen Victoria Market (before you hit the carpark) is underlined by Stringbean Alley, the Market’s newest retail precinct, made up of a series of repurposed shipping containers transformed into artisan workshops and stalls, and operating on slightly different trading hours.
In 1917, when the Vic Market was extended over much of the cemetery site, 914 bodies were exhumed and re-interred at other cemeteries around Melbourne. The cemetery no longer exists, although numerous bodies remain buried beneath the existing car park.
I meandered through this area of the Upper Market, where the shop attendants sat around lazily as the day wound down. I took advantage of some free lolly samples as I joined the trickle of people perusing the bizarre collection of merchandise that occupies the majority of the sheds. Some items were gems and represented good value for money, others – like the not quite right and slightly outdated football jerseys — were fool’s gold.
I headed north to have a final look around the fruit and veg sheds A and B. As I did so, several merchants threw boxes of declining produce on the ground in front of their stalls at a drastically reduced price – grapes, tomatoes, chillis, sometimes all mixed into one. It was a multi-cultural mix of workers too and I indulged in some bananas at $1.99 per kilogram – a low price compared to Melbourne’s metropolitan and suburban supermarkets and green groceries. Perusing the tea section of one stall, but not sure whether it was self-service or not, I was rudely awoken to the fact that in some parts of the market you have to accept that lower prices replace customer service, as a stall attendant gave me a bored look and conveyed for me to get whatever I wanted myself when I asked.
I took a final peek at the alley behind B shed as I started to leave the market. Empty produce boxes lay strewn around, for cleaning at a later time. Back inside the shed, one stall had a mountain of empty banana boxes behind the counter, and some of the men working there enjoyed a wind down beer – it must have been a good Saturday’s trading.
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