No market in Melbourne is ever likely to be as famous as the Queen Victoria Market, nor to have a place in as many hearts.
It was also the fruit and vegetable growers’ market for 90 years and the merchants’ and agents’ market for 38 years, and it came to be the central wholesale market for Victoria as well as Melbourne.
In either role, it was overcrowded, noisy and inconvenient, but full of life. Much of the part that still carries on as a retail market is classified by the National Trust ‘for social, economic, cultural, educational and tourist reasons’.
The Market is situated less than a mile from the Town Hall, and in its hey-day covered two city blocks. The larger, about 15 acres in area, was used for wholesale trade six mornings of the week.
Victoria Market has a colourful and sometimes disturbing history dating back to Melbourne’s early settlers.
In December, 1836, the population of the Port Phillip settlement was 224 and four years later it had reached 10,291.
Melbournes’ first fruit and vegetable market was established at Exhibition and Little Collins Street in 1841. It was another four years before a wooden bridge was erected over the Yarra to replace the punt which crossed near present day Princes Bridge.
By 1844, Victoria’s population had risen to 26,734 and the demand for vegetables increased. Farmers had moved to Brighton, which included all the surrounding area for many miles. Orchards and vineyards were planted, oats, wheat, grazing, dairying and vegetable growing became established.
The 1852 gold rush brought both prosperity and problems to the industry with labour hard to find. Victoria’s population tripled over the next seven years and demand for vegetables rose dramatically.
Following a fire at the Little Collins Street market in 1853, growers moved to Therry Street to ease over crowding and congestion.
The new site stood on the unmarked graves of over 9000 early Melbourne settlers and was very unpopular with growers.
Building works continued to expand the market west to Peel Street and in 1930, all growers, wholesalers and retailers began operating from the present day Queen Victoria Market.
In the 1960’s, complaints of unfair trading led to a Royal Commission into price fixing at the vegetable market. There were several police raids and five underworld shootings in the market at this time.
The Royal Commission led to many changes in the vegetable marketing system including :
– Registration of merchants.
– Limits on agents commissions.
Separation of retailers & wholesalers.
The Queen Victoria site was designed in the days of ‘horse and cart’ transport and by the late 1960s industry growth and changes in transport and refrigeration requirements made the Peel Street site unworkable.
Vegetable growers and wholesalers moved to the ‘purpose built’ wholesale market on Footscray
Road in December 1969 where they continue to operate today.