Words by Maggie Zhou Photography by Navarre Fenwick
The 140-year-old landmark nestled in Melbourne’s heart is the largest open-air market in the Southern hemisphere. Taking up two city blocks, the Queen Victoria Market is not only Heritage-listed, but the instantly recognisable sheds are quintessentially Melbourne.
While it’s now home to over 600 small businesses, the Queen Vic Market wasn’t always a go-to destination for fresh veggies and unique souvenirs. Prior to its official opening in March 1978, the site has played host to a variety of businesses.
Between 1837 and 1854, the land was Melbourne’s first official cemetery. Approximately 10,000 early settlers were buried there, including explorer John Batman. Even as recent as 2012, bodies and burial sites are still being found.
Forget Queen Vic’s famous jam doughnuts—welcome to the official hay and corn market of 1841! Slowly but surely, more areas of the market opened for fruit and veggies. The cemetery site even had a brief soirée as a school and drill hall.
The ‘60s were a wild time. The Market was associated with the infamous ‘Honoured Society’. Yes, that’s the Italian mafia. It began with complaints from suspicious produce growers unhappy with merchants and price-fixing. Then in 1963, stallholder Vincent Anguilotto was shot. This was the first of five shootings in Queen Vic Market sparked from the extortion of immigrant Italian growers. The part of the Market where these shootings took place quickly became known as ‘Tombstone Territory’.
Now, Queen Victoria Market’s life is a little less bloody and a little less messy. It has split into three main sections: shop their fresh produce, peruse their speciality shopping sheds or wander down a collection of repurposed shipping containers, known as String Bean Alley.
Take one of their much beloved Ultimate Foodie Tour. Sample the freshest food, meet the friendly traders andcome away with some new cooking tips and tricks. Or head down to the heralded Night Markets on Wednesday nights, 5–10pm. Fairy lights, smoky street vendors and banging live music fill the outdoor venture.
The Queen Vic Market is a living and breathing example of small family businesses being passed down from generation to generation.
Or just visit on any given weekday or weekend. The Queen Vic Market is a living and breathing example of small family businesses being passed down from generation to generation. The stories of family echo throughout the market. Vic Meat Supply is an all family affair, with current owner Terry claiming, “we’ve had the business longer than the kids and we take care of like one of our kids!” And if it’s not family, it’s a shared solidarity. You can feel it in their familiarity with every nook and cranny of their worn stall. You can hear it in their friendly bickering with surrounding vendors. You can see it in the warmth in their eyes. It’s simple—they love what they do.