The ‘Old City’ – Victoria Market – its essence

World wide major cities make efforts to protect what is commonly known as ‘Old Cities’. But it would appear not so in Melbourne Having been blocked in excavating the area beneath the existing carpark and the existing sheds by Heritage Victoria, the City of Melbourne are now proposing the carpark to become Melbourne’s largest Public Square. A nearby multi-storey carpark would provide carparking for market visitors. Heritage Victoria estimates over 6500 bodies are currently buried beneath the car park and nearby sheds.

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Where it was originally planned to provide refrigeration service areas and facilities underneath the original market sheds, this plan has now been abandoned by Council. Its planning now calls for storage and refrigeration at the individual market stalls – the result would be ‘fixed stalls’ – not a feature of traditional open air markets.

Queen Victoria Markets is the last remnant of Melbourne’s vibrant market culture. Over many years this has been the place where students, migrants and those of lower socio-economic social strata chose to shop for life’s essentials. Bohemians and battlers select vegetables and sip good coffee.

In times past Melbourne was very well serviced by open air Markets in what would eventually become the CBD.

There was the Eastern Market bounded by Bourke St, Exhibition St and Little Collins St – on the site the former Southern Cross Hotel was built upon. [PIC]


The Eastern Market

The Western Markets stood on the corner of Williams St, Bourke St and Little Collins St.


The Western Market

The Fish Market abutted the Railway viaduct from Kings St to Spencer St on Flinders St.


The Fish Market

The Meat Market was located in North Melbourne


Meat Market

The Queen Victoria Market was until the 1960s a wholesale market, but with the construction of the Footscray Rd Market, it reverted to retail trade.

All of this is ‘Old City’ and its patently obvious that the Queen Victoria Market is in fact both architecturally and practically the last remnant of what was, and for practical purposes still is a vibrant market economy.

Economists just don’t get it. Everything in their world is measured against return on the dollars invested.

It looks very much like there must be a compromise reached but what one person sees as ‘coffins’ (see article below), others see as tradition. It’s the very fact that the market in no way resembles a modern shopping precinct that ensures its charm and relevance.

Here is a report from the Age, March 28th.

Biggest public square in Melbourne planned for Queen Vic Market

A new public space larger than Federation Square would replace the open-air carpark at Queen Victoria Market under the latest proposed redevelopment of the 141-year-old tourist icon.

Melbourne City Council has now abandoned plans to dig beneath four of the market’s heritage sheds to create three levels of underground car parking and a service area for traders.

The latest proposal would still deliver 1000 car parks for market customers, which has long been a contentious issue, but they would be contained within a 38-storey apartment tower on the corner of Queen and Therry streets and a future development site on Franklin Street.

Lord mayor Sally Capp said once the new car parks had been built the existing asphalt car park would be turned into the biggest public square in Melbourne.

The 1.5 hectare civic space – to be called Market Square – would be used as a venue for community festivals, farmers’ markets and other events and provide a place where people could eat.

None of the proposed works will disturb the 6500 bodies that lie buried beneath the market in what used to be the Old Melbourne Cemetery, which is believed to be an archeological treasure trove.

Heritage Victoria last year rejected the underground parking lot, saying it could not be assured the market’s heritage sheds could be returned to the site in their original condition.

The heritage authority also believed the fabric of the 19th century market – the largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere – would be irreversibly altered if it went ahead.

Cr Capp said while this was disappointing, the council wanted to move on and address the challenges facing the market while maintaining its heritage.

But a part of the latest proposed revamp – a $6 million plan to have storage and refrigeration at fruit and vegetable stalls – could also raise some concerns.

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Mary-Lou Howie

“Fixed stalls are not part of traditional market operations, we would lose the sense of an open-air market,” said Friends of Queen Victoria Market president Mary-Lou Howie.

Ms Howie also said replacing the open-air car park would “kill the market”. Ms Howie, whose father was a trader at the market, said she often filled the boot of her car twice during her market shops.

She said the new car parks would not be appropriate for market shoppers and traders depended on the convenience of the existing car park.

“Without the car park the market will shrink,” Ms Howie said. The market is Melbourne’s “old city” she says, “and all cities protect their old cities. Not us.”

The latest redevelopment proposal, which will seek in-principle support from Melbourne City councillors next Tuesday night, is part of a $280 million renewal of the site.

The council wants to redevelop the market to ensure it provides a brighter future for the produce and retail centre, parts of which have high vacancy rates.

Apartment development means an extra 22,000 residents will live nearby within five years.

The latest proposal will include centralised waste facilities in Queen Street north and loading facilities, trader storage and amenities and waste management for the Meat and Fish Hall at the G shed site.

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This was a recommendation made by a “people’s panel”, a group of 40 traders, customers and residents, established by the council to help guide it on decisions related to the market.

Economist Marcus Spiller, whose company SGS Economic and Planning completed the business case arguing for a major redevelopment of the market, last year said Queen Victoria Market was “suffering an incremental decline”.

“If you go through the market on any day but Saturday, you will see stalls with hessian shrouds over them – almost like coffins,” he told The Age.

SGS found the latest option to be considered by councillors “costs the least to implement, is the only option likely to pay for itself financially and has the most manageable delivery risks”.

It found that for every dollar spent on the option being considered, $7 would be generated in overall economic benefits.

Mr Wynne said he was pleased the council was protecting the market’s heritage while providing an upgrade to secure its future viability.

“The market is a massive tourist attraction and for locals it’s part of our community,” he said.


The Market Square sounds attractive, however the conundrum is parking. As Marie Lou Howie says in the article, people require convenience that allows them to take their purchases to their cars. Queen and Therry St and the other multistorey parking planned for Franklin St simply is not convenient.

Personally we love the hustle and bustle of the open-air markets, traders hawking their produce, tasty fresh snacks. So please – don’t change it.

But let’s look for a solution that, having acknowledged and saved the heritage aspects, manages to capture and maintain that open air feel, that ‘Old City’ function.

It does tend to bring that Joni Mitchell song to mind – with some confusion. It’s the end game reversed. Parking lot removed and the greenery returned.

This one will be interesting.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

One thought on “The ‘Old City’ – Victoria Market – its essence

  1. Why don’t they build a thick glass floor over the grave sites then build above what lies beneath.
    Anything is possible, the german people produce some amazing building materials we could use.


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