The Queen Victoria Markets – 99% Safe.

For many in Melbourne, a visit to the Queen Victoria Market is a weekly ritual.


Originally it was a ‘meat market’. Down by the Flinders St Railway Viaduct from Spencer St to King Street was the Fish Market, quite an extraordinary building. Up the hill from the Fish Market on the block bounded by Williams St, Market St and Collins St were the Western Markets, where produce and all types of goods were on offer. Across the city on Exhibition St bounded by Bourke St and Lt Collins St were the Eastern Markets – well known for produce, goods from the Far East and other interesting items. Ultimately, whilst the others were all demolished either early in the 20th century or the remnants later in the 20th century, the trade shifted to the Queen Victoria Markets. In the 1950s and 1960s Queen Victoria Market was predominantly a Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Market.

The change to becoming a popular retail market came in the 1960s when the Wholesale Market was removed to Footscray Rd on reclaimed swampland. The advances in refrigeration and transport saw the need for a purpose built facility. The Queen Victoria Market was essentially an infrastructure built to be serviced by Horse and Dray with little or no refrigeration.


Western Markets

The Western Markets were established in December 1841 – a little more than 6 years after the establishment of the fledgling Port Phillip Colony. It commenced life as a General Market but gradually became a Wholesale Market, operating for over 90 years.


Eastern Markets

The Eastern Markets were established in 1847 also starting as a General Market but gradually attracting Market Gardeners and Fruit Merchants. Over 224 stands were operated by the growers and those who dealt in fresh produce – fruit and vegetables. It was estimated that over a thousand growers used the market over the full year.

So as was earlier stated these two markets were absorbed into the Queen Victoria Market which became the new hub for Victoria’s fruit and vegetable industry. One of our colleague’s grand-uncle was a Flower Grower – Daffodils, jonquils and other bulbs. In the early 20th century both during and after the great war, he would drive a horse and dray with his flowers first to the Eastern Markets and then to the Queen Victoria in later years, leaving at 7.00pm the evening before from Boronia and Bayswater for the long journey to the city.

There is a rich history, a vibrant and living history of Melbourne in our Market culture and history. Generations of migrants both worked and traded at the various markets – Jewish, Italian, Greek and Chinese – for over 150 years. Until 1978 the Markets were all controlled and managed by the City of Melbourne. That year the Market Trust was established and in 1993 the Melbourne Market Authority was established to replace the Market Trust and manage the Footscray Rd Wholesale Market site. Footscray Rd had been officially opened by then Premier Sir Henry Bolte on October 30th 1969.

The real irony is that it is the City of Melbourne formerly under Robert Doyle that  planned to introduce a refurbishment ultimately rejected by Heritage Victoria.

Heritage Victoria is a Government agency that comes under the auspices of the Planning Department and its Minister Richard Wynne, under Premier Daniel Andrews Labor Government.

With Robert Doyle’s untimely demise both the Acting Lord Mayor Aaron Wood and Doyle’s ultimate replacement the new Lord mayor Sally Capp sought to press on with a modified version of the original plan submitted to Heritage Victoria under Doyle’s reign. However it has become increasingly obvious that the project is simply not going to proceed.


Now – in steps the Federal Government. With the smell of Elections in the air both at the State and Federal level, Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has announced on Sunday July 22nd the Queen Victoria Market had been placed on the National Heritage list for its outstanding value to the nation.

It simply means that prior to any development plan of significant impact, it must first be assessed by the Federal Environment Department with regard to the site’s Heritage Listing. That would seem to be game, set and match. However it is a very curious decision based on the development plan mooted essentially having been driven by the Liberal Party notables such as Doyle other Liberal Councillors and a swag of interested developers.

It becomes ‘curiouser and curiouser’. Here is a reprint of the Age article dated 21st of July 2018.

Josh Frydenberg grants Queen Victoria Market national heritage listing


The Queen Victoria Market will on Sunday be added to the National Heritage List – joining the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Bondi Beach and the Australian War Memorial among 114 listed sites around the country.

While the listing does not prohibit Melbourne City Council’s planned $250 million redevelopment of the market, it adds a further layer of complexity to revamping the site.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg will on Sunday announce he has listed the market on the register.

Its listing means that any development plan “likely to have a significant impact” on the site’s heritage must be assessed by the federal environment department before it can proceed.

The move follows a Heritage Victoria ruling in March that ground to a halt the city council’s plans for major renovation works.

The council had planned to temporarily remove four of the market’s 140-year-old sheds and dig three levels of parking and storage areas for traders beneath them.

The refurbished structures would then have been returned to where they have stood since 1878.

But Heritage Victoria told the council it did not accept assurances the sheds could be returned in their original condition.

The council is now reviewing its plans.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the new heritage protection – which the city council applied for in 2015 – would not hamper the market’s redevelopment.

“The heritage listing and renewal can exist side-by-side and both are incredibly important,” she said.

Cr Capp said she hoped national heritage protection would “once and for all” convince those people with concerns about the redevelopment “that the renewal will stay true to what people love about the Queen Victoria Market”.

She said the millions of dollars the council wanted to spend on the market would restore its heritage buildings and secure its place as a traditional open-air market.

The application by Melbourne City Council to obtain a national heritage listing says the market “demonstrates the importance of fresh produce markets to colonial settlements, and the way people accessed fresh produce at the time”.

Mr Frydenberg said the listing “celebrates the vibrant living culture and character of the Queen Victoria Market”.

“For almost 150 years, it has sustained Melbourne, first as a meat market and then as a food and produce market.”

An estimated 6500 burial sites remain under the Queen Victoria Market’s sheds, stores and car park, which sit on the edge of Melbourne CBD and are increasingly surrounded by apartment developments.

The cemetery is the largest early colonial cemetery in Australia, and was a resting place for both settlers and Aboriginal people who died before 1854.

“The colour, noise and traditions of market trading continue to this day within the Victorian-era structures, layout and fittings that make it such a grand old part of the Australian story,” Mr Frydenberg said.

Other Melbourne sites on the National Heritage places list include the Royal Exhibition Building, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Rippon Lea and Flemington Racecourse.


What it ultimately demonstrates is that genuine people power can stop the seemingly unstoppable. The development has seen major opposition with it remaining a major sticking point for the newly incumbent Mayor Sally Capp. One can’t help but wonder whether this latest action has had a dual purpose – gain some brownie points for the Federal Government with Victoria’s population – and also extract the new Mayor out of what has proven to be a very unpopular project.


So you be the judge. But ultimately the result in our opinion is solid – it’s rather fantastic actually that such a genuine historic icon, an integral part of Melbourne’s real heritage lives on to fight another day!

Excuse me now, I have to drop down to Peel St for the fruit and veg. Meet you in the Produce Hall for a macchiato and cannoli.

Bon appétit.

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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.