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.

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.