Dandenong Market has been the cornerstone of bustling community life for almost 150 years. It was at this weekly meeting place that livestock was bought and sold, fresh produce was traded, and life-long friendships were born and sealed.
Dandenong Market is Melbourne’s second oldest and second largest Market. The market has played a central role in the development of the ‘Gateway to Gippsland’, supporting local farmers and small business in the Greater Dandenong area since 1866. In 2016, Dandenong Market will be celebrating its 150th birthday.
Dandenong Market’s heritage paints a magnificent picture of how Dandenong grew to become such a vibrant place. The first European Settlement of the Dandenong district in the late 1840s found there was a huge need for a meeting and trading centre for the growing community.
By 1850, the whole area had been taken up for grazing and a road was made in 1865, making Dandenong only a days travel from Melbourne by horse and buggy. With the Dandenong community thriving, locals petitioned for a Market in 1863 and, in 1864, the Colonial Government officially granted approval for the development of the Dandenong Market.
Dandenong Market was officially open for business on 10 October 1866, on the intersection of Lonsdale and McCrae Streets. Early market traders sold livestock, fruit, dairy products and other farm produce. It was not long before the stock sales were surrounded by local farmers selling surplus produce and a multicultural array of merchants were selling an amazing variety of goods.
Throughout the early years, market traders travelled long distances: one Gippsland farmer recalled “carting our butter, eggs and bacon to the Dandenong Market… the journey always took three strenuous days”. Much like today, the Market was also a venue for concerts in the early years. In the late 1800s, a makeshift stage, tarpaulins and cloths were strung to create a concert area, with lights and lamps borrowed for atmosphere.
"Almost all of the cattle at the Dandenong Market were escorted through Dandenong by whip-cracking horsemen. Every Tuesday, drovers and cattle dealers would drive a fairly large mob through the railway gates. A horseman would gallop up each footpath, closing the gates while residents and children watched the scene through the fences or windows."
By 1870 the market started operating weekly with up to 300 vendors and buyers in attendance, general merchandisers traveled from Melbourne to sell city goods to the country visitors. Popular items at the time included native animal hides, straw honey and lard. Whilst honey is still a popular market item, the demand for animal hides and lard has unsurprisingly waned.
Shops and businesses started opening around the market to service the growing amount of visitors and services such as the local library adjusted their opening hours to suit the market trade.
"From here there and everywhere along the roads converging on the market square, milch cows and fat cattle on the hoof, porkers, suckers and backfatters, baconers and vealers come in covered carts and motor vans,… costermongers and hucksters bring in their wares, … townspeople and visitors line the streets, now rapidly crowding with pedestrians and parked cars; and the raucous cries and chaffering from the market stalls… Within the precincts many dialects may be listened to all mingled in the jargon, “Buy! Buy! Buy!” – where anything from a needle and up to and only stopping short of an anchor, is thrust under one’s notice. Dandenong Market is assuredly unique, in spite of its suggestion of a Paddy’s Market, wherein fruit, fish and hosiery, and all of the habiliments of fashion, fur coats and crockery-ware, cabbages and gramophones, pork and other meats, gum boots and garden tools may be had for the asking accompanied by cash payment."
As Dandenong Market grew along with the community around it, bigger premises were required and in 1926 the Market was relocated to its existing site on the corner of Clow and Cleeland Streets where stalls now included fruit, vegetables, confectionery, nursery products, books, flowers, drapery, fish, meat, rabbits, hosiery, clothing, sewing machines, boots and shoes, leatherwear, ironmongery, chemist's goods, groceries, whips and furniture. In 1958 the livestock section of the Market moved to the area on Cheltenham Road, behind the Dandenong railway yards.
Since that time, the City of Greater Dandenong has continued to invest and grow the Market, including a $26 million redevelopment between 2005 and 2010. Dandenong Market continues to be a vibrant community asset that is loved by both the local and regional community.