Citizens from the recently established Dandenong Improvement Association knew that a market to sell and trade local farmers' livestock and produce would cement the town's position as a regional centre, so in 1863 they petitioned the government for approval to establish a public market in their growing town.
In 1864, amongst public debate as to where to site the market, the Association called a public meeting and a site on the corner of Lonsdale and McCrae St was selected.
The market was leased out to an auctioneer Thomas Rosling, who funded the construction of the required stockyards, sheds and fences.
10th of October 1866 was the first official public market day, selling cattle, pigs and sheep.
Thomas Rosling, with his partners, ran the market for nine years until 1873, when the recently formed Shire of Dandenong took over the operation of the market.
At first held fortnightly, the market was soon a weekly event. By 1870, the market had up to 300 vendors and buyers in attendance. Auctioneers sold livestock, fruit, dairy products, skins, lard, honey, hay and other farm produce. Farmers from throughout the La Trobe Valley and Gippsland travelled to Dandenong to buy and sell.
By the 1880s, the market was attracting attention outside the town: 'It is of moderate size but seems to answer the purpose exceedingly well' wrote a visiting journalist. According to him, the stock sales were 'the glory of the Dandenong Market' and at the produce sales, 'You could buy anything, from a needle to a sewing machine, from a ton of potatoes to the War Cry'.
Shops and businesses were established around the market to service the country visitors and advertised their locations near the market. Tradesmen took as much money on Tuesdays as they did on all the other days of the week.
In 1870 it comprised 311 people, twenty years later in 1890 it was 1,134.
The town benefitted from the presence of the market. Before there were many other public venues, the produce market hall was used for concerts and other social events. A makeshift stage was constructed, chairs, lights and lamps were borrowed and tarpaulins and cloths were strung to make the ‘room’ exclusive.
'Dandenong was just a country town, quiet and sleepy, except on Market Days' said Walker. He remembered how 'the street began filling about 8a.m., and by 10a.m., it was massed with carts, buggies, wagons and nose-bagged horses...', 'droves of bellowing cattle poured in for every Market Day to the sound of cracking whips, shouts and barking dogs—for all the world like a Banjo Patterson poem' and the spruikings of the auctioneer 'could be heard out in the main street, clear above all the rest of the noise'.
In 1926 the Market began relocating to the site where it sits today, on the corner of Clow and Cleeland Streets. 'A commodious shed' housing 69 stalls was erected to house the produce market stallholders, many of whom had operated from the Lonsdale Street kerb.
Finally, on 4 October 1927 the market opened on its new site. The produce hall was on the corner of Clow Street with the stock market sale ring and yards behind it extending up Cleeland Street.
By 1933, crowding and hygiene were again becoming issues and soon the prospect of moving the stock market was again raised.
Meanwhile, the town still had to deal with the chaos of market day. Cattle and other stock were still driven on foot from nearby farms or from the railway station causing chaos in the streets. Frank Whitcombe watched stock unloading at the market: “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.”
As early as 1935, council began to receive serious complaints about stock routes through streets of Dandenong especially from residents of Dandenong West. Lola Marsh lived on Ann Street on one of the stock routes and she recalled that when the cattle were being brought through 'sometimes, you'd go out and find a great cow in your drive-way, with huge horns and it'd be a bit of a job to get it out again'.
During World War II, the market served an important function, providing vital food supplies for the war effort from local farms and factories. An army training camp was established in Dandenong in 1940. Part of the market and the adjoining showgrounds were occupied with the produce hall converted into sleeping quarters for the recruits. In a return to the conditions of the old market, many of the unfortunate stallholders were required to return to selling their wares from the pavements surrounding the market, some without any shelter.
In 1947, a Melbourne journalist in his article Dandenong's colourful market place may be shifted commented: “Livestock and other goods were sold in close proximity. In 1947, all that separated lace and other mercery from the cattle was a fence, panelled to prevent the muck soiling the goods. You step from the fashion salon where ladies frocks are displayed on coat hangers suspended from the roof, through an aperture in the canvas wall and lo, behold, you are in the cattle-sale department, where anything up to 200 milking cows are tethered tightly in rows awaiting sale and being milked by hand or machine before delivery to their new owners...”
Along the street, there was second-hand furniture, dogs, goats and cars all being auctioned in the same yard. There is nothing that can't be sold at Dandenong' declared a journalist: “second hand cars are auctioned with the same ease as a handful of weather-worn harness, and old hurricane lamps find as many buyers as wash troughs and galvanised iron roofing.”
By the 1950s Dandenong was no longer the rural market town of earlier years. In the post war boom of the 1950s, numerous factories were established in and around Dandenong, including major industrial plants that provided employment for a population that had doubled in only 21 years, a population that was becoming increasingly urbanised and multicultural. Another Melbourne journalist tried to sum up the attraction of the Market. 'It has the colour of an ancient Eastern bazaar, the speed and efficiency of a modern supermarket.'
In 1958-9 after almost 90 years of continual arguments and discussions, the stock market was finally removed from the heart of Dandenong, moving to new and purpose built facilities on Cheltenham Road behind the Dandenong rail yards. The first cattle sale was held in January 1958, by October 1959 all the livestock was removed from the old site.
In 1961 the population of Dandenong was 24,000 people and it was one of the most important industrial areas in the state. “Shoppers could encounter the most enterprising personalities and if they knew how to bargain—perhaps buy a bedstead for two shillings, an elderly Rolls-Royce or get caught up with enthusiasm and pay a high price for a leaky saucepan.”
The 1970s heralded a new wave of migration into Dandenong. Many came from countries which still maintained a tradition of market shopping and they were growing part of the Market's customers. Shoppers and stallholders both, reflected Dandenong's diverse population. The great range and variety of fresh produce, goods and merchandise, as well as the wide range of faces, accents, languages encountered provided part of the theatre, entertainment and the experience of visiting the market.
In 1975 the market site was redeveloped. The old produce hall was demolished and new brick produce and fruit halls were built further along Cleeland Street. A plaque on the corner of Cleeland and King Street commemorates their opening in 1976.
In December that year, a six-month trial of Friday openings was launched.
A third market day was added in 1982, with the launch of Saturday trading and Dandenong promoted itself as 'The Market Town'.
In 1993, as an acknowledgement of the sign’s social, cultural and historical significance in Greater Dandenong, the Dandy Pig was given a new lease on life when it was recovered from storage and erected at the Dandenong Produce Market on Clow Street.
The buildings were overhauled again in 1996, with extensions to the fruit and vegetable section and the development of a multi-level car park, as well as new signs, colourful awnings and a new paint job inside and out.
In 1998 the population of Dandenong was 46,000 and the Dandenong Market was attracting 2.5 million visitors a year.
The Dandenong Stock Market which had been operating on its new site in Cheltenham Road since 1958, closed in December 1998, a victim of changes in the sale of livestock.
Between 2005 and 2010 there was a $26 million redevelopment of the Dandenong Market. In 2006, a new loading dock, waste areas and upgrade of infrastructure was carried out. After some opposition an Aldi supermarket was built within the Market precinct, and it opened to the public in 2006. Construction of the new General Merchandise Hall was completed in October 2009 and the Produce hall opened in May 2010. Finally with the completion of the new Meat, Fish and Deli Hall, the new Dandenong Market was officially opened on Saturday 4 June 2011.
On 6 October 2013, Dandenong Market commenced trading on Sundays.
Today Dandenong Market continues to be a vibrant community asset that is loved by both the local and regional community. Like the city itself it has changed and evolved to suit the requirements and expectations of its customers, growing from a livestock and produce market to the one of the premier shopping destination of the southeast and Greater Gippsland area.
Order Dandenong Market: Celebrating 150 Years hard cover coffee table book ($30) from Slattery Media. Copies can also be purchased from Dandenong Market's Market management Office located at 40 Cleeland Street.