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Eastern Market


The haymarket on the corner of Bourke and Stephen (later Exhibition) Streets provided the necessary fuel for the working horses - later to grow to about one million in number - which allowed Melbourne to function and grow. The inner city was growing and the main haymarket moved further afield close to the roundabout which now bears its name, while its former had transitioned into a produce and general purpose market known as the Eastern Market. The adjoining theatre still flourished - particularly when Coppin was able to bring out the most famous Shakespearian actor of the day, Charles Kean. Appearing a five year old on the same stage was a girl who was also to leave her mark on Melbourne - Nellie Stewart.

The market was so successful that it was drawing large numbers and also acting as a magnet for the unemployed with time on their hands. Victoria’s colonial government became concerned as they were alerted to its potential as a gathering point for malcontents only one block away from the steps of Parliament itself. Some lobbied for its demolition.

The market continued to flourish. So did the Haymarket Theatre while Mr Lyster ran opera seasons featuring many more works and performances than available in Melbourne today. But oil painted sets and gas and candle light don’t make a good mix and the theatre eventually burnt down leading to a reconstruction of the market as a whole together with an impressive facade. The revamped market continued bigger and better than ever. One discount bookseller had a flair for marketing and gradually expanded to take up one full aisle. He expanded into publishing and his books became a favourite as did a visit to his arcade with changing array of entertainments. He later shifted down the hill to his own arcade. He would no doubt be bemused at the modern Melbourne Central which ran a One Day Shopping Festival with wandering entertainers - things that were available in his arcade on a daily basis.

By the 1920s an array of dodgy businesses were loosely associated with market. Newsboys slept rough in the nearby lanes until some philanthropic citizens set up the Newsboys’ Club. Squizzy Taylor was a regular visitor and after a the notorious Gun Alley murder an Eastern Market wine store owner was convicted and hanged - then recently posthumously pardoned - but that’s another story for another time.

As the fabric of the market gradually decayed it was eventually demolished and replaced with a shopping mall and five star hotel - The Southern Cross. When the Southern Cross (which had a considerably shorter lifespan than other buildings associated with the site) was due to be demolished, the obligatory actors turned up to protest its demise. Were they there to protect the legacy of actor/impresario George Coppin? No. Were they there to celebrate William Saurin Lyster’s ground-breaking opera seasons which helped put Melbourne on the international stage? No. Were they there to honour the independent-thinking E.W.Cole whose funny picture books which children still find intelligent, informed and irreverent 100 years on? No. The site was significant to Melbourne’s culture, they said, because The Beatles had once appeared on the awnings of the Southern Cross Hotel. The media were quick to echo their cultural judgement.

Each block of Melbourne has its own soundscape if you choose to pause and listen. You need to conjure it up yourself of course, but you’re capable of that if you give yourself a little time. In this block you might be able to hear sound of horses bringing the hay to market, the spruikers at the oyster bars - the fast food of the day - touting their wares, the muffled tones seeping out from Lyster’s Opera Company performing in the theatre, the whispered deals being transacted under the verandas and possible the discussions of earnest men and women anxious to have a hand in shaping Melbourne’s future. Hear that thick Italian accent - I think that’s Professor Alberto Zelman . . .

You may be interested in 7 Melbourne Events that were Bigger Than The Beatles at:

Or the previous 5 icons in this series which can be found at:


You can find a comprehensive guide to markets around Australia at The White Hat Guide to Markets in Australia.