Story by Carolina Ramos, Study Abroad⎜Photo by Carolina Ramos
Anyone that visits or lives in Melbourne, Australia, is familiar with the Queen Victoria Market. Centrally located in the city’s downtown area, Queen Victoria Market, or Queen Vic as some kindly call it, is one of the city’s most popular landmarks. As the largest open market in the Southern Hemisphere, there is a lot to do there, and as an exchange student in Melbourne, I’ve come to appreciate this space weekly.
The first time I visited the market, I was amazed by its size. It reminded me of a much larger version of Haymarket that we have in Boston. As I shopped there, my eyes were filled with the vivid colors of the beautifully fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which I did not even recognize. People shouted trying to persuade or bargain with you to purchase their items and I walked around looking for the best deals. As I made my way through the crowded walkways to the indoor part of the market, I was excited by the number of free samples of cheese, bread and dips that were offered. The place was beautiful to me, and it immediately became one of my favorite spots in the city.
Queen Victoria Market also offers special night events where endless food stands are set up. It becomes quite easy to get lost inside the market, and it is overwhelming to try and choose what type of food you want for dinner. The atmosphere is electric as everyone is pushed together due to the enormous number of people present, and the place vibrates with energy and music.
The magic of Queen Victoria Market lies in its visitors: people from all walks of life come together to enjoy the atmosphere. You will encounter families walking around pushing strollers with their little ones, students rushing to get the best deals, older people who take their time checking every aisle to get the most delicious looking vegetable and tourists who cannot take two steps without stopping for a photograph. This vivacious, architecturally beautiful and culinarily interesting place does not escape from anyone’s Instagram posts, locals and foreigners alike. Although I visited the market on various occasions, I only came to know its history halfway through my stay in Australia, and it is unknown to the majority of its visitors.
Since it first opened its doors in the 1860s, the market has stood tall and has been a crucial part of Melbourne, undergoing numerous expansions. Although it is a beloved landmark, there is some controversy around the market. Where Queen Vic now stands there used to be a cemetery. This cemetery was the first one ever established in Melbourne, so many people lay to rest there. In fact, the controversy revolves around who is buried there – Aboriginal Australians. This means that every time that people visit the market, they are literally stepping on the graves of Aboriginal Australians. In 2006, the Aboriginal Heritage Act was passed, setting out to protect places of significance to Aboriginal people in the Victoria area. This means that the Old Melbourne Cemetery area cannot be dug into because it would further disrupt and disrespect the Aboriginal Australians buried there. Even with these protections, some people still feel that it is not sufficient, especially considering the historical context of how badly Aboriginal Australians were treated by the Europeans. Meanwhile, others also feel like Queen Victoria Market should be protected as a historic landmark.
The history of Queen Vic is not the most picturesque, and it gave me pause when I learned about it. I had been enjoying a place, taking pictures and posting about it on Instagram without knowing the full story. This experience made me understand that I can still enjoy Queen Vic, but I need to know its historical context. When traveling or living abroad, learning the history of the place I am going to is fundamental to better understand the location, its culture and its people, adding to my personal growth and experiences.