During my recent visit to Sydney, I decided to visit the Paddy’s Haymarket. And to my utter surprise I did hear the vendors exchanging conversations in Chinese! This was Sydney, Australia! It was first time as a visitor I came across a migrant community in the market, people who had made Australia their home.
Paddy’s Haymarket, is a short walk from Town Hall station, in Sydney’s commercial district. Situated inside a 1950’s building complex this wholesale market caters to selling fresh fruit and vegetables. It is open every day. As soon as you turn off the main Town Hall street into market lane, you cannot miss the brick-red imposing architecture in Edwardian style. Very touristy indeed! Mostly Asian tourists come here for cheap bargains, cameras going click, click, click. This iconic building is in sharp contrast to the modern high-rise glass buildings around Town Hall.
A little history of the people of Australia and arrival of migrants needs space here. Australia, is a home to the Aboriginals, an indigenous community. They are known for nomadic ways, and a natural living style in clans. The European arrived later by sea as outlaws, gold diggers, and religious torch bearers in the 1800’s. Scene change. They adopted this country and began tilling the land and setting up new law and order, schools and farms and grape growing districts. Two distinct Australian peoples – the Aborigines and the migrants now share the country space.
Then came the Asian /Chinese immigrants around 1850’s. Hardships abundant as they arrived into an English speaking, affluent country, far away from their own regions, disturbing family unity and trying to adapt into a new culture. Poor knowledge of spoken English and tight immigrant laws, pushed these migrants into low-end work as cleaners, gardeners, drivers, and small shop owners. Keen business acumen and hard work paid off.
Chinatown today, just opposite this market entrance is a buzzing place full of restaurants, shops and housing estates. Paddy’s market itself has so many Asian vendors, its a big community celebration during Chinese New Year, said one of them.
Seeing the red and gold Chinese lanterns hanging from the market ceiling brought back memories of Singapore market and Chinese festivities. I loved those New year dolls pasted on the pillars – smiling faces as if reminding one keep the smile on the face and brave challenges that come your way.
“All is not easy” said the young Malaysian lady handing me packets of exotic Dragon fruit and baby corn. ” I took English lessons for six months, and worked as a cleaner in the evenings to support myself.” Then she added ‘To the customers we talk Chinese /Australian accent, but between our community, we quickly shout out in Mandarin” when angry and tired.
Ethnic communities in Sydney as in other parts of the world, prefer to live huddled together mostly in suburban enclaves. A sense of community builds up, cultural celebrations and schooling needs are thus looked after. Chinese concentration is in Redfern, Paramatta, Chatswood areas, along with other Indian and Vietnamese migrants. An elderly Chinese vendor, here since 20 years at this stall laughed at how his grandchildren who attend public school, correct his English language when at home.
This Asian market was paradise – tofu, Bok choy, bean sprouts, lettuce and baby asparagus. Perfect to make a quick stir fry for dinner. Curious young vendors from other Asian countries peeped into my camera photos and joked ‘ We are instant heroes’ as if laughing away their daily struggles.
I was in for another surprise! A piece of Turkish bazaar with spices neatly lined up in authentic jute bags. Hmmmm…spicy aroma filled the air. For bazaar of Istanbul see here.
Mountain peaks of coloured spice powders in shining stainless bowls, so inviting! Bright yellow turmeric, black nigel seeds, white sesame seeds, green oregano, red chilli flakes, brown cumin and coriander powder, deep green mint and hints of yellow/ black mustard. Deep inhalation…filling my senses with those strong aromas.
The elderly Turkish owner, caressing his white beard smiled at me…’Industani’ he queried? guiding me through the healing nature of each herb. Arriving in Sydney as a refugee, more than 50 years ago, with hardly a penny in the pocket and not a word of spoken English. He cleaned dishes in restaurants and ate left overs. Today, his son and family help him manage this very popular shop. He looked as me in discouraging tone ‘Only 50 grams of strong ginger and 50 grams of turmeric powders?’ I smiled and replied “Australian dollar is steeper than my Indian currency” and he gave me a knowing nod.
Turkish, Lebanese and Syrians have been a major migrants of late. I’ve heard of a popular Lebanese market in suburban Paramatta, and encountered a Turkish food stall at the Sydney airport and open air Gozleme ( spinach pancakes) sold near the Sydney Opera house. See here .
Haymarket is one sure melting pot of more communities! A small shop tucked away behind sold cosmetics and watches. The dark skinned Fijian woman owner was wearing a traditional long Fijian skirt and blouse. She spoke Fijian Hindi, a dialect. They had migrated to Australia …only by selling their house and farmland back home. She talked fondly of the coconut trees and mangoes in their own yard.
After purchasing a small souvenir bag with Aboriginal design it was time to catch the bus home. Filled with a deeper understanding of troubles and trials of one generation of migrants this market turned out a story spinner than a bagful of vegetables! Have you heard any migrant stories in Australia?
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