Immigrant Jigsaw Puzzle
Recently, I was at the Paddy’s Haymarket. Did I hear the vendors exchanging conversations in Chinese? It took me by surprise! This was Sydney, Australia! But here was a migrant community. People who had made Australia their new 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 operates daily. You can’t miss the brick-red walls of this Edwardian architecture, as soon as you turn off the main Town Hall street, into the lane leading to the market. Tourists flock here for cheap bargains and often stop right in middle of the lane .. cameras clicking click, click.
This iconic building, is a contrast to the modern high-rise glass structures at Town Hall and standing majestically aloof from the shabby old buildings of Chinatown area.
Piecing the jigsaw puzzle:
Australia is original home to the Aboriginals, a distinct indigenous community. They are known for nomadic ways, natural living style, clan behaviour and living in isolation. The European sea farers, outlaws and the gold diggers that descended upon Australia, changed the status and outlook of the country. As farmers, wine growers, setting up law and order, schools the Aboriginals were displaced. Two distinct Australian communities but not one set up shop and earned his living here. I wonder why?
Enter the Chinese. They are the oldest immigrants that arrived into Australia during 1850’s. 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. Today, Chinatown outside this market is a buzzing place full of restaurants, shops and housing estates. This market in Sydney with so many Asian vendors speaks volumes isn’t it?
The red and gold Chinese lanterns hanging from the 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 to smile about life and make efforts wherever you are.
All is not easy, said the busy, young Malaysian lady handing me packets of exotic Dragon fruit and baby corn. She had to take English lessons for six months, and work as a cleaner in the evenings to support herself. ‘To the customers we talk Chinese /Australian accent, but between our community, we quickly shout out in Mandarin’ she laughed.
And where is home? I inquired. Generally ethnic communities prefer to lived huddled together in suburban enclaves -Redfern, Paramatta, Chatswood. ‘Housing is cheaper and easier to get support from our community’ remarked an elderly Chinese vendor, speaking near fluent English. His children attend public school, and they correct his English at home, he laughs. Ethnic suburbs are great way to interact during cultural programmes, he added.
Because this was an Asian market I could buy some tofu, Bok choy, lettuce and baby asparagus. Other curious young Malaysian Chinese, Vietnamese Chinese and Filipino vendors peeped into my camera. They joked ‘ We are instant heroes’ laughing away their daily struggles and adjustments to this foreign culture. Once home, food is comfort – chicken rice, dumplings and noodles.
Enter – Lebanese, Turks, Arabs.
Want a piece of Turkey ? Just like in the bazaars of Istanbul, jute cloth sacks filled with fresh aromatic powders stood majestically in this shop. Traditional aluminium containers adorned the counters, with mountain peaks of coloured powders. A perfect picture! Now try painting this: 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 and black in the mustard. I stood there taking deep inhalations, filling my senses with those strong aromas.
The elderly Turkish owner, caressing his white beard and adjusting his cap, soon guided me through the healing nature of these herbs. Arriving in Sydney as a refugee, many years ago, with hardly a penny in the pocket and no knowledge of English, was no mean task. 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?’ ‘My European customers buy much more than you’ he shrugged.
The Turks, Lebanese, Syrians have indeed been a major contributing community. I’ve heard of a Lebanese market in suburban Paramatta that sells authentic Lebanese herbs and food items. Turkish and Lebanese food is very popular in Sydney, with many restaurants dotted all over. See here for another Sydney market.
Enter – Fijian Indians.
One small shop tucked away in the front row was selling cosmetics and watches. The couple serving at this stall had arrived from Fiji islands. Dark skinned, wearing traditional long Fijian skirts and a blouse, the lady spoke to me in Fijian Hindi, a dialect. They moved here selling their house and farmland, looking to Australia for better future for their children and more job opportunities for the family men. ‘Home to them is still Fiji – a land bountiful with coconut trees, mangoes and plenty of fresh vegetables’ she smiled.
Enter – European settlers
My eye caught the colourful Easter poster pasted on one wall announcing holiday trading hours. Bright Easter bunny chocolates and treats would soon make way into the market. A gentle reminder of local European cultures and traditions that the migrant community need to embrace, along with their customary celebrations
Taking one last view of the colourful fruits and vegetables, souvenirs, watches and swim wear was a market bustling with activity, like any other in the world. The people in it contributed to it’s existence. Unknowingly, I gave one nod of acknowledgement to this robust, enterprising migrant community. The new face of Sydney, Australia. Pride and gratitude swelled within me.
I had to take home one souvenir of the first people here. A bag with distinct Aboriginal design. Dots and lines traced in bold black and red colours to create a piece of simple Aboriginal Art. Goodbye, Sydney.
Have you met any immigrants in Sydney ? What are their stories?
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