tributeThe Metropolitan MarketsWords Roy Schultz My earliest recollection of these markets goes right back to when I must have been very young. I was with my family one cold evening standing around a 44-gallon drum that had been filled with firewood and set alight. We were all standing around it trying to keep warm and eating prawns. Mum and Dad must have bought them from a small wholesale fish business that was there at the time. We were near the road that ran from the West Perth subway directly up to Wellington Street at that time and there were small businesses associated with the markets down each side of the road. As a child, we were allowed to go to the markets with Dad in the afternoon after school… this did not happen often as I remember him going in to the markets mainly in the early mornings in the early days. You had the choice of taking in your produce in the afternoon, before the sale days, or early on the morning of the sale days, which were Monday, Wednesday and Friday... In those days, all produce was handled by hand. There were very few forklifts in use in the markets for two very good reasons: one was that all the market floors were about four or five feet off the ground, so they were level with the average height of a truck tray... ; the other reason was that growers’ produce was not sent to market on pallets, as it is these days, and every item had to be loaded on and off the trucks by hand. “All root crops and marrows were marketed in half potato sacks. The growers cut them in half and sewed together the bottom of the top half to make two sacks… cabbages were marketed in large chaff bags, which are bags that had been used for chaff for horses. They were very large bags and when full of cabbages they were very heavy to load on to your truck in the garden and to unload at the markets. Pumpkins were all marketed in potato sacks. Cauliflowers were all individually handled. They had to be carried out to a truck from the garden beds and stacked in a special way on the truck so that they stayed in a stack on the way to market. Then each one had to be carried from the truck and stacked on the market floor in small heaps waiting to be sold. I think you had to make up cases yourself to market lettuces and celery. The whole business was very slow and timeconsuming compared to the forklift operation today. Once the siren sounded and the auction floors began selling, there was a great atmosphere of hustle and bustle, and noise. The auctioneer on each floor would be going flat out, taking bids and selling each grower’s product in turn as they progressed down the line. Buyers would be rushing from floor to floor to buy the produce they wanted. There were growers of very good produce, whose produce always sold well and commanded the best prices of the day. Buyers would run from floor to floor to try to secure these lines... Buyers would sell their empty bags and boxes to dealers, and growers could then go to these dealers and buy them to re-use in the garden. I did this on many occasions over the years. All growers’ trucks had to be unloaded and out of the markets by 7am sharp. At this time, a siren used to sound and all of the buyer’s trucks were then allowed to come into the markets and park so that they could load the produce that they purchased. The buyer’s trucks waiting to come into the markets proved to be a real problem for the Metropolitan Markets Trust, which ran the markets, and the police… There was keen competition among them to enter the markets first, to obtain the best location to park to load up their vehicles. They all wanted to be first in and they had to form a long queue, which extended from the market entrance in Market Place out onto Wellington Street and a considerable distance down this street… This in turn created traffic problems for other road users. With the development of new growing areas in Geraldton, Carnarvon and Kununurra, large semi-trailer trucks were needed to bring produce to the markets and they were far too big in length to manoeuvre around the old market laneways. Established in 1929, when they relocated from the original markets (thought to be in James Street, Northbridge), it was at a time when trucks were quite small and there were still some horse and carts still operating. By 1980, things had changed so much that it was urgent to relocate again… The Metropolitan Markets shifted to Canning Vale. It was a sad day when the old markets finally closed, although there was excitement at the prospect of starting afresh. The West Perth market was so alive and so full of market atmosphere. Especially on sale days, with the auctions in full swing and the hustle and bustle associated with it, it was full of personality. People were all thrown together because of the size of the place. While the size was full of problems, to a very large degree it was what kept everyone together and made this old market such a special place to work in and be part of. It was a world of its own and I am very glad that I was part of it for many years. Contact us on comms@vegetableswa. if you would like acopy of the digital book.