Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Childhood markets, 3: Flemington, western Sydney

Flemington markets, eight o'clock in the morning, 1970's. We've had a long and enervating drive through slow Saturday traffic from our sedate northern suburb to the 'wild west', and now we're in this vast corrugated iron shed, with people shouting, gimlet-eyed bargain hunters running you over with heavily laden trolleys, vegetables squashing underfoot, kids getting lost in the melee...
Maman and Dad both love this place. For Maman, who can 'take or leave' markets when she's in Europe, this is a place that makes her feel she is at home, here in this country that will never be home to her. For Dad, though, the love is there because it's a market, because it's filled with people, with sights, sounds, smells, life to plunge into with gusto, where the colourful noisy swell of multicultural Australia washes over you in a great human wave. For me as a prickly teenager mortified by looking 'different' and by the teasing refusal of our parents to talk English to us in public, it's somewhere that's both relaxing--because here no-one cares a bit if you 'speak foreign' or not but also a bit confronting-- for the same reason. This is a very different Australia to the surfie paradise I imagine my school friends inhabit, and I'm soon overtaken by its vivid atmosphere, forgetting I'm supposed to be trying to be cool in the urge to observe and catalogue and file away things in my head for writing in my notebook later.
There are Italian fruit sellers, Greek olive oil merchants, Turkish sweet-sellers, Anglo vegetable sellers, Arabic souvenir sellers, South American churros vendors, Chinese and Vietnamese greengrocers, Eastern European pickle and smallgoods sellers. There's chickens and ducks and eggs, mounds of fruit and vegetables, carpets and cheap trousers, kebabs and Turkish delight, dried figs and toffee apples. A tiny, very old Chinese woman stops at a stall, prods a vegetable, clucks in annoyance and contempt, while the seller, an enormous brawny fellow with a strong Australian accent calls out indignantly, "Hey, lady! Them's for selling!" Maman and Dad walk rapidly down each aisle, like people possessed, hunting down bargains, while we children drag along in their wake, anxious lest we lose them in the swirling crowds, liking it in some strange, unarticulate way and yet embarassed, too, for here you have to shout and argue and comment and even make loud jokes. There's no mask of reserve, no distance. And so we go along, occasionally clutching at a fallen orange, asking ourselves whether our parents will buy us a toffee apple this time, or whether we'll get an almond biscuit and a sweet black shot of coffee at the Italian cafe, just down the alleyway.

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