Ten years of passionate advocacy for her beloved market
For Mary-Lou Howie, the iconic Queen Victoria Market (QVM) is a place where people can come together to experience a true sense of community.
She has worked tirelessly to preserve its spirit and heritage through lobby group Friends of Queen Victoria Market, and she is celebrating a decade as the group’s president.
“My love of the market is this: it’s the way to shop, it’s about relationships, it’s about people, it’s about wellbeing, it’s about freshness, it’s about food – it’s so many things, and about knowing your traders,” she said.
Having been born and bred in the market, with her family being traders from the mid-40s and 70s, including her father who sold women’s lingerie of the time, Ms Howie said the landmark site was significant in celebrating Melbourne’s diverse and vibrant local produce, artisans, and small businesses.
As a child, she remembers every aisle being “chock-a-block with a kaleidoscope of colour, movement, and sounds”.
“We were introduced to all sorts of exotic fresh food that the Italians grew and came to understand the whole multicultural ethos that was so much a part of the market.”
It’s those early memories and her overall passion for the market that has led Ms Howie to having “more than a few” sleepless nights to ensure the market’s heritage and character are protected for generations to come.
“We are the voice of the community who come here and shop, as well as the traders who are the market.”
Ms Howie, a former teacher, retail owner, and publicity manager for Multicultural Arts Victoria and the Jewish Museum of Australia, said she decided to step into the leadership role after becoming acutely aware of the changes that threatened her beloved market.
“I’m devoted, it’s just about a full-time job,” Ms Howie told CBD News over a coffee at the Market Espresso café in String Bean Alley.
“Market CEOs have come and gone, Lord Mayors come and go, but my dedicated team has stayed … and we don’t earn a penny from advocacy – we do it because we care.”
Speaking of the City of Melbourne’s $268 million renewal of the market, with major works including heritage shed restorations, a new Food Hall, and a new underground Munro carpark, Ms Howie said “a lot of people care about the market and are against what’s happening”.
“Residents are also onboard because what is happening to their amenity is shocking.”
Established in 1878, QVM is the largest open-air market in Australia and the oldest continuously operating market in Melbourne. The site received a national heritage listing in 2018 which recognises its importance to Australia. It is the Friends of QVM’s advocacy that is trying to protect it.
The group, which has a Facebook following of 4500 people, is now hoping to garner enough public pressure to ensure that any plan to proceed with a $1.7 billion development at the market’s southern site (including three towers and the market open air car park being converted into a park) would be reconsidered, which they believed would compromise the market’s integrity and viability.
While many markets around the world have evolved and gentrified, Ms Howie said, “they have become bland, homogenised, soulless versions of themselves,” and contended QVM should “dare to be different”.
It should go against this trend to retain what we’ve got, because it works, and it is needed as a fresh food and general market. •
Caption: Mary-Lou Howie, president of the Friends of Queen Victoria Market, with traders and community members. Photos: Hanna Komissarova.