Historic Market Gardens in Sydney

Chinese Market Gardens, Matraville 1970s

In my proposed online documentary I want to explore both Sydney’s original market gardens as well as the community gardens that exist today. Chinese market gardens once thrived in Sydney in areas such as Matraville and La Perouse but have unfortunately dwindled in numbers, usually sold off for development. Or in the case of La Perouse Chinese Market Garden the threat of being annexed by Botany Cemetery:

One of the few market gardens remaining in Sydney today.
Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mariafranklin/4609477305/

These gardens form an important part of Sydney’s history and would provide great perspective in documentary form alongside contemporary market gardens and community gardens. An article featured in the Sydney Morning Herald in January by John Newton highlights the rich history of the gardens:

Before the 1850s, the city was surrounded by market gardens, many owned by wealthy businessmen. After the gold rush, they were gradually taken over by Chinese gold miners.
A few years ago, Norman Lee, who was born in Chinatown in 1913, recalled produce arriving at the City Municipal Vegetable Market in Haymarket [now Paddy’s Markets], which opened in 1938.

”They would load up their [horse-drawn] carts in the evening and travel through the night to reach the market by dawn,” Lee said. ”They came from Mascot, Rockdale, Kogarah, Rose Bay – they grew beautiful celery in Rose Bay because of the sandy soil – La Perouse and Roseville.”

Haymarket circa 1900. Source: The Powerhouse Museum

Happy Valley Shanty town

My online documentary would also provide the opportunity to illuminate the little known shanty town known as ‘Happy Valley’. During the Great Depression when unemployment was as high as 40% a handful of unemployment camps appeared around Sydney including Happy Valley near Anzac Parade in La Perouse. According to migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au:

By 1900 many of the gardens had been taken over by large merchants in Dixon and Hay streets in Sydney who paid low wages with food and board to sponsored labourers from China. The Immigration Restriction 1901 Act required the workers to live and work at the gardens and not move elsewhere without permits. The men lived in basic shacks made from corrugated iron. Food was cooked on open fires and they worked seven days a week. Most of them were single and Chinese prostitutes were known to visit the Matraville gardens once a week.

Happy Valley Unemployment Camp circa 1932. Source: State Library of NSW

How I’d incorporate historic market gardens into my online documentary:

Chinese Market Garden, La Perouse 1980s

Sources such as Historic Houses Trust and the Powerhouse Museum are such valuable resources with a wealth of photographs and newspaper clippings. I would ultimately like to create a pastiche of vintage photos and audio files if possible. In addition I’d add footage of the locations today, particularly the market gardens that are still active. I’d love to include videos such as the following ‘Working by the Weather’ (2011) by Hoplite & Packhorse:

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