On what was once the outskirts of Melbourne, at the foothills of the Dandenong Range in Scoresby, 25 km from Melbourne, are the Caribbean Gardens. There’s a lake, Lake Caribbean; markets, the Caribbean Market. Nearby are the Caribbean business park and a large display yard full of boats, Caribbean boats.
The market is a drive away. Like just about everywhere else in Melbourne, Australia’s second city in size after Sydney, you need a car. And they come in their thousands in hundreds of cars. The markets are open three days a week but this, Sunday, is the busiest day. It’s a family day out with rides for the kids, live music and heaps of things to buy.
Entrance is $2.50 per person, discounted for children. The parked cars line up in the fields in row after row like multi-coloured gravestones in a military cemetery. Fitting then that the lines of cars are overseen by two military tanks, looking somewhat out of place, but a great attraction for children climbing all over them.
The drive to Scoresby, a suburb of Melbourne took 30 minutes from St. Kilda, a seaside suburb east of the city centre. Melbourne is a vast sprawl interconnected by speedy dual carriageways. Over this road system is laid a network of pay-as-you-go freeways. Inner city Melbourne is well served by public transport. As of 2011, it had the world’s largest tramway network, and rail and bus routes. It’s a much maligned system run by private franchises since the late 1990s, and one, according to many users and public transport academics, that has failed commuters. Out in the ‘burbs where most locals can only afford to live, is definitely the realm of the motor car.
Melbourne has per capita one of the largest carbon emissions footprints in the world and you can see why. A rite of passage for young Australians is on their 18th birthday they become eligible to legally drive, the significance of which means more than being legally able to buy alcohol, drink in pubs or vote. Having a set of wheels trumps all.
The market is on Ferntree Gully Road. Melbourne, much like Australia, is predominantly flat, so it’s a surprise to see what passes for a hill leading to the market entrance. There is a public bus that stops just outside the entrance but the car has been adopted for convenience. Here, the pedestrian is virtually a third-class citizen.
Once past the pay booths it’s onto the inevitable car park. Aside from driving around Melbourne once you reach a destination you then have to find a park, which is followed by trying to find your vehicle again to leave and then find the exit. Some car parks have intersections and traffic lights all of which bring the inevitable queue. At least this is easier at the Caribbean it being outdoors, than at the covered, multi-storied concrete car parks that are part of any hyper-market and shopping centre.
Melbourne is a city where public transport operates effectively in the inner core but struggles to keep pace with development and population increase. On average up to 1,700 people a week move into Melbourne, its total population surging towards four million. In recent years over 93,000 souls were added to the population and suburbs now extend almost 60 kilometres from the city centre.
The market has been operating since 1965. Back then there were only a handful of traders selling wares from their car boots and water ski shows. Today it is comprised of up to 1,500 undercover stalls housed under a giant factory-sized corrugated iron roof.
Products ranging from fresh produce, accessories of all descriptions, a computer and IT section, household goods, clothing for all shapes and sizes, pirated DVDs, kitchen ware, copycat sports goods including shoes and clothing. The DVDs are of questionable quality. I’m unsure whether the sporting goods are legitimate or not, though some look okay.
Some of it is tacky, some a bargain, some could’ve fallen off the back of a truck. Not much haggling goes on, prices seem fairly set.
The Caribbean is as much for children as it is for shopping. The market and gardens are more of a family day out. There’s a mini-train ride around the lake, weaving in and out of the islands. There is animal spotting on the ‘Jungle Cruise’ and a Chairlift ride over the lake.
The markets began in 1945 when an A.W. Spooner acquired 300 acres of land at Scoresby which he named "Dalmore Park’. Here he built an imitation French provincial mansion, as you do in rural Melbourne.
Apparently in 1958, whilst overseas, he noticed a new material, fibreglass, and realised its potential for the boat-building industry. Not long after, he established the Caribbean Boat Factory, down the road. It soon became necessary to have a lake for testing the boats and in the early 1960s Lake Caribbean was created.
It was subsequently opened to the public and developed by one of his sons, as Caribbean Gardens.
The whole site covers 100 acres hidden behind a large factory making something out of molasses and what appears to be the original home of the landowner, or perhaps the factory manager’s residence. The latter, though rather grand, now seems curiously out-of-place both in location and size, it being dwarfed by silos and warehouses.
Melbourne is known for its markets. There’s the inner city Victoria Market near Carlton at the top of Swanston Street, and South Melbourne Market off Clarendon Street near Albert Park. Prices aren’t necessarily any cheaper than regular shopping but many go along for the atmosphere. The tourists go along too, as both are marked on the list of ‘things to do’ in any Melbourne guide.
The value of Melbourne’s inner city markets hasn’t escaped the notice of local councils. About three years ago the cost of renting a stall at the South Melbourne market shot up by 50 percent, a move that threatened to drive out many stall holders claiming the increases would ruin their business.
Melbourne is an ethnic melting pot. Like America, immigration “made” Australia. The city is as culturally diverse as any on the planet. It is home to the second largest Greek community outside of Athens.
This diversity is reflected at the Caribbean Market. The stall holders are representative of just about every ethnic group you can think of. There are Mediterraneans next to Middle Eastern, East Africa and the Indian Sub-continent; North Asia and Southeast Asia, Pacifica peoples and Anglophiles.
Missing, as is so often the case in this, the so-called “Lucky Country” are the original inhabitants, the Aborigines. Lucky then for some but not for them, marginalised for last 200 years in their own land where they first arrived 40,000 years ago. The term “Lucky Country” was originally coined by journalist turned author, Donald Horne, and was the title of his book about the post-war Australia, and heavily laced with irony. Latter day Aussies have stripped the irony and adopted the term for themselves literally.
Given this diversity, Australia is not without racial problems. One visiting English (black) comic referred to Australia as being like London, but in the 1960s. “They sell cheese in the supermarket called “Coon Cheese”’ he said. “They even advertise it on TV. But ask Australians about it and they become defensive. “It’s just name.” “Yeah, well,” he retorted, “so is the Ku Klux Klan but they don’t advertise sheets!”
There’s the Caribbean café and take away with seating for up to 250 people and numerous takeaway food stalls, most of it fast food. There’s live music, a rock ban band blasting out covers like the Doors’ ‘Roadhouse Blues’ a cover of a cover.
Then there’s a man playing a guitar painted with the Australian flag with “Scruffy” written across it, a one-man band. He plays the guitar and sings. He’s surrounded by fluffy animals that also play instruments including Wacca, a koala the “Gumtree Drummer”.
The crowd are usually children with their parents. The kids are encouraged to join in and play along, which can result in quite a scene. Slim has been doing this for years looks like he’s walked off the farm or a film set of a the farm.
The Caribbean comes with an aviary; small, brown and enclosed. Sadly it looks like a jailhouse for birds. To discourage feeding and to warn children, there’s a sign ‘White Cockies Can bite.’
Cockies are an Australian abbreviation for a cockatoo, a parrot-like bird native to Indonesia. Kept as pets they can be quite friendly and talkative, no not as sophisticated at mimicking human behaviour as true parrots. Australians are phonically lazy, so often abbreviate names to the shortest possible alternative. A friend of mine once had one. The first time we met, it sat on me and promptly crapped on my shoulder.
If you’ve seen markets in Asia you may be disappointed by the Caribbean, but it’s more interesting than a supermarket.