Although land was sold throughout Prahran in 1840, it wasn’t until the gold rush days of the 1850s that the community really began to grow, leading to Prahran’s first Council being elected. Prahran was famous for its small farms and market gardens, and goods were sold or bartered locally or carted into Melbourne. What was needed was a central market place in the municipality of Prahran. In 1864 this was organised by the Prahran Council and a smaller Prahran Market, Melbourne’s oldest Market was born. It wasn’t until 1891 that the Prahran Market that we now know and love opened in its current location on Commercial Road.
The ’20s and ’30s
The Market was extended in 1923 at a cost of 80,000 pounds to incorporate 48 new stalls. Even The Great Depression of the 1930s had little impact on the Market as it became a distribution point of groceries, clothing and boots for the unemployed. In 1928 a new meat market hall opened featuring the latest in ceramic white wall tiles, making it easier for the meat, fish and poultry owners to scrub down their shops. The concept of the delicatessen had not yet reached Australia so dairy was generally shopped for at small grocery shops.
The ’40s and ’50s
In the years of World War II, shoppers travelled to Prahran by tram and train with their ration cards. Most of the men in the Market went to war and their wives and children took on the hard job of buying, carting and selling the produce. The men on the farms would help the women at the Market by delivering the produce.
On Boxing Day 1950, the fruit and vegetable section of the Market was gutted by fire. Shortly after the fire the Prahran City Council began talks to update the complex. After the 1950 fire the Council erected a temporary replacement structure and it was not until 1972, that they appointed Gunn Hyball Pty Ltd to complete a new market. The final stage was completed in 1976 at a total cost of $6.5 million.
The ‘60s was an exciting time for the Market, reflecting Prahran’s migrant explosion. New European products hit the shelves and shoppers were requesting different types of produce from their homeland. Claringbold’s started adding sardines, calamari, black bream and whitebait to their repertoire and Pino from Pino’s Fine Produce decided to order in vegetables, like spinach, eggplant and zucchini. Greek Easter time was also an extremely busy time at the Market with flower stalls having to order in at least 600 bunches of white chrysanthemums to satisfy its Greek customers.
The Market was renovated again in the 1970s to create a modern new look without sacrificing the traditional atmosphere. A new meat, fish and poultry hall was created, along with a new variety arcade, which housed an eclectic mix of shops including a cookware shop and an underwear shop. Land was also purchased behind the Market in the 70s to extend the car park to accommodate more customers.
The mid 80s marked a significant time of experimentation in food styles with the introduction of fusion cuisine. Some of the savvier entrepreneurial traders also decided to specialise in specific areas, positioning themselves and the Market as the pioneer for gourmet food experiences. New chefs were also establishing themselves in Melbourne during this time, regularly visiting Prahran Market for hard-to-find ingredients.
The recession may have created some doom and gloom but the atmosphere at Prahran Market was still bright and lively. In 1994, Council appointed an independent board to run the Market, free from political interference.
The Council also developed a multi-level carpark between Elizabeth and Barry Street which is still managed separately to this day. To reflect the bustling trade and the high demand for quality food, the old liquor arcade which ran off the Market Square was converted into a Gourmet Food Hall. By the end of the ‘90s, the Market had evolved into a gastronomic focal point of Melbourne.
Enter the new millennium and Melbourne’s oldest market was now known as a pivotal ‘foodie’ hub frequented by chefs, food writers, restaurateurs, food produces and many regular customers. Spaces filled within the Market with more gourmet destinations, including Fritz Gelato, Gluten Free Providore and Naheda’s Choice, all offering something a little different. The thousands also marked the year highly regarded and much loved trader, Bill Bracher, passed away. A trader of over fifty years, Bill had passed on but wasn’t forgotten. In his honour, the Prahran Market meat hall was renamed the Bracher Arcade.
Prahran Market continues to remain Melbourne’s premier food Market with a fantastic community of highly skilled traders and specialty stores. The Market works closely with local communities to collaborate and host many ‘foodie’ events and is constantly partnering with well-known chefs and industry experts to provide shoppers with quality cooking demonstrations workshops.
It constantly strives to achieve an atmosphere of ‘food theatre’ throughout the Market, introducing new and interesting traders, visible preparation areas and spaces where shoppers can sit, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy a bite to eat and something delicious to drink.