Every Sunday morning, this suburban car park is transformed into a vibrant, sprawling hotbed for lovers of trash and treasure.
From records to rings, buttons to boots, as long as it’s secondhand, antique or vintage, it’s sold here at the Camberwell Sunday Market.
Entrepreneur Poppy King, best known for her booming lipstick business in the 1990s, said that her heart would “literally skip a beat” as she approached the Camberwell Sunday Market and contemplated the array of potential purchases ripe for the picking..
The market is a beloved ritual for so many. From the stallholders who have been crawling out of bed in the wee hours of every Sunday morning for decades, to the dedicated shoppers who scour the hundreds of stalls driven by the thrill of finding that elusive item.
The market community here is a close-knit one, and many lasting connections have been formed over the years; between the Rotarians, stallholders and regular patrons.
In 2001, two stallholders who had met at the market were married … at the market! The regular vendors – one who sold home-made bow ties, the other irreverent homemade merchandise – invited a host of Rotarians and market-goers to share the occasion with them.
People love the market for many reasons, including the many buskers who have graced the car park’s various “stages”.
Since its inception, the Rotary Club of Balwyn has supported many buskers and performers who use the market as their stage, to entertain visitors as they browse the market stalls.
Saxophonist Neil Whitford performed at the Camberwell Sunday Market for more than 20 years, and his contribution is fittingly commemorated by the memorial plaque on this walkway. The plaque depicts Neil playing the saxophone with his little grey poodle, Benjamin by his side. Together this duo entertained the crowds in the rain, hail and shine.
Discover a Treasure
While many come to the market for vintage clothes, to add to their record collection or pick up a quirky trinket, some people get far more than they bargained for, including unique treasures from all around the world.
In 2002, a shopper bought five dolls that originated from the Pacific islands, for a modest price. The items turned out to be rare fertility dolls from an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, and within a couple of days had been sold twice. First to a French art dealer, and later to another dealer in Europe.
Two years earlier, a canoe ornament from the Solomon Islands was bought at the Camberwell Sunday Market for several hundred dollars, and soon after sold in New York with an asking price in the thousands. Makes you wonder, what you might find?
There are many examples of opportunistic – or perhaps just plain lucky – shoppers, including a painting being bought for $25 in the early 1990s and eventually re-sold for $12,000.
Whether it’s vintage memorabilia or clothing, jewellery or artworks, you could uncover some treasure on your next trip to the Camberwell Sunday Market.
Collectors and Shoppers
Eccentric collectors of all descriptions can be found at the Camberwell Sunday Market. There are the vendors whose stalls bear the fruits of a lifetime committed to collecting weird and wonderful items, and the patrons who descend upon the market with a voracious appetite to build upon their own impressive collections; be it records, vintage clothes or … buttons.
Elizabeth Purkiss, lovingly known as “The Button Lady”, had an incredible button collection that adorned the corner of the market for 25 years. Elizabeth’s passion for buttons was inspired as a four-year-old, by her dressmaker grandmother. Some say there is a collector in all of us, and the Camberwell Sunday Market caters to all of them. Toys, newspapers, tools, records or vintage clothes, there is always plenty to pique the interest of an ardent collector.
Another fascinating collector, Ray Nicholls, has been sharing his collection of newspapers and magazines here for almost three decades. Ray started collecting newspapers as a 12 year old, when he vividly remembers lying in bed, listening to the radio and hearing the news that President John F Kennedy had been assassinated. Later that day, he walked up to the milk bar to buy the afternoon Herald and has been collecting ever since. Visitors to the market are fascinated by Ray’s vast collection and often search for a newspaper from the day they were born, or buy one for friends as birthday presents.
The Retro Fashion
As the saying goes, everything that is old is new again.
In her book about the history of the market, Sunday Service, Leah Annette notes that when the Camberwell Sunday Market began in 1976, it was an era when there was a lot of interest in the “old and unusual”. This on-going trend may account for the market’s incredible long-term popularity.
Eagle-eyed shoppers continue to come from all over Melbourne to seek out unique items that will set them apart from the crowd. Whether it’s a luxurious leather jacket, sleek skirt or sharp pair of boots, the Camberwell Sunday Market has enough vintage clothing to satisfy the most discerning fashionista.
In fact, the market features such an impressive range of vintage fashion that costume designers from film and television are often seen trawling through the various stalls to find authentic items from decades gone by.
As this is an institution for vintage die-hards, make sure you get here early!