Around 3am on 23 January 1869 a ‘small but noisy procession’ of produce traders made its way from the East End Market on East Terrace to a new retail market site close to Victoria Square, between Grote Street and Gouger Street. The City Market, as it was then called, began trading on land owned by the Adelaide City Council on the same day. At that stage there were no covered sales areas or shops, just open land, a fence and some gas lights.

Growth and Expansion

Two large sheds for produce carts were completed by June 1869 and the City Market was officially opened on 22 January 1870. Vegetables, fruit, hay, fish and game were sold from 50 to 100 carts on Saturday morning and then also on Tuesday morning. To cater for expanding demand the two sheds were joined together by a roof over the roadway that separated them and an additional shed was constructed in 1873. Additional shops were erected along the perimeter of the market facing Gouger Street and Grote Street through the 1880s.

In 1889 plans to rebuild the market were drawn up by the Council’s draughtsman R Sloan under the direction of City Engineer J Vicars. The new premises featured an elaborate, two-storey brick façade on Grote Street, which included 16 shops at ground level with arched windows above. The foundation stone was laid on 8 February 1900 and the new facility was occupied that same year. Not long after it was completed, a 36.8m veranda was added to the frontage.

Later development included an arcade of shops between Gouger Street and Grote Street in 1915 and the extension of the Market Arcade to Victoria Square in 1920. A major two-stage redevelopment was carried out to the City Market behind the street façades in the 1930s.

Over 30 years later, the City Council initiated a much-needed upgrade of the market. Plans were drawn up by architects Cheesman, Doley, Brabman & Neighbour and work commenced on 8 January 1965. During the redevelopment the eastern end of the Grote Street brick façade was demolished as were the early cast iron and glass arcades. The renamed Central Market was opened on 17 June 1966 by Lord Mayor James Irwin.

Challenge and Change

There were few alterations to the Central Market after the major redevelopments of the 1960s, but on the night of 27 June 1977, the southern stallholders' section of the market was badly damaged by a fire, causing half a million dollars' damage. Although there were major rebuilding and rejuvenation projects to repair the damage, the 1970s and early 1980s saw a number of major redevelopment schemes abandoned. 

The arrival of migrants from Asia, and particularly Southeast Asia, in 1970s and '80s led to further growth in the Central Market precinct. Many Asian traders moved into the areas known as Chinatown and Market Plaza, west of California Street to Moonta Street. Additional structures inspired by Chinese architecture, such as the paifung at the main gates, the stone guarian lions, red lanterns and pagoda-style roofs have added to the distinctive appearance and character of the market precinct. The Central Market now has 250 traders under one roof and remains a distinctively Adelaide institution, renowned for fine food and produce and a bustling cosmopolitan atmosphere.

By Peter Bell

This entry was first published in The Wakefield companion to South Australian history edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly and references updated. Uploaded 25 June 2014.

Add media

Early 20th Century

Image: A woman walks by two long brick buildings, one of which has the words ‘Edwin Daw Central Fish Market’ on its facade
Image: A group of pedestrians and bicyclists congregate in front of a store front. A sign on the store reads 'Pay and Carry Store'
Image: Two large buildings with archway windows and a square-sided tower. Several cars of 1920s vintage are parked in front of the building
Image: A horse-drawn cart passes in front of a large brick building with the words ‘Federal Hall’ in large letters on its front facade
Image: A man and two women stand among produce stalls in a large warehouse

Late 20th Century & 21st Century

Image: A large brick building with archway windows and a square turret at one end. Cars drive by on a busy street in the foreground
Image: groups of people walking through market stalls
Image: woman eating noodles with chopsticks
Image: man looking at sausages presented by woman at market stall
Image: two men holding meat in front of butchers shop
Image: woman standing surrounded by cheese in market stall
Image: man standing with large selection of raw chicken at market stall
Image: man holding large crab in front of him with people looking on
Image: man standing in front of market stall, caught mid shout
Image: woman standing with large display of vegetables in front of Asian grocery store
Add story