SYDNEY, Aug 29 (Xinhua) - The Rocks markets are a much-loved Sydney institution bringing in locals and tourists young and old all year round. Set with sunny blue skies and the iconic postcard backdrop of Australia's famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, it is a place where people can shop for unique products and food in a place which holds 225 years of history.
Open every Saturday and Sunday, the stalls run along the cobblestone streets and sandstone buildings on Argyle, Playfair and the end George Street. The stallholders hustle and bustle, busily prepare their stalls in the bright sunshine for the 10am start. The range of products sold around the markets is extremely diverse, ranging from fashion and accessories by Australian designers, hand-made homewares, linen and beauty products, to souvenirs, photography and jewellery from artists around the world.
Marc Sevitt is glassblower at Argyle Glass in The Rocks markets who has been honing his trade for 38 years. He weaves, blows and strings together elegant artworks and sculptures made out of glass, and quickly draws large crowds who clog up the walkways when he performs in his stall on the weekend. Having already had a few years of training while in school, he was proficient enough to show his teachers how to break the glass safely when they were teaching his classmates in the lab.
"Customers love it, it's a worldwide phenomenon I guess," Sevitt told Xinhua. "A lot of people see me on YouTube and they specifically will come to see the shop. People like seeing things being made by hand, and I'll make things specially for them if they'd like to see something made up."His creations range from glass sphere paperweights to sculpted models of glass dragons breathing fire. He says there are different techniques lace work, sculpting and tube work.
"Most of those take a 35-40 minute time frame. They have to be made within that time or they won't survive. All the items we put inside are pre-made, so as we're making the spheres, we put the objects into it dolphins, little fish, whatever's swimming around in them. The spheres are pretty much as complicated as you can get, that's where most of my time during the week is going,"said Sevitt.
Despite having almost four decades of experience, he still gets nervous when he uses the deceptively hot neon blue flame to construct his models.
"You have to respect that fire and torch," said Sevitt, while the crowd gasped as he lit his blowtorch. "I haven't been burnt for a long time, touchwood. I'm always scared, I've got to tell you."
Sevitt is thankful that his company was originally a family business, as he works tirelessly during the week to create his art, and showcases them to around 600 visitors to his weekend stall per day.
"Unfortunately my father and mother were not glassblowers, I' m the first of the family. But we did start with a group of really good glassblowers in 1975, and the history of what was created then is still what's bringing people down now."
The history of markets at The Rocks runs deep in the precinct' s veins. The original buildings surrounding the markets have been restored, made of convict-cut local sandstone from which the area derives its name, "The Rocks".
The markets were created in 1991, when the government was trying to create a colourful and vibrant centrepiece for a new fine arts precinct. Markets were recognised as popular, and a successful catalyst to bring new people into the area, and were touted to bring new retail and business to aid in the renewal of the historic Rocks area.
The function of the markets was to make the historic location of The Rocks a place where people could enjoy the backdrop of Sydney Harbour and relax. It also provided support to local shopkeepers as a way to sell their products to tourists. It was a huge opportunity for people to seek the old, new, quirky and original mix of things sold by tenants.
Although the initial investment in 1990 to establish the market cost 1 million Australian dollares, the decision paid off in the long-term as pedestrian traffic at The Rocks soared from under 2 million visitors in 1990 to over 10 million visitors in 2000, a huge win for shopkeepers and market-lovers alike. Nowadays, there are roughly 150-200 stalls every weekend, and the markets themselves have brought up to 1.9 million visitors each year.
Sarah Crawford is another one of the stallholders. She published a book last year about the diverse group of artisans that has evolved The Rocks markets to what it is now a colourful and unique place for both Sydneysiders and tourists to enjoy.
"It's one of the most popular markets in Australia, so it's an iconic destination," said Crawford. "It's an historic destination and also quite a significant place, so The Rocks precinct gets about 13-14 million visitors a year."
However, it's the individual stories of every shopkeeper in the market that really speaks of the multicultural diversity and acceptance that Australia is globally known and loved for.
"The stories about the people, they're a really interesting group of people from a very diverse range of backgrounds coming from all over the world. I think markets are a great place for people who don't necessarily have English as a first language to create a career, and it's great for artists to be able to display their work and sell their work. It's also great for people to be able to interact and meet the people that are actually making the products," Crawford added.
Many stallholders have a long history with the markets, with some having been there since the beginning in over two decades ago. But there are always new stallholders and special events run by management to please the newcomers and the regulars.
Thomas Joannes is a photographer who sells his art, and is a new stallholder at The Rocks. Originally from France, he sells his magnificent scenic landscape photography printed on acrylic frames and blocks. As an experienced photographer selling his work in markets for 12 years including the Manly markets and Opera House markets in Sydney, he noted the global economy had a heavy impact on his business.
"I had to go through winter, so that was a difficult part, but I survived," said Joannes. "But it's a very positive market for me and my art." His primary customer base is expatriates and tourists, but the demographics shift according to the relative strength of currencies to the Australian dollar.
"The tourists come from everywhere," said Joannes."British backpackers were my best customers for a long time. Now it's probably changing to Chinese. I think with Chinese, it's really dependent on the degree of education, and whether they will appreciate art or not. Some don't, and have very little respect. But the others have a great respect and they're my new customers," he added.
Some people love the adrenaline and thrill of negotiating in markets - whether it's a battle with a shopkeeper to get the best price, or because they're aware of a merchant's ridiculous mark-up and profit margin. But at The Rocks, most prices are written on the products, so bargaining is not part of the norm at The Rocks markets. Unlike in places such as Hong Kong, the unique nature of the markets means you will not be able to find the exact same product on the next street corner, hence prices are very much rigid and stable.
"There are people of different cultures who have different ways of interacting with the artisans. Sometimes there is a bit of a cultural clash there, as well as a bit of a communication clash because sometimes they don't speak an awful lot of English. Some people give discounts, and other people don't. It's all an individual thing, case-by-case," said Sarah Crawford, stallholder and author.
However, photographer Thomas Joannes says he does not partake in the give-and-take action because he does not want to diminish the value of his own artwork.
"I'm not selling something that's a commodity .. it's my art, and I don't think I should bargain," said Joannes.
The stallholders understand that bargaining tourists are simply a testament to the international nature of the markets, so attempts to bargain are not seen as rude because not all tourists are aware of the social customs. However, most owners are reluctant to negotiate because many of the items sold by shopkeepers are handmade, original or native to Australia.
"It's a market, so customers will bargain, yeah. It's part of the life here and we're used to it and that's what makes The Rocks markets so special. Every Saturday and Sunday .. we'll work under the Harbour Bridge, so it's a really good backdrop for overseas people to see some history here," said glassblower Marc Sevitt.
Mother Carol O'Fallon, a Canadian-born Kiwi, and son Shane Allison both dropped in for a casual amble in the markets, as they both love to visit when O'Fallon is in town.
"We like the handmade stuff. We've just bought a hand-painted apron, some Australian licorice because it's gluten free. We've got some T-shirts as well that are hand printed. We just enjoy the atmosphere and listen to the Spanish guitar down the way," said O' Fallon.
"Mum's a market connoisseur," joked Allison. "As a New Zealander, I think the markets in New Zealand are great, but The Rocks markets range is unique. You don't get the variety of handmade ceramics and paintings and stuff at many of the other markets in Sydney."
Apart from arts and crafts, The Rocks foodie markets are densely packed along the bumpy cobblestone Argyle St, where you can experience tasty international street cuisine. You will find a variety of stalls selling different ethnic foods, including Turkish Gozleme, Japanese sushi and grilled Tasmanian salmon. If you've got a bit of a sweet tooth then look no further. Plenty of stores sell fresh lemonade, hand-whipped gelato and artisan-made chocolates and cupcakes.
It is almost dizzying how much is packed into such a small area. The markets are surrounded by cozy cafes and upmarket bars as well as restaurants from every culture, so there is no shortage of places to chill out and take a break if your legs get tired - a significant part of the relaxed Australian lifestyle.
If you're looking for a hefty meal, the German bar and restaurant Lowenbrau is the place for you. On the corner of Playfair and Argyle Street, it is in the heart of the market precinct where you can still enjoy the buzzing atmosphere in alfresco dining. Serving native German beers in mugs up to one litre, you can enjoy substantially filling traditional Bavarian dishes like chicken schnitzel with French fries or giant thick pork knuckles and sausages.
For dessert-lovers, there is the famous Guylian Belgian Chocolate Caf on the corner of Argyle and George Street. A well- known Belgian chocolate maker, they have a large range of artisan cakes and chocolates to try. If you have time, pop in and take a seat it's a challenge to not to order all of their delicious desserts like their chocolate shakes, waffles with ice cream, or high tea for two.
The markets at The Rocks are a fundamental piece of the heart and soul of Sydney, comparable to the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. The global culture and laidback nature of The Rocks markets combined with surrounding fine food and drink make it a must-see for tourists, and a regular destination for every Sydneysider.