I wrote this piece ages ago, but thought it was appropriate following my trip down memory lane with my poem Sunday Spaghetti. Must be something about the summer holidays in the sub-tropics!

Cheers Gabrielle Bryden (nee Crook).


Crook Family goes to Market

The Crook family pilgrimage to the Brisbane’s produce markets at Rocklea was a highlight for all four children. Raising this number of kids with one breadwinner must have been a budgeting nightmare. We snacked mainly on fruit. There were no fast food outlets or packaged treats for us in those days. We got pretty excited if a Weston’s chocolate wheaten biscuit found it’s way into the lunchbox.

Dad would yell out ‘we’re going to the markets, everyone in the car’ and there would be a mad scramble to be first in the rusty old Valiant station wagon. Lisa, the eldest and toughest, would grab her usual window seat behind Dad’s head. She was responsible for making sure that Daniel and Peter didn’t kill each other. Peter, second eldest, was also honoured with a window seat.

Daniel, of slightly hyperactive nature, was positioned safely in the centre of the bench seat. As the youngest, and of least consequence in my opinion, I was relegated to the back of the wagon. I distinctly remember the smell of petrol fumes when travelling in the Valiant. A smell that would leave me feeling slightly nauseous during each trip. This exposure to lead poisoning may explain my chronic short-term memory problems and great capacity for getting lost.

Leaded petrol was the only option available at petrol stations.

Mum, a short petite woman, ruled the roost with an iron fist, barking out orders to the tribe. Dad towered over mum, 6 foot 3 inches tall, yet always knew his place as second-in-command. Mum would be the last to get in the car, fussing around like a chook with her head chopped off.

We lived at Indooroopilly so Dad drove over the Walter Taylor bridge on the way to the suburb of Rocklea. Fascinated, we’d stretch our necks to peer at the mass of brown, strong water, which is the Brisbane river. Our journey would continue through the pretty suburbs of Chelmer and Graceville. Streets lined with lovely, shady Camphor Laurel trees.

Then passing through what seemed like the countryside we arrived at the Rocklea produce market. The place was chockers full of trucks, vans, dust and busy workers distributing box after box of fruit and vegetables from the loading bays. We loved the hectic atmosphere and the delightful, pungent smells.

Mum would dart back and forth, on the lookout for bargain boxes of oranges and crisp red apples. The sturdy looking vendors, wearing overalls and boots, would look slightly bemused as mum prattled away to them.

Occasionally, depending on the season, we would also buy mandarins, sweet peaches, apricots, plums, grapes, bananas or watermelon. Number one on my list of fruits was the mouth-watering Bowen mango, with its plump, yellow body and deliciously juicy, sweet-smelling flesh. The mango and other stone fruits were available only in summer.

Dad would load the boxes of fruit into the back of the wagon. I would squeeze in next to the load. This didn’t bother me as it gave me something to hang onto as we drove home. Compulsory seat-belts hadn’t yet been invented. The smell of fresh, ripe fruit also camouflaged the smell of petrol fumes.

My brothers would be a bit overexcited by this stage and the pinching, punching and yelling would begin. My spot in the back of the Valiant was turning into prime position.

First thing mum would do when we got home was to put the kettle on the stove. After a nice cup of tea she would lie on the couch and put her feet up. The boxes of fruit would clutter up the house for days but the smells and tastes were divine.

18 thoughts on “The Crook Family goes to Market

  1. What an exquisite piece of Australiana. I remember the Valiants and that awful smell of petrol. My sister always threw up after a car ride.

    My childhood memories are full of the smell of fruit. Peaches, mangoes, cherries, watermelon. When I first arrived here from the UK I thought Australia must be the richest country in the world because of all the fruit. In Scotland all we ever ate were apples, gooseberries, rhubarb and oranges at Christmas.

    What a fabulous piece of writing, Gabrielle. I hope you will grace us with some more of your childhood tales.

    1. What’s with the petrol – you’re the second person to have vivid memories of petrol fumes (some people comment via facebook – go figure!). Australia is indeed a rich country, in so many ways. I traveled a bit as a child, when I was 9 and 13, and I really missed the fruit. I love Scotland but don’t remember any fruit. Fruit shops were one of my favourite places to be in all the world.

  2. oh how lovely. i know that fruit scent, my grandfather, a greek immigrant, had a grocery store with fruit shelves stacked all around in the front near the cash register. that scent was dizzying, the shelves were stacked from the floor to the ceiling or so it seemed. we used to travel once a week to boston to the open market to buy truckloads of fruits, vegetables and meats for the store-it was so like the one you describe except it was in the city, a giant square near the boston harbor which is now still there on weekends but dwarfed by the bustling shopping malls. i also remember feeling nauseous from gas fumes every single day on the ride to and from school, it was so awful that i started walking or riding my bike there as early as i can remember, i think it was the third grade. i loved reading this, it was a complete immersion, as if i was riding with you at the back of the auto. and we were having a great time ha ha

    1. Ha,ha – glad you came along for the ride – it would have been fun to have a friend in the back with me. I said to Selma that when I traveled I missed the fruit, but there was one main exception – we lived in Greece for a few months (I was 9) and they had the best fruit stores in the world. Maybe I should write about those times?

  3. This is a beautiful historical piece. Sorry I laughed imagining the youngest being put in the back in the days before seat belts.

    1. Laugh away Mark. Dad also made the youngest install Bradford Batts insulation in the ceiling void (cause I was the only one that would fit!) – how’s that for lack of work place health and safety – ha,ha.

      1. Sorry, sorry, sorry, now I’ve just fallen off of my chair in stitches. If you have the experience you could go around claiming the $1200 government rebate, it seems every bloke with a ute that I see at the moment has the back filled with batts.

  4. oh please do! i lived there for three months when i was seventeen. most memorable next to the food was going to the wine festival near athens and getting accidentally completely loopy for the first time and ending up at the wrong theatre in the middle of a performance of ‘madame butterfly’ when i thought it was supposed to be an ancient greek play and falling on some peoples laps while struggling to get to my seat ha ha and then not being able to stop laughing during the arias

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