Giuseppe (Joseph) Pontelandolfo celebrates 70 years of trade at Queen Vic Market.
Arrived in Australia from Italy at the age of 14.
Times were changing in Australia where there was a desperate shortage of labour and population growth was seen as essential for the country’s future. The Italian workforce mainly worked in the heavy industries, in labouring work, building and construction, and as skilled tradesmen. They can be credited as the builders of the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the Warragamba Dam, amongst other major projects. The Italian women worked in shops, cafes and small businesses.
But the work dried up for Joseph, who had been working for the government. He tried the union, who suggested working at the wharf. After two weeks and no word on any work, Joseph went to the Queen Victoria Market office and asked for a stall. To his surprise, they said yes. Back then, the market was also home to the wholesale market so he bought a couple of boxes of oranges, being all he could afford, and built his business box by box from there. His first stall in H shed is the very same stall he works from today.
It was November 1946. The new H & I sheds had opened in May and were only trading on Fridays and Saturdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays Joseph would get any available spot in the upper market and for a time on Wednesdays he would get a lift down to South Melbourne Market with one of the old fellas who had a horse and cart. Joseph started with one moto which holds to this day. If the produce isn’t good enough for him, then it isn’t good enough for his customers.
Joseph says he’s lucky. Lucky to have good customers, but also good neighbours. Working side by side with his dear friend Wing Chinn is one of the great stories of our market. Diverse in culture, Italian and Chinese, these two old mates have been rivals in business, but friends in life for all of their lives. To this day they joke around and chatter as if no time at all has passed, both working alongside their sons, who have grown up amongst the tomatoes, and lettuces and the great big market family.
Joseph’s son John started working with him at the market when he could walk. As a young man, he worked in an office for 12 years, but continued helping out two days a week, going out to the wholesale market with his Dad before heading into the office. Eventually, John left his job in insurance and joined his dad at the stall full time. He jokes that Joseph didn’t pay him for the first eight years, but now things have come full circle and John doesn’t pay his Dad! For 30 years they’ve been in business together and although Joseph thinks John’s business ideas are too modern they still manage to see eye to eye on one thing – it’s their customers that get them out of bed each day and the relationships they’ve formed with all sorts of people from all walks of life. Every day is a memorable one for these two because of the people who visit their stall. They’ve seen people come and go, move overseas and interstate, but they always return at some point to the market. Even if they don’t buy a thing, they’ve bought Joseph happiness, he says, just by stopping by to say hello.