Sunday, 28 January 2018

A family outing at the Fish Market

Normally when you see foreigners at the Fish Market, it is Chinese tourists (or Chinese migrants mixed with Chinese tourists, or Japanese tourists, or Koreans) making their way into the big, messy parking lot that surrounds the place. They stream in from the light rail station across Bank Street under the approaches to the Anzac Bridge and negotiate the difficult footpaths where the roots of the fig trees there have pushed up the macadam in odd curves that threaten to trip you up.  They form groups at the signalled crossing where you stop for the lights because on weekends the street is thick with traffic as people drive to get their lunch.

Cars heading north turn into the carpark intent on finding a parking spot so passengers can get out and eat lunch. Guards wearing hi-vis vests stand around in the carpark controlling the mass of circulating cars. Pedestrians weave in and out between the parked and moving cars on their way to the main building on the south side of the carpark where the food outlets are located.

Dressed in shorts and T-shirts, Chinese in these environs are part of the summer landscape, an inescapable element that is both typical and unremarkable. They love eating, and the Fish Market offers an unrivalled selection of fresh seafood. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, who frequently stand around in their suitably respectable but otherwise unremarkable clothes on Bank Street outside the light rail station are casually eyeing them off next to hand trolleys that are laden with improving literature, in both English and Chinese.

Inside the Fish Market you get the main game. Visitors can find fried or steamed, oysters Mornay or Kilpatrick, lobsters or crabs or Balmain bugs, or raw sushi. There are kingfish and mackerel, salmon and barramundi, perch and trout, bream and tuna, whiting and garfish, mahi mahi and mullet, cod and sole, calamari and baby octopus, tiger prawns or school prawns, cockles or scallops: you can buy anything you want fresh to take home, or you can buy food that has already been cooked and is ready to eat with chips or rice on-site. The prices tend to be on the high side – it is easy to spend 35 dollars for lunch for one person – but the encyclopaedic selection of goods, the sheer range of varieties available in one place, is unrivalled by any standalone restaurant in the city.

It is literally a smorgasbord, a delight, a phenomenon, and the boats that bring the catch to the tables inside the building sit moored during the day at wharves next to it on Blackwattle Bay, from where they have arrived from the fishing grounds off the coast in the capacious Pacific Ocean.

Finding a place to eat your food might be a challenge on warm Saturdays around lunchtime as the plastic tables provided outside next to the water are often filled by parties of visitors who fight for possession of the food with opportunistic seagulls who blow in for the spree and think nothing of alighting on the table and picking up chips with their beaks from your cardboard tray if no one is around to protect it. On busy days the crowds spill out across the road into Wentworth Park and sit there on the grass eating food.

At the head of the park, a posse from the Falun Gong religious sect sets up a loudspeaker on weekends under a gumtree blaring a loud Mandarin-speaking male voice across the intersection of Pyrmont Bridge Road and Wattle Street where the cars queue up on their way to the Anzac Bridge and the northern suburbs. White tourist buses with unpainted sides pull up facing west on Pyrmont Bridge Road next to the park and disgorge loads of passengers who walk across to the Fish Market at the traffic lights. Rental bicycles are ranked untidily outside ready for people to scan the codes on their mobiles and ride away if they want to.

But as I was walking through the parking lot yesterday there was a Muslim family walking into the Fish Market. They may have just found a parking spot in the carpark beneath the access ramp leading from the road to the bridge. The excitement of successfully securing a rare parking spot, I imagined, had infected their conversation, just as much as had the anticipation of eating appetising food.

The men with fat wallets wore long trousers and short-sleaved shirts and the women had on their hijabs modestly covering their hair, and long skirts. A little girl aged about 10 with long brown hair walked along in a long pink dress with a colourful print on it. The men were talking volubly in a shared language as they walked along on the pavement and the extended family was fully enjoying a day out and a special treat. If anything you could imagine represented modernity, I thought, looking back to Australia Day, which had just passed, this intimate domestic scene must surely register as the very epitome of what is normal now.

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