About Rusty's Markets

From Monday to Wednesday the area below Gilligan’s is deserted. Empty cardboard boxes are piled high on grey metal tables and sheets of hessian cover boxes. A profound emptiness hangs heavily in the air.

But every Thursday something special happens in the cavernous void—the phenomenon known as Rusty’s Markets.

Trucks laden with quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers arrive in convoy. Bins of produce are quickly unloaded, trucks move off to be replaced by others, and the precession continues well into the day. Stallholders soon follow, with trolley and forklift, to collect their designated product. The organized mayhem that will now continue until late Sunday has been set in motion. Discussions, laughter, and business are conducted in many languages. Excitable Italian, sing-song Asian, European accents, and English are all equally at home in this cultural melting pot.

At 3 am Friday morning, the market is a hive of activity as final touches are applied and pricing tickets are written up. And before the sun has risen the first customer makes a tentative appearance. From that point on, Rusty’s Market transforms into an event that goes far beyond the selling of fruit and vegetables. For three tumultuous days, stallholders and customers banter, barter, are entertained, and meet friends old and new.

Over the last years 30 years, Rusty’s Market has earned a rightful place as the unofficial cultural heart of Cairns—a meeting place where people come together.

And it exists because of one man’s vision, Emrys ‘Rusty’ Rees.

Visitors to Rusty’s come in all ages, sizes, shapes, and colour. Tourists from all over Australia and around the world visit the market as part of their Cairns ‘must do’ agenda. Such is the iconic status of Rusty’s.

Words by Michel Chataney
Author of Rusty’s Markets book published 2005