By Kalinga Seneviratne
At the peak of the hippie movement in the West, in 1976, the traditional farming village here in this scenic setting was a battleground between loggers and environmentalists who had travelled from across Australia, to stop the clear-felling of the rainforest at Terania Creek close by. This was the first direct action protest in Australia.
Many of the environmentalists decided to settle in the region, buying cheap agricultural land and setting up communities with a “back to the land” philosophy.
“We moved here in the 1970s with my husband to live a poor self-sufficient lifestyle. Soon as we arrived, we found that Terania Creek rainforests were to be felled. We fought for many years to protect that forest and protect other rainforests as well,” says Nan Nicholson, a rainforest Botanist, who has lived in The Channon for over 40 years and published many books on rainforest plants and herbs.
It is newcomers like Nicholsons who settled down in the villages around here, that includes artisans and woodworkers, that started a traditional village market in a small hall here, where they could exchange and barter goods. It had a strict ethic of “make it, bake it, or grow it”. It is still going strong after 44 years where over 200 stallholders and between 2000-3000 people visit this monthly market.
“This market is definitely a part of our local culture,” Chris McFadden, secretary of the market management committee told IDN. “It gives people opportunities for employment and to sell their products, including artistic creations”.
The Channon Crafts Market, held on the second Sunday each month, supports 100’s of community groups, small business and individuals. The market was the site for environmental campaigners community meetings four decades ago and to this day the market still supports such activity. In fact, Nicholson, when she spoke to IDN was manning a stall promoting a new environment campaign to stop a dam planned to be built close by.
Due to its increasing popularity, the market outgrew the Channon Hall and moved to the beautiful Coronation Park to allow people to enjoy an open-air market experience. It is run by a Management Committee consisting of nine volunteers and a number of paid staff.
McFadden said that the land was donated to the village by a local landowner, which is now managed by the local council as a cricket oval and recreational park. “We are a non-profit community organization, not part of the council,” she explained. “The stallholders pay us a small fee and also take out insurance”. From this fee, they pay their staff and has recently built a second toiled block.
While the Channon market has outgrown its beginnings, its ethos has remained unchanged and it has the reputation as one of Australia’s most vibrant markets. Many of the stalls sell the produce of local farmers and plants from their nurseries, arts and crafts of local people, and there are also a lot of food stalls run by people in the communities. Some stalls were selling imported items such as dresses from India and Thailand, or crafts from Maori New Zealand and Peru.
When asked how the latter products fit into their motto of “make it, bake it, or grow it”, McFadden said: “After we moved to the oval here and the market became bigger and bigger, there was a diversity to what people sell here, but it’s still an arts and crafts market. Whatever you make you sell. There are some imported goods, but we don’t encourage it.”
Besides amazing art and products, visitors have a chance to enjoy some local music with the ‘band of the day’ playing from the main stage, and all manner of impromptu musicians dotted around the park. If you stay to the end of the market you can experience the infamous ‘Drum Dance’ where people dance to the rhythms of a variety of drums.
But this was missing this month because the market was closed for four months due to Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing regulations still in force outlaws such activity for now.
The Channon market has given rise to a surge of such Sunday markets across the region known as the Northern Rivers that includes tourist resort areas along the northern New South Wales coast. Many of these markets are scattered through the month on Sundays and Saturdays. Thus, there are some stallholders that go from one market to another, to make a living throughout the month.
One such stallholder is Adrienne Hmelnitsku from the village of Urunga about two hours’ drive from here. She produces what she has branded as ‘Sunlighters’ that is made with colourful plastics, which gives a stained-glass effect when pasted on to glass windows. “I’m an artist and all these are handmade,” she told IDN, pointing out the products gleaming colourfully from the plastic walls of her tent stall. “This is the fourth time I’m here and I do a number of markets in northern rivers.”
A local artist who cuts various coloured rocks and makes jewellery and necklaces use this market to sell his products. “I buy rough stones, cut and polish them to make these” he explains. “I live off a van and don’t need to spend for accommodation. I sell it at the market”. The artist who gave his name as Sam sells most of his necklaces at between $50-150 per piece.
John Arklan is a third-generation Sikh-Australian who used to be a banana grower. He drives three hours each way from his home in Woolgoolga in his mobile Indian food kitchen to sell butter chicken and dhal curry with rice and naan. “This is a spectacular setting,” he told IDN. “I enjoy the atmosphere here and I sell a lot of food. They embrace whatever you cook, and the people here are different (in their outlook).”
The government recognized the unique contribution this market has made to the people and culture of the region so that they included the staff in the “job keeper” scheme that pays business to keep their staff on the payroll while the Covid-19 lockdowns are in place.
“When we were closed our staff helped to improve the facilities here like painting the railings and toilet walls,” McFadden said. She also added that they started developing an online market for the stallholders from the local community, but it is being handicapped due to the cost of transporting the goods.
“Thousands come here each month [November], even as far away as Brisbane,” says McFadden. “But we try to limit the stallholders to a 100 km radius. We want to give the opportunity to local farmers and artistes to sell direct (to the public).”