Why You Shouldn’t Boycott Orange Grove Market

A typical weekend at Orange Grove Market

A typical weekend at Orange Grove Market

A week is a long time in social media.

When I received the phonecall a week ago today about the pending complaint about baby Noah, I felt duty-bound to immediately inform my followers that I was going to quit my Saturday market.

I posted the announcement across my social media accounts and within an hour or two the mainstream media had caught hold of the story.

The market organisers saw my announcement at the same time as everyone else. They weren’t aware of the complaint because the phonecall did not come from them – it came from a well-meaning staff member on the ground at OGM who felt I should know that it was about to be lodged.

I was and still am a bit frustrated at the cloak of anonymity around this member of the public and the stallholders who had indicated they would support the complaint.

Frankly the way it was conveyed to me evoked images of metaphorical mobs with pitchforks – it was one thing to have some random person disapprove of the way I choose to raise my baby, but if I’d lost the support of my fellow stallholders, it did not seem tenable for me to continue trading.

My post last Friday titled Why I’m Quitting was written with that sense of paranoia hanging over me.

When I turned up the next day at OGM, I kept wondering who among the stallholders were responsible for wanting Noah removed. By the end of that Saturday, I had come to realise that the VAST majority of the stallholders at OGM in fact fully support Noah’s presence at the market.

Over the course of the last week I have been inundated with messages of support from the public.

I’ve had strangers email me offering to babysit Noah for free, people asking if they could start petitions, a surge in online orders from people who for all I know probably don’t even care for Malaysian food, and I’ve had three lawyers offering pro bono legal services.

I am completely humbled and touched by your support, and frankly quite stunned that my announcement could have received so much attention.

There have also been calls for people to boycott OGM. This is extremely unfortunate.

I don’t deny that there has been some mismanagement of the issue from the start. But to boycott the entire market because of one complainant and for all I know, just one or two stallholders, would be hugely unfair.

Too many good people rely on OGM for their livelihoods.

OGM featured in SBS' Feast Magazine

OGM featured in SBS’ Feast Magazine

I’ve worked alongside some of them for over ten years. I remember the very first morning I showed up at OGM, I hit the (bacon and egg) Bowens’ station wagon with my decrepit van as I was pulling up to my stall space.

I was mortified that I was going to be in debt even before I started my new business venture, but Brendan Bowen took a look, shrugged his shoulders and went about the rest of his day like it never happened. Brendan and his wife Kate are some of the best, most hardworking people I’ve ever met in all my years of trading.

The Bowens' legendary bacon & egg rolls

The Bowens’ legendary bacon & egg rolls

I remember I took in $180 in sales on my first day there. After rent there wasn’t even enough to pay the teenage kid from my church who I’d hired to help me at the stall. When I tried to pay Rudy at the end of the day, he adamantly refused to accept my money. (Over the next few years I would run the stall by myself until I could afford workers.)

I also discovered that Australians have no appetite for spicy curries for breakfast so the next week I repackaged them as frozen meals. I introduced Breakfast Roti aka Roti Kaya (ie. flaky flat bread spread with pandan jam) so I wouldn’t be twiddling my thumbs until lunchtime.

For the record “breakfast roti with kaya” isn’t a “thing” in Malaysia – it was the start of my journey towards what I’d like to call “adapting to local tastes”, or, what some Malaysian purists consider a bastardisation of their cuisine.

During the 7 months baby Noah was in the hospital, Anne the bookseller’s teenage son used to come over to say hello at my stall every morning. He too had spent an extended period in the ICU when he was born.

In my darkest days there was pressure from the medical staff for me to consider withdrawing treatment for Noah. They brought up the fact that it was more humane to let him expire than (among other things) to keep drawing blood from his bruised veins for more tests.

I asked Anne’s son once, whether he remembered or was traumatised by his early days in hospital. He laughed and said no, and that gave me new resolve to tell the doctors to throw the book at Noah as far as treatment was concerned. To this day I don’t know if Anne had urged him to come talk to me every morning to give me hope.

When baby Noah came out of hospital, Anne gave me a portable cot that she’d seconded from her own family, so I could keep him in it on market days.

The Arlingtons were getting updates about baby Noah even before he was discharged; they’re extremely fond of him, having watched him grow since he came home one week before Christmas 2012.

At least 50% of baby Noah’s wardrobe is made up of clothes from Brydie (Arlington) Derham’s own son – every few months she hands me bulging bagfuls of clothing for Noah.

Sandra, who runs the vegetable stall behind mine, helps take Noah off my hands for the best part of an hour every week – it took months of perseverance on her part because for reasons known only to Noah, he quite hilariously did not warm to her for the longest time, though they’re now like best buddies.

Beatrice from the hemp clothing stall put it most succinctly in the SBS news piece – the fact that people have no problems leaving their kids at childcare from 7am to 7pm while they go to work, leaving their kids to be raised by strangers, and yet they find issues with me bringing Noah to work with me.

Fourteen years is a long time to have run a stall at OGM, and I’ve come away with a lifetime of incredible memories and friendships.

The stallholders at OGM are good people. The OGM organisers have always supported their stallholders bringing their kids with them.

I, for one, plan to continue supporting the market wholeheartedly. For those who have been calling for boycott, I hope from the bottom of my heart you will reconsider.

With Baby Noah at OGM (photo by Jane Dent)

With Baby Noah at OGM (photo by Jane Dent)

Photos courtesy of the Orange Grove Market Facebook page.

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