• Traders

Getting to Know Joan O'Dwyer

Published 5 January 2022

Since 1954, the O'Dwyer family have been a part of the Market's fabric.

A story of three generations at the Market for over 70 years

Rainbow Connection is abundant with home décor and gifts to make you smile!

What inspired you to set up your business?

My grandparents had been part of South Melbourne Market for 25 years and had been inspired by their 28 grandchildren to sell babywear to support their low income. 

By 1979 my grandmother had passed on and my dear grandfather was showing signs of dementia. Being one of their 28 grandchildren and being unemployed at 22, I decided to give the Market a go.

My grandfather had left the stall a bit like an old man cave. A kettle, some tea and sugar and a few pieces of stock (including a 40kg bag of Aquasol plant food)!

What was your first year of business like?

My first year made me no money, in fact I took on two other part time jobs to pay for the stall rent and my flat rent. It took hard work, being resourceful, bagging up Aquasol into 50gm bags and amazing customers that gave me extraordinary support and patience as I found how and where to buy stock for my emerging Garden Supplies Stall.

By 1985 I had built up a business that could support one person and pay the rent. I had my first child and as a single mother that child came to work at the Market with me. I'd changed his nappies under the counter and breastfeed him between customers. My amazing mum would come by and assist at the end of the day to pack up the stall.

What was the Market like back then?

The Market traded shorter hours then; Wednesday 7.30am to 2pm, Friday 6.30am to 4pm and Saturday 7.30am to 2pm.

By 1990 I had two children and we pioneered Sunday trading!. My Garden Supplies Stall was now going really well and thanks to my great customers my store had become the third largest garden pot seller in Melbourne. 

Northcote Pottery was still producing Terra Cotta pots and 95% of my stock was Australian made. Often handmade. It was a wonderful time. There was no Bunnings back then - it was all about small businesses.

By 2000 the world had changed enormously. Computers and big business were taking over, Bunnings had arrived, and there was a ten year drought in Victoria. We had very strict water restrictions and gardening was no longer a fun hobby. We saw our gardens dry up and die. Imported pots took over and local products disappeared. My garden supplies stall lost a key wholesaler as it merged with big companies and stopped selling to small businesses. I had to put off staff one by one including my own sister, who had managed the shop for seven years.

Why did you decide to change to homewares?

By 2007 I was not making money, and I had to borrow to pay the bills. I bought a cane importing business from a retiring stallholder at the Market and tried importing for around three to four years but it was difficult and with teenage kids and a mortgage. In 2009 both my darling parents died. They had bought up eight children and left us all an inheritance. With mine I paid off my debts and reinvented my business. Emerging from a strong past came Rainbow Connection - a wonderful new and eclectic homewares stall. 

We had some strong existing relationships with Australian importers and it was these that led the business into a healthy vibrant store.

What are your plans for the future?

I have now semi-retired after 43 years. My son Troy has brought a new energy and a young, futuristic vision to the business, presenting customers with the most up-to-date style and trends in today's homewares.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have been an individual in a unique environment that's caters for misfits like me. I would not have had such a full and challenging time in any other environment. Such is the South Melbourne Market!

It has served my family well over the years and we have enjoyed and continue to enjoy serving our amazing customers. 


Find Rainbow Connection in Aisle G near the York Street / Centre Aisle entrance.

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