The image, from a postcard dating to the first 10 years of the 20th century, is an evocative glimpse into a business that has long been linked to Martin Place (then Moore Street).
Martin Place had long been a bustling hive of activity, full of people going about their daily work. This bustling activity made it a perfect place for flower sellers to ply their trade, attracting passersby and many impulse sales. Yet most flower sellers did not start off in Martin Place at all, being forced off other, busier streets to make room for ever increasing traffic. Martin Place was the ideal place for flower sellers to congregate though, setting themselves up near the steps of the General Post Office and pouncing on people hurrying to mail their letters.
The earliest Martin Place flower sellers began to set up stalls in the 19th century, but it was during the 20th century that Sydney’s most iconic flower seller plied her trade. Rosie Shaw had once had high hopes of a career in opera, coming to Sydney from London in 1927 to seek fame and fortune in the land Dame Nellie Melba had called home. Rosie’s dreams never came to pass, but she grew to the status of a Sydney icon none the less. In 1931 she first set up shop on Martin Place, plying her customers not just with flowers, but with snatches of opera and tall tales of her history of a ballerina and singer. Rosie soon became very popular and increasingly influential, using her iconic status to act as one of the earliest defenders of gay men in Sydney. She sold flowers for 40 years, finally packing up her stall in 1971.