Following 15 years, Olive Tree Market Founder Justine Gaudry is calling it time leaving a long and lasting legacy
It was October 2008 when Justine Gaudry launched Olive Tree Market at The Junction Primary School, a fresh new concept for Newcastle, and one built purely out of a love for the region’s creative scene and a belief in creating new opportunities for this community.
Over the following 15 years, Justine built a community focused event that has provided a platform for thousands of local artists, designers, musicians, performers and creative small businesses. Olive Tree has become a Newcastle institution loved by locals and visitors who travel far and wide specifically to visit the market.
The history of the Olive Tree is a tale of many incredible highs, some major challenges, but the one constant has been Justine’s energy and drive to create a beautiful monthly market for her stall holders and guests.
After a tough few years during COVID, The Olive Tree Market continues to thrive and foster Newcastle’s amazing creativity and talent, which is why it may come as a surprise to many that Justine has made the decision to hang up her market hat.
Catching up at Momo’s, Justine chatted to us about where it all began, a few of the pinch-me moments she has had along the way, what’s kept her going through the tough times, and why she has made the decision to sell.
Justine, can you take us back to the first Olive Tree and how it came together.
I co-founded Olive Tree with my dear friends sister Bec Thomson and Ally Buchanan who were my partners for the first three years. Our first market was held in October 2008, we were meant to launch in September, but torrential rain meant we had to cancel.
Dad and I were sitting out the front of The Junction Primary School in his ute on the morning of the planned market, I was crying and I remember saying to dad, ‘I don’t think I can ever do this again’.
Dad (the late former Newcastle MP Bryce Gaudry) was really instrumental in my life, and encouraged me to keep going on that first morning, saying I had the skills, drive and passion for the arts, so I did. 15 years and over 160 markets later that seems like a lifetime ago!
From that first day dad helped at nearly every market, he was always a reassuring presence and loved volunteering to contribute to the community. The beautiful Olive Tree artwork for my last markets which was created by the amazing Indigenous artists, and Olive Tree stallholder, Wayde Clarke of Alejandro Lauren, has a small reference to dad and I at that first market sitting in his ute which is really special.
How many stall holders were at that first market?
There were about 70 stall holders and we met every single person for that first market. For five months leading up to our first market we invited each potential applicant to our houses to meet them and learn about their creative practices and ambitions. Building a supportive community based event, which was committed to shining a light on creators of high quality handmade and Australian designed goods was integral to our ethos from Olive Tree’s inception.
We worked really hard from the beginning to curate a new type of event in Newcastle that was dedicated to showing local creatives that markets could be a viable and major contributor to earning a living from their creative small businesses.
When did the market move from The Junction to Civic Park?
From October 2008 until December 2014 we were at The Junction Public School, the school was about to undergo major works, and while we loved the location, that meant we would not have been able to operate. Whilst it was sad to leave, we had realistically outgrown the space, so moving to Civic Park gave us the opportunity to take the Olive Tree to the next level.
We felt proud that the first two years of operating we donated all stall fees to the school’s P&C and it was the major fundraiser for the school for 6 years.
Moving to Civic Park was a big moment for Olive Tree, and allowed the markets to grow and evolve in a new direction including offering stallholders new opportunities and the ability to create exciting activities and activations where our visitors could take part in creative workshops and cultural experiences. We also developed some fantastic new partnerships and collaborations, including a 5 year partnership where we operated quarterly dates of Olive Tree at Maitland Regional Art Gallery
The move really contributed to growing our reputation on the National stage as one of Australia’s best art and design markets and really contributed to Newcastle developing a reputation as a creative destination for cultural tourism.
How much did the stallholder community grow in that time?
Pre-Covid we would average between 140 - 150 stall holders per market, then at yearly Christmas Markets we would feature between 175 - 200 stalls, which was a lot. It has been a huge job for one person to manage on a monthly basis.
You must have so many memories, it’s hard to highlight only a few. Were there perhaps any pinch-me moments that you distinctly remember?
There have been a lot! I've literally worked with thousands of creative small businesses, artists, designers, makers, producers and musicians and performers over the last 15 years, and I feel incredibly privileged to have shared this journey with each and every community member.
So many of our creatives have gone on to achieve amazing things with their businesses and have careers. It's been really inspiring to watch and to see how our customers and visitors have grown with us and embraced supporting local and Australian made. This support really has been incredible.
We have also welcomed guest artists from Melbourne, Brisbane and as far away as West Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, when Indigenous arts centre Injalak Arts, had a stall featuring beautiful textile and fibre art created by artists from Gunbalamya. So our community has expanded to be inclusive of artists and makers from around Australia, which means these creatives have spread the word about Olive Tree and Newcastle.
I’ve been really honoured and proud to collaborate with inspiring First Nations creative small businesses, organisations and enterprises including Cherie Johnson of Speaking In Colour who I've been very proud to work with to co-curate two amazing series of Aboriginal Cultural Workshops and performances at Olive Tree. I've loved working with Indigenous artists including Saretta Fielding, Wayde Clarke and Jade Holborow and it's been inspiring to watch the incredible growth and success they have each achieved with their artwork and creative small businesses.
The 30th Anniversary of the Mabo's decision event which was held at Olive Tree and where I worked with incredible members of the local Torres Strait Islander community. These experiences have all been really meaningful to me.
Seeing the stallholders grow their enterprise at Olive Tree which has allowed them to evolve to boutique bricks and mortar stores has been exciting, most recently Hand Heads Heart, have opened a beautiful ceramics store, they also continue to operate at Olive Tree which is great for our visitors.
Creating an Emerging Artist Mentorship and mentoring creative industries students from the University of Newcastle has been important to me. Our inaugural recipient, natural history illustrator Sami Bayly, has now published a number of books and I was so impressed at the time to hear she received a handwritten letter from David Attenborough. Seeing young artists thrive has been amazing and incredibly rewarding.
Hearing that visitors travel from overseas and around Australia to Newcastle, specifically to visit Olive Tree, and give the feedback to stallholders that Olive Tree is the best creative market they have visited makes me so proud.
It was also really exciting to have Destination NSW film at Olive Tree, having Channel 9's Weekend Breakfast show broadcast live from Olive Tree and interviewing many of our stallholders over a number of hours was quite a buzz, as was having our community feature in national publications. Being the NSW Government's main sponsored event as part of the inaugural New Annual Festival coming back after Covid meant a lot.
Most importantly, the pinch me moments have been watching the way in which the wider community has embraced and grown with The Olive Tree Market. Producing a community based event where everyone is welcome, where creativity, community, and education has been fostered, where community interactions and relationships have developed, and where the concept of supporting the local and the creative economies has grown exponentially and underpinned the success of The Olive Tree Market.
There have been so many moments, I could go on and on.
At what point did you decide that it was time to move on from Olive Tree?
My dad passed away the November before Covid, and it was then that I decided it was time for me to step aside. My daughter was going into year 12, so the timing felt right and the business was in a good position. Then Covid-19 hit! Covid threw so much uncertainty at our community, artists, designers, makers and all of the creative industries were in crisis. Most creatives lost their entire income overnight, so I felt a massive responsibility to the community to keep Olive Tree going in some capacity, so I decided to try to move the market online.
It was overwhelming, but we were the first market in Australia to do this alongside Canberra Handmade and our supporters really were amazing in their response. I then successfully applied for an industry response grant to build a new platform and operate two more online markets in 2020. We had over 50,000 visits from all around Australia and overseas to visit the first market on the new site, a large majority from Sydney and Melbourne which showed the reach that Olive Tree has. 100% of the sales went to stallholders so I feel really proud of that.
Our first market back in 2021 was a part of the New Annual festival and we had 110 stall holders, and more than 10,000 people attended, which was so amazing but tricky to manage with just myself and four staff. Many creative businesses and major festivals and events didn’t make it through Covid, so I feel so grateful that Olive Tree has and that so many of our community members have successfully continued their creative enterprises. It's been a really rocky road to keep the momentum going but being working with our community to rebuild the market to a pre-COVID position has been really rewarding.
Last year I became seriously unwell, and was finding it difficult to physically work at the markets and to operate in my usual capacity. I knew I needed to make the decision to step aside
So it’s a new era for Olive Tree!
Cedar Mill Events are the proud new owners of Olive Tree. It's fitting that I leave The Olive Tree Market as the market celebrates our 15th anniversary.
When I made the decision to sell the market I wanted to ensure that Olive Tree would not only continue to trade, but that I would be leaving the market in the hands of an experienced operator who would stay true to the ethos of the event, who would continue to foster and support the creative community, and who would guide Olive Tree through a successful transition into an exciting new era with new opportunities for both stallholders and visitors. I believe it's a great synergy and I can’t wait to see what's next!
It must have been difficult to let go of a business that you have spent such a large part of your life building.
Olive Tree really has been my passion and something I believe in so strongly so it has been an emotional time and will be a huge change in my life. But I’m ready and feel I have given it my everything and that I’m leaving the market in good hands. I’ve built life-long friendships with members of our creative community- some stallholders have been with us since the very first market which is really special. It will be a very different experience but I really look forward to enjoying the market in a different way, to visiting Olive Tree as a customer and supporter. I'll visit this Saturday to say 'goodbye' to our creative community.
Do you have any firm plans in place as to what you are going to do now?
Initially my priority will be my health, and then I’ll take some time for myself to decide ‘what's next’, I invested a big portion of my life into Olive Tree and it really has been my passion. Prior to Olive Tree my background was working in the arts, including in documentary films that focused on social justice issues, as a photographer and working with Indigenous organisations and filmmakers. I studied communications and majored in film, writing and politics. Working with creatives, in the arts, and with Indigenous organisations and communities in some capacity are all areas I’m passionate about.
Whichever career path I’m led down I’ll be drawn in that direction, but at this stage I am not sure what that will be.
I would really like to acknowledge my parents, my partner Jason and daughter Lily who have all been amazing supporters of me and Olive Tree. Jason has worked every market since day one for free, as did my dad, and my parents were amazing volunteering for many years including hand-letterboxing 20,000 postcards each year which really help locals know about Olive Tree. I really couldn't have grown Olive Tree into what it has become without my family's amazing support.
A cultural and community hub, mornings spent at the Olive Tree market have become a way of life for locals and visitors alike, keen to discover and revel in the artsy community energy, and this Saturday 4th November is no different. Get along to Civic Park and help continue Justine’s legacy of supporting local artists, musicians, performers and creative small businesses.