Melinda Knowles of Mittagong with her horse shoe garden art at the Hall Markets. Photo: Melissa Adams
Eight months ago, Melinda Knowles had no idea how to use a welder.
Today she is satisfying her artistic urges and supplementing her regular income by creating and selling exquisitely crafted examples of horse shoe art including spheres, pears and other objects at markets all over southern NSW.
Knowles, from near Mittagong, was one of 290 stallholders at the Hartley Lifecare Hall Market on Sunday.
Market manager Leonie Mayberry, who works for Hartley Lifecare, said the event was on track to be one of the best attended in the 25-year history of the markets.
''The November market drew 4500 people, the most we have ever had out here,'' she said. ''The December market is traditionally the biggest of the year and we are hoping to top last month's figures.''
Extra stalls were added to cater for Canberrans out to do Christmas shopping, a Bolivian musical contingent contributed to the festive spirit with carols on the Pan pipes, and Santa Claus also did the rounds.
The market, an ACT institution, is made possible by a dedicated team of volunteers. Some have been involved for a quarter of a century.
Peter Bray, a former Hartley Lifecare chief executive officer, can't imagine doing anything else on the first Sunday of the month.
''Some of the volunteers have been with us forever, since even before I arrived,'' he said.
Others are much newer. A team of 26 students from Bruce's Radford College were on hand to help out.
The markets are one of the major sources of fund-raising for Hartley Lifecare, an organisation formed 50 years ago ago to support children and young adults with disabilities in the Territory.
Its first facility, Hartley House, was built in O'Connor. Supported accommodation, in the form of three purpose-built homes in Hughes, arrived in 1984. It is just over a year since new offices, including both training facilities and a technology centre, opened in Pearce.
Mrs Mayberry, who joined Hartley in June, said she had become involved for two reasons - she had supported a team in Hartley's annual Kosciuszko bike ride for five years and she already had a passion for helping the handicapped dating back to her time as a disability support assistant.
One of the few genuinely dog-friendly markets in the ACT, the Hall Market has always been a hit with families. Visitors to Sunday's event could indulge in sausage sizzles, get cash from a wireless ATM, buy sweet potatoes up to 30 centimetres long, take away the picture of their choice or even buy a millet broom made on a farm near Tumut. The excitement returns in February.