Looking out from under the clocks at Flinders Street Station, you see one of the busiest intersections in the city. Trams and cars roar past, sirens blare and thousands of feet patter by over the gray pavement and up the steps.
On one corner is the historic and always busy Young and Jackson's pub (there has been a hotel on this site since the 1850s), on another, St Pauls Cathedral and on the third, the bustling arts and culture precinct of Federation Square. On Swanston Street, along the station concourse itself, buskers set up their pitches, filling the air with the sounds of drumming, Elvis or Vivaldi.
This is one of Melbourne's great centres, her major crossroad. Although the City Loop has taken some of the pressure off, around 200,000 commuters pass through Flinders Street Station every day and because of this, people who want public attention come here to preach, perform, protest or give out freebies.
One Saturday afternoon I saw an Amnesty International flash mob assemble on the steps, hold up placards and sing along to Queen's “I want to be Free” before dispersing into just another mob of commuters. Click here to watch a video of the event.
If there's a concert, race meeting, footy match, protest march or festival, you’ll see the evidence at the station.
I've been passing through when the concourse was full of kids in Metallica t-shirts going to a big concert at the showgrounds and, another day, I was waiting under the clocks when dozens of white-clad Sikhs streamed through to attend a religious parade. On a Race Day, stop here for a coffee and you'll be up to date with the latest fashions for both men and women.
The facade, topped with its one large and two small domes is Melbourne’s great landmark. Souvenir shops sell dozens of cushions, fridge magnets and snow domes emblazoned with pictures of the facade.
Any time of the day or night you can see people standing outside the station with their cameras or mobile phones raised. I wonder how many photographs you’d appear in, if you just stood still for 15 minutes under the clocks.
Search for Flinders Street Station on the Internet photo sharing site Flickr and you'll turn up 12,000 + photos of the facade, mostly with travellers posed in front as a way of saying "here I am in Melbourne".
One golden winter afternoon as I was standing on the steps gathering atmosphere for beginning this blog, three photographers stood out for me from among the many. One was a birdwatcher (typical of the Melbournians who use the station for so many purposes other than just travel) photographing the station's sparrows and pigeons for her own blog. The other two were young Chinese men - one in a tuxedo and the other with a professional-looking tripod and camera.
Tuxedo Man was returning to Shanghai after nine years of high school and university in Melbourne, and his friend was helping him compile an album of photos to commemorate his time here. They’d done Melbourne University, the Shrine, the Royal Botanic Gardens and now they were doing the station. Tuxedo didn't think much of the shabby old place, he’d stopped coming here as soon as he’d got a car, but it was Melbourne’s landmark so there had to be a picture.
By the way, there is no truth to the persistent rumor that Melbourne got the station that was supposed to be built in Mumbai. As I once heard Jenny Davies, the Flinders Street historian, point out, considering how long it takes to build public buildings and how expensive they are, nobody is going to accidentally build the wrong one.
In addition, Victoria Terminus or as it is now named Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (a magnificent station in its own right, take a look here) was completed 12 years before the Flinders Street Station design competition. But "our" station does have some international links. Take a look at this picture of Luz Station, the main railway station of Sao Paulo, Brazil, which was inspired by the lines of Flinders Street Station.
One hundred and fourteen years after James Fawcett and H.P. Ashworth won the 1899 competition to design Flinders Street station, another competition is being run to renovate the station. The results will be announced in July 1213.
I've been writing this blog against this background, trying to show how important Flinders Street Station is in the lives of the people of Melbourne. Melbournians flock through here, for work and play, but because of its everyday function, they don't always notice how often they come.
Nor do many realise that in Flinders Street Station they already have a major landmark, one that is recognised worldwide.
Flinders Street in Art
The Net seems full of artists who have decided to record aspects of the station, because despite the comments I keep reading in the papers and on the Net, lots of people think it's a stunning building.
Fredrick McCubbin has immortalized the station (Click here), as has Charles Blackman and a host of lesser known artists. In this post, I have sampled a cross section of some of the miriad of different paintings, watercolours, sketches and etchings of "our Station" that appear across the Net.
They turn up in the art auction houses, on artists websites, and as stencils on walls. If I have whet your apetitite, try putting Flinders Street Station and painting into a search engine... see more images here.
The station is also used to signify Melbourne in political, social and commercial imagery.
Or this one from Carol Porter of the radical group RedPlanet posters -
The station has even been imortalized on the human body. - Take a look at the great tattoo here.