Love stories from the station – a special post from the Love Stories Project

"Young couple embracing on the platform, Flinders Street Station". Photograph by Jesse Marlow (1999-2000) The collection of the State Library of Victoria.

It’s been around for more than 100 years and more than 100,000 people pass through it each day, so we’re wondering –  is Flinders Street Station an unsung hero of Melbourne’s genealogy?

Back in October  2012 we asked people to send us in their love stories related to the station… and it seem that the answer to our question about the station’s effect on Melbourne genealogy was a resounding …YES.

Romance at the Station from

Here are some of the stories we were sent and images from the State Library, the Public Record Office and from the net that tell of romance at the station.

Margot Sherwood wrote:

You might be interested to know that I was introduced to my late husband in March 1947 in the lift of the Flinders Street Building.

I was already a member of the Melbourne Bushwalkers club and he was on his way to join. I am not sure whether the meetings were held in the Ballroom but certainly they were upstairs in one of the large rooms there.

We became very close after that meeting, attending every week on Friday nights when the meetings were held and going on many hikes; day hikes and weekend hikes. After two years going out together we were married at Easter 1949 and went on a Bushwalking trip to Wilsons  Promontory for our Honeymoon along with other members.

I had another connection with that wonderful building. As children, my sister and I were left in the Child Minding Centre while our Mother and Grandmother went shopping.

I have very clear memories of the Child Minding Centre. We were in different sections as I was  older than my sister and could ride around on a trike whereas she was in the bubs section.

It was painted green with a kind of stippled green on the walls.

Margot’s story is very similar to the story of my own parents, Vern and Lois Routley who met much later in the 60s at a bushwalking meeting at the Station.

"Young punks seated on the floor of the domed booking hall, Flinders Street Station". Photo by Jesse Marlow (1999-2000). From the collection of the State Library of Victoria.

When I asked people to send in their love stories about Flinders Street I was secretly longing to get pictures of women bidding their serviceman boyfriends goodbye on the station steps.  Unfortunately, I think most men went to war from other stations so no such pictures turned up.

Still the call for stories did garner some responses about servicemen.

I met my husband at the Flinders Street Ballroom in about the year 1959 I was there with some friends, sitting down at the time. The Ballroom was a great place to go to and I always think of it when I do go to the City. All of a sudden this sailor raced up, grabbed my arm and pulled me out onto the balcony, then kissed me saying:

“Quick pretend you’re my girlfriend as this chick is after me and I’m trying to avoid her.”

We started to go out after that. We got engaged in May 1960 and married in January 1961. We moved around to various Naval bases in  Australia, before settling in Frankston Vic. We had 3 children.

Joan Smith

"Sabrina and James under the clocks". Photograph by Elleni Toumpas Permission from

So Flinders Street was a great meeting place in the past.  What about now?  Do people still meet and find love there? Apparently so.

Platform 5, Flinders Street station, was a drizzly wet depressing grey day.  I was heading to a job interview in South Melbourne.  My car had broken down and for the first time in 15 years I had to take a train.  I couldn’t wait to get out of the interview and talking myself down and out of the position.  I quickly headed to Flinders Street station to catch a train back home.  Standing on the platform waiting impatiently, I sensed a tremendous energy coming from the right of me; I looked over and didn’t see anyone.  Again I felt a strange sense of energy even stronger this time and looked over again and saw a man walking toward me, limping slightly.  I didn’t think much of it, until I felt this sensation behind me and then move to the left of me.  I looked over and there was the same man standing beside me.  He asked me for a light.  I handed him a light.  We looked at each other and I felt like I had known him my entire life.  We started talking instantly, without any awkwardness between us.  He told me that he hadn’t caught a train in years and was coming back from a consultation with doctors at the Epworth Hospital.  He had injured his leg, and was catching the train, as he wasn’t allowed to drive for a while.

The Upfield train arrived and we both hopped on, we sat next to each other and talking like we had been friends for years.  I had just started experimenting with crystals and gemstones and told him about my fondness for them, he excitedly told me he was a crystal healer and had been working with crystals for many years and offered to teach me more about them.  I realised that I was almost home and asked him where he was getting off, he said ‘Moreland Station’, he lived in Fitzroy but was house sitting for his sister.  My stop was Coburg, which was the next stop.  We were both excited that we were living so close to each other and decided to meet up again.  We exchanged numbers and parted.  I was on a high for the rest of the day, and felt something move in me that I had never felt before.

His name was Kieran. He called me the next day and we decided to meet at the Brunswick Music Festival and just hang out.  We drank, sang, danced and had our first kiss under a beautiful tree at the back of the Retreat Hotel in Brunswick.  We never parted ways after that day. We moved in together the next day, 3 months later he proposed to me under the same tree we had our first kiss, 8 months later we had a beautiful daughter, 1 year later we were married.

Would we have met if my car had not broken down?  Would we have met if Kieran was not house sitting for his sister in Moreland, as he lived in Fitzroy?”

Atalanti Dionysus

And yes, people do still meet up under the clocks. I received this little story when enquiring about the wedding cake pictured below. Many thanks to Jane Winks from the shop Cake Passion for tracking down the story.

In 2002 David and I met at Flinders Street station. He was waiting for his friends and I was waiting for mine. I was quite confident so I went up to him and started a conversation.

On 22nd December 2010, David and I were at Flinders Street station in the same place we had met when he told me he loved me for the first time and he asked me to marry him.

He quickly followed this proposal by asking if he had to get down on one knee as it was quite busy and he was embarrassed (I said he didn’t have to).

We were married on 7th January 2012 and the theme for the wedding was Flinders Street.

By Tarryn

Flinders Street Station wedding cake designed by Jane Winks Wedding Cake Designer Cake Passion

However not all “Under the Clocks ” romances end sucessfully.  Writer Karen Mackenzie sent in this reminiscence.

At age 22 in a writing class, I heard a man seated near me exclaim, “It’s you!”

I glanced around. The man was pointing at me.

“About four years ago,” he said. “You were waiting under the clocks at Flinders Street station, all dolled up. Obviously meeting a date. And I thought, wow, she’s gorgeous. Maybe I should stick around and see if her date stands her up. Hell, maybe I should just go say hello. But I figured you would think I was just some loser guy. So I didn’t say anything. Your image has haunted me. And here you are.”

Everyone in the class, including the teacher, looked from the man to me and back again, like we were tennis players. I couldn’t even remember the date he mentioned. But then, I’ve met a lot of people under the clocks at Flinders Street Station.

Not being someone strangers called gorgeous, I will always remember the event. And soon after, the man concerned asked me out on a date.

If this were fiction, this man and I would have fallen madly in love, but no… The one date was flat; the man concerned had a few too many problems… ah well. I still have the memory of that time when a man told me that my image at Flinders Street Station haunted him for years.”

"Waiting for a train, Flinders Street Station", Jesse Marlow (1999-2000) from the collection of the State Library of Victoria.

Finally, I had to include this little paean of praise to the Station and the train system sent to us by Lousie Mapleston.  It describes the ups and downs of the rocky relationship that a lot of Melbournians have with their daily commute.

My relationship with Myki, Metro and the MX

The Melbourne transport system is more than just a couple trains, trams or buses to me; we are much more intimate than that, I like to think of him as similar to my best friend or a boyfriend. Now before you start thinking “oh god she thinks the train is her boyfriend…what a crazy” hear me out. The MX will explain everything.

There are two schools of thought as to why a 20 year old would not have their driver’s license to transport them around Melbourne: a) they are environmentally and economically conscious b) They are too lazy to learn how to drive. I fall into both categories. And as a consequence of my decision (some could say lethargy) I ride around Melbourne on the fantastic public transport system known as Metro up to 7 days a week- frequenting the Frankston and Sandringham train lines as I commute from my house in Cheltenham to university, work, drama classes and social outings around inner city Melbourne. Sometimes I can spend up to 3 hours travelling on public transport around Melbourne, from one activity to the other, and have developed a delightfully queer relationship with the whole system.

Like anything you interact with every day there are bound to be a range of dynamics, similar to a romantic relationship; most of the time your boyfriend smells nice and is punctual but occasionally he really messes up and causes you so much grief that you miss appointments, are late to class or get so angry at him AND SCREAM like the crazy lady that you are. This is exactly how I feel about Metro. I recently lost my ninth Myki, yep, that lime green rectangle of pain who essentially acts as the gatekeeper of metropolitan travel. If you don’t have a Myki the MoPo (Metro Police) will issue you with an absurdly priced fine aimed to deter you from fare evading again. What will the carelessly clumsy like me do? I cannot keep on buying Mykis as my bank account won’t allow for it, I cannot continue to receive a fare evasion fines for the same principal and for some reason I cannot stop loosing Mykis. The other day I bought a Myki at North Melbourne train station and it had disappeared by the time I had waddled over to platform 2, so I went and bought another which disappeared 3 days later on the Frankston line somewhere.

So I spend a lot of money on Metro and most of the time come out feeling positive about the whole experience, kind of like going on a date- and thanks to the MX, metro has actually turned into a dating service for me too. Most readers will be familiar with the MX, the evening tabloid that circulates around train stations and public transport venues to give commuters a light hearted read for their journey home. In the MX there is a section called “here’s looking at you”, where random commuters write into the paper if they see or have a chat with someone on public transport that they think is pretty cute but may not have had the chance to ask out. Now without blowing my own trumpet I may have had 4 people write into the MX after me in one year, yes my head did just grow to the size of melon. Most of the time it is just creeps on the Frankston line looking to make some Frankston babies but I am sure there must be some relatively ‘normal’ relationships that have come out of the playful section.

I have met two close friends on public transport, been asked out for a date on a tram, been told that “You are hotter than my dead girlfriend” by a colourful druggie on the train and given a puppy on the 600 bus once. I love that Metro started recording Richmond station’s platform announcer for service announcement across the CBD because he sounds like a radio host. I love being surprised when a Frankston train comes early but secretly relying on it to be late so you can have that extra minute of sleep in the morning. I love the harsh MoPo who honestly think they hold the judicial powers of a police officer. And I am in love with the fantasy that somewhere out in the suburbs of Melbourne my mountain of Myki’s will accrue and be found by some other irresponsible license-less sod.”

Then there are the missed opportunities, like those chronicled in the pages of MX magazine. The faces glimpsed at the station and then lost, eyes that meet and then are lost in the crowds.... Photos from the Public Record Office collection.

Setting off for a new life together. Courtesy of


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The Landmark at the Heart of the City

"Flinders Street Station Melbourne" by Simon Fieldhouse. Copyright the artist (

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.

"Flinders St Station" by Conrad Clark. Copyright the artist. (

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.

Flinders Street by Ted Dansey. Copyright the artist (

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.

"Flinders Street Station 1990" by Judith Alexandrovics. Copyright the artist (

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.

not all of painting is there

"Flinders Street Station II" by Peter Gerasimon. Copyright the artist, (

If there’s a concert, race meeting, footy match, protest march or festival, you’ll see the evidence at the station.

"Stopping all stations" (2005) by Stephen Armstrong. Copyright the artist.

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.

"Waiting Flinders Street Station" by Keming Shen, copyright the artist (

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.

"Flinders Street Station" by Melea Moonbeam. Copyright the artist (

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”.

"Walking to Flinders Street, Melbourne" by Charles Sluga. Copyright the artist (

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.

"Flinders Street Station" by David Coppinger. Copyright the artist (

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.

Flinders Street Station by Jacqueline Dean. Copyright the artist (

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 Station at night by Alvaro Castagnet. Copyright the artist (

Flinders Street in Art

"Flinders Street Station" by Charles Blackman (1950). Image courtesy of Benalla Art Gallery

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.

"Flinders Street Station from Princes Bridge" etching by John Shirlow (1922) from the collection of the State Library of Victoria.

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 -

"Melbourne 2020" by Carol Porter, published by RedPlanet Poster (1996). From the collection of the State Library Victoria. Copyright the artist (

The station has even been imortalized on the human body. - Take a look at the great tattoo  here.

Stencil graffiti posted on

Ever seen anything interesting at Flinders Street or met someone exciting? We’d love to hear your stories. Comment here or contact us on the Culture Victoria Facebook page or email us at

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The forgotten station

The skeleton of the Milk Dock roof looms over Platform One. Major Projects Victoria photograph

Platform One at Flinders Street Station is the longest railway platform in Australia and, at 708 metres long, the 4th longest in the world.  This platform stretches the length of two city blocks from Swanston Street to the end of Queen Street.  

The platform’s western end is closed to the public although that doesn’t seem to stop the graffiti artists. Redeveloping this part of the station was a major part of the brief given to architects in the recent competition to renovate Flinders Street Station and the place could certainly do with it. But it would be sad to lose the many clues that remain to indicate its previous busy life…  

The "good old days" of the railways parcel office. Image from PROV

In the old days, the Milk Dock and the Parcels Office kept this part of the station very busy.  Up till 1986, the Parcels Office at Flinders Street Station was the main transfer point for all parcels to the suburban and the Gippsland lines.  Even greyhounds used to travel via the Parcels Office. As a child, watching the parcel vans trundling along the line was a feature of waiting on suburban platforms.  I remember reels of film for nearby Channel Ten being unloaded from the train at Nunawading station, an interesting overlap of old and new technologies.  Now the big roller shutters in that part of the station stay firmly closed.  

Down this end, much of the station is underused. Electrical trolleys used for restocking vending machines park along one wall and piles of red plastic bread trays collect in the corners. Shopping and baggage trolleys that have been abandoned on trains are parked in neat rows until they can be returned to their places of origin.  There’s also an odd little collection of derelict electrical goods – bar fridges, water coolers and stereos - perhaps discarded office equipment, but very possibly dumped on the tracks and collected up by the gangers.  

A machine for grinding rails to reduce wheel friction is parked on the branch line section of Platform One. The station can just be seen in the background. Major Projects Victoria photograph

The end of Platform One is divided in two by a branch line. Milk trains from Gippsland used to unload much of Melbourne’s milk here.  Full milk cans were unloaded and clean empty milk cans were sorted and loaded up to be returned to the dairy farms for the next days milking. A couple of years ago the old asbestos roof tiles were removed from the platform awning above the dock itself leaving only the skeletal remains of the supports which are starting to rust. Heavy track machinery is parked here, but otherwise it is left to the weeds which are colonising it with great vigor.  

Milk and cream cans waiting transport at Tongala Railway station in the Goulburn Valley, c1910. Image Courtesy of Museum Victoria.

Behind the platform is the Milk Dock re-distribution area. Once this impressive blue stone loading bay would have been bustling with trucks and horses and carts as milk was sorted and distributed to the suburban dairies for delivery to suburban front doors.  Nowadays it’s a parking bay for Metro company cars.  

The milk dock and eastern end of the station. Image from PROV.

Cars parked in the milk dock. Major Projects Victoria photograph

Hearn’s Hobbies is another part of the Flinders Street Station story and features in the fond memories of many Melbournians.  

Started after the war by three World War Two fighter pilots with a passion for aeromodelling, Hearn’s has operated out of the basement at the western end of the station for 50 years. The shop, or rather the five shops with walls removed to make one, still have the beautiful orginal pressed metal ceiling.  

The Hearn brothers were pioneers of radio controlled aeroplanes in Melbourne, set a world height record for radio controlled aircraft flight, won the first Wakefield Trophy in Victoria and even re-enacted Kingsford Smith’s flight using radio controlled aircraft!!  

Though the Hearns have retired now, the shop is still a bustling Mecca for model enthusiasts of all ages; a wonderland of model kits from trains and areoplanes to Japanese fighting robots and redolent of the smells of paint and glue.  

Hearn's Hobby Catalogue 1960-1. Image from Hearn's Hobby Website (

If you walk past Hearn’s Hobbies, further west along Flinders Street, things become very quiet.  After you pass the tall bluestone retaining wall and ramp of the old milk distribution area, there is a small garden and then three old shops that were built in the 1920s.  One is still open as a shoe repairer, but other two have been closed for 30 years, though they are still covered in signs advertising the previous tenant, a R-rated Liberated Bookshop.   

Things pick up again when you pass the end of Queens Street and reach Banana Alley, a collection of shops under the railway viaduct here. Back when there was a river wharf on this part of the Yarra, fruit was warehoused in these cool curving vaults, hence the name.  The vaults survived a long period of neglect in the 60s and 70s.  They now house a nightclub, several gyms, a secure bike park and a small café with outside tables where office workers sit and drink their preferred brew on sunny days.  The vaults have even starred in a TV series, Canal Road.   Despite these signs of life, it’s still worrying to look up and see the self-seeded palm and ash trees growing out of the vaults roofs.  

A busy industrial view of Banana Alley in the early c1920 with the bridges and river behind. Image from PROV.

If you walk down to the end of Banana Alley, turn left under the railway bridge and climb up to the north bank of the Yarra, the atmosphere changes completely.  

When I visited one midday recently, the bluestone alleyway was busy with people and after climbing up the ramp at the end, I found myself in a fresh new area called Les Erdi Plaza.  Here, with the help of funds from businessman and philanthropist Les Erdi, the old Sandridge Railway Bridge has been turned into a pedestrian and cycle bridge and a memorial to the immigrants who used to cross it by train on their way from Station Pier. The burned down signal box near the Sandridge Bridge has been very successfully refurbished in glass and steel and become  Signal – a youth arts space, where experienced artists offer workshops and mentoring for young people between 13-20.  

Youth arts centre Signal in the refurbished signal box at Flinders Street Station. From the Signal Website.

I peeked inside Signal and admired the tall bright space and the artworks on display.  During January,  Signal ran the Signal 37 Arts Program in a series of big white domed tents decorated in Alice in Wonderland themes, culminating with a showcase event on the 26th.  

The signal box. The weatherboard upper level was destroyed by fire in 2002. If I remember correctly, during the 1990s the iron verandas were festooned with an extensive and presumably well tended grape vine. Image from PROV.

The working signal box, now replaced with offices and art works. Image from PROV

It was great to see the north bank of the Yarra turned into something that combined old and new so sucessfully.  It was as if refurbishment had spread the over the Sandridge bridge from Southbank. I can only hope it continues to spread over the tracks and onto Flinders Street.  

Flinders Street in art – Movies  

When I started this blog I tracked down and watched On the Beach, the Hollywood movie about the end of the world, set and filmed in Melbourne in 1959. For those interested, ACMI has a copy to lend.  

Aside from enjoying the movie, it was great to see scenes of the Melbourne of the late fifties – Elizabeth Street, the State Library and of course my favourite railway station. In one scene, people ride bicycles, horses and trams down Elizabeth Street with the station and its clock tower in the background.  

Ava Gardner runs towards the station in this still from the MGM film On The Beach.

In another pivotal scene, Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner stroll down Swanston Street past the old Classic Cafe (now changed into a Maccas) and pause outside Young and Jacksons Hotel. Here Ava urges Greg to seize the day, before rushing away into the station to the sound of swelling violins. Check the film out, it’s a great story even if the sound track is hard going. Don’t be put off by the old story that Ava Gardener was rude about Melbourne. In fact, Sydney journalist Neil Jillett confessed later that he’d misquoted her when he had her saying that Melbourne was the perfect place to film the end of the world. (This interesting essay from ACMI includes more information about that story and the significance of the film).  

As well as On the Beach, scenes from the movie Squizzy Taylor and the TV series The Pacific were filmed here, while the Hollywood film Killer Elite and the Australian film maker Oscar Redding’s version of Hamlet included scenes filmed in the Campbell Street underpass.  

I’m sure there must be others. The image of the facade pops up all over the place.  Anytime a filmaker wants to tell the audience the action is taking place in Melbourne, he or she pops in a couple of frames of the Flinders Street station facade even if the action is taking place in another part of the city. Or, as in the case of a recent documentary about female suffrage, even if the station wasn’t built when the events took place.  

Flinders Street Station Facade is visual shorthand for Melbourne.

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What was there before “Our Station”?

Known as the bucket image becasue of the bucket the photographer forgot to remove this is a photo of the station staff. The gangers down on the train line are getting into the act as well.

Dignitaries pose on one of the platforms of the old station with gangers and other workers behind. A bucket lies forgotten in the foreground. The large man on the right looks very like Thomas Bent who was Commissioner for Railways between 1881- 1883. Bent was the kind of politician of whom it was said, "Bent by name and Bent by nature." Photo from the ARHS archives.

Of all the organisations in the Culture Victoria Organisation page, The Australian Railway Historical Society (Victorian Branch) (ARHS) has the most to do with things railway, so I didn’t feel that I could write about Flinders Street Station without finding out what they had in their archives.

Accordingly, one spring day I hopped on a train to North Williamstown. The train was full of school kids on holiday loaded up with huge slushies scored from some promotion in the centre of town and at the railway station they met up with friends who had clearly been to the same promotion on an earlier train and had even bigger slushies.

The sky was black with the promise of rain and I hurried off down Champion Road towards the Newport Railway Workshops, home of the ARHS. As I walked, I passed tantalizing glimpses of the locomotive through the chain link fence of the railway museum, which is currently closed for maintenance.

I reached the safety of the security guard’s office before the rain started and Ian Jenkin of the ARHS picked me up in his car. The Newport Railway Workshops are big! On wide expanses of green, rabbits were taking advantage of the rain to hop among stored railway carriages in varying states of repair. Beyond, modern silver trains clattered along the adjacent railway line.

The Newport Railway workshops were built in 1884-6. Photo from the Victoria Victorian Heritage Register, courtesy Heritage Victoria.

The Newport Railway Workshops were established in the 1880s for construction and maintenance of the Victorian Railways rolling stock. At its height, it was one of Victoria’s largest and best-equipped engineering establishments, with up to 5,000 employees on site. Some of the site is still in use by railway engineering works, while the 1880s brick and bluestone workshops are used by a variety of railway heritage organizations.

Steam engines awaiting completion in the Erection Shop of the Newport Workshops in the 1920s. Image from PROV.

The  archives are stored in what was once the old wood drying shed. In a staff room at the back 4 or 5 rail enthusiasts (known in the trade as gunzels) were cataloguing and scanning slides into laptops. The ARHS has a wide focus and strong interest in rolling stock, so their archives didn’t contain a lot about the present Flinders Street station building. Nevertheless, I was charmed by their pictures of the old Jolimont rail yards. They also possessed a variety of material relating to the history of the site (but more of that later).

The Jolimont Rail Yards (now the site of Federation Square and Birrarung Marr). On the far left, behind the Tait carriages can be seen the mortuary trains used in the days when coffins were transported out to Kew Cemetery by train. Photo from the ARHS archives.

In the background of this photo, behind the shunting rolling stock, the Flinders Street and Princes Bridge Stations can be seen through wreaths of steam. Jenkin pointed out the old Tait “red rattler” carriages that I remember fondly from my schooldays in the 70s. I was most delighted by the sight of the little steam locomotives, puffing about looking so like model trains. If you enlarge the image, familiar destinations such as Reservoir, Alphington and Kew can be seen under the boilers of some of the engines.

As Jenkin showed me through the archives, I saw that there were a number of pictures relating to a story I hadn’t explored yet – the history of the site before the current station was built.

The Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Rail Company built the first small weather-board rail terminus on Flinders Street in 1854 as part of a rail line that travelled between Flinders Street and Port Melbourne (known in those days as Sandridge). Opened during the Victorian Gold Rush, the line transported the flood of hopeful miners into the centre of the city from the busy port. This was the first railway line in Melbourne and, indeed, in Australia.

Flinders Street Station c1854. Australia's first railway. This is a copy of the original sketch by S.T. Gill showing the first station buildings and the single line from Sandridge. Image from the State Library Victoria collection.

As the suburban rail system grew and passed through the hands of a number of companies before landing in Government, so too did the Flinders Street terminus grow, with platforms and a higgledy piggledy collection of timber and corrugated iron buildings thrown up without any particular plan.

Looking down from a Flinders St office building in the 1880s, this view shows the main entrance near Elizabeth Street where passengers could drop in for a snack at the Oyster Bar on the left of the station entrance. Photo from the ARHS archives.

By the time the above picture was taken, discussions about building a new station had begun. The terminus pictured consists of booking, waiting and staff rooms, as well as a telegraph office, lamp room, oyster saloon, bookstall, licensed bars and a fruit and confectionery shop. There are ramps from Swanston Street and a bridge over the tracks provides an exit to Elizabeth Street through the station building in the foreground beneath the billboard for Waldron’s Sauce. With so many exits, ticket control must have been very poor. The veranda over the second platform from the river still exists but is now part of heritage-listed Hawthorn Station.

The corner of Swanston and Flinders Street had been the site of an open air fish market from the 1840s and in 1865 this two storey building was built. It operated as the Melbourne Fish Market from 1865 - 1892. Image courtesy of Royal Historical Society Victoria.

Between 1865-1892, the Melbourne Fish Market occupied the Flinders and Swanston Street corner, sited near the railway station because in the days before refrigeration, rail was the fastest way to get fish to market while it was still fresh.

Flinders Street station entrance in the 1890s. The old fish market is visible on the left hand side of the photo. Photo from the ARHS archives.

By the time the above photo was taken, the fish market had been moved down to a magnificent purpose-built (and sadly now demolished) Gothic building on the Spencer Street corner. In this photo the building has been given over to the sale of meat and fruit and the stabling of bicycles. The entrance to Melbourne’s main railway station is the stylish curved weatherboard building beside it, complete with the iconic clocks that we know so well. This is the streetscape that the hansom cab with its gruesome cargo would have passed on its way to St Kilda road in the novel (and now mini-series) of early Melbourne The Mystery of the Hansom Cab by Fergus Hulme.

Old Flinders Street Station, now covered with billboards, on the day in 1901 the Victorian Light Horse contingent left for the Boer War. On the roof, leaning over the billboard for corsets, a man cranes for a better view of the parade which appears to have exited stage left, and a jaunty man swings an umbrella as he crosses the street. Photo from ARHS archives.

The water tower clock that was so important to the city is centre stage in this photo. By the time the picture was taken in 1901, the competition for the new station had been held and the winning design by Fawcett and Ashworth had been favourably received by the Parliamentary Standing Committee. The projected cost was 265,061 pounds.

Whether they planned it or not, the Victoria Parliament had initiated the building of a landmark.

Flinders Street in Art- Souvenirs.

Box commemorating the Melbourne and Victoria Centenary 1934-1935. Item held in the Museum Victoria collection

Some may argue that souvenirs don’t count as art objects but I don’t. There’s no doubt that the image of Flinders Street Station winds up on a lot of souvenirs of Melbourne and has done so since it was built. After trams, the station must be one of the city’s most iconic symbols. The State Library of Victoria has postcards of the station facade from before it was even opened.

Held between October 1934 and June 1935, the Centenary of Melbourne celebrations occurred during the depths of the Great Depression. The celebrations of the first 100 years of European settlement emphasised progress and community cohesion, and what better to symbolize this than the great station that united the city. The manufacturer of this little wooden box, with its borders and edges heavily decorated with burnt lines and dots, evidently thought so when he affixed a printed picture of the station to its lid.

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Elizabeth Street and the clock tower

The station entrance with its clock tower dominates the end of Elizabeth Street. Major Projects Victoria image.

The Elizabeth Street entrance is part of the long station facade that stretches down a whole block of Flinders Street and ends at Banana Alley.  The clock tower over the Elizabeth Street entrance is not as famous as the dome, but viewed along Elizabeth Street, it’s taller and much more splendiferous.

Looking straight up at the clock tower. Major Projects Victoria Image.

A clock tower has stood on this site since 1883.  That first clock is now at the Scienceworks Museum in Spotswood.   There is more about the clock in its catalogue record here.

The clock tower at Elizabeth Street in the 1880s. It was operated by electricity. From the State Library of Victoria.

The current clock was built by F. Zeigler, a Melbourne clockmaker and was installed in the newly finished clock tower in 1907.  The clock is now operated electrically but can still be wound by hand. According to Cameron Robbins of CSI, who recently performed a jazz piece called Metronomic up here, it has the loudest tick in Melbourne.

The clock's central mechanism operates all four clock faces. Major Projects Victoria.

The entrance itself is complex - full of porches and alcoves. In one alcove a line of people queue at ticket windows.  The original ticket office used to be on the other side of the steps.  A line of round windows in the facade above marks were it once was. It’s now become an undercover waiting area edged by ancient green cast iron bollards. Here the inevitable school girls are giggling around a photo booth (perhaps they come with the machinery), while people queue at vending machines. In a dark evil smelling porch nearby, a class of primary school children from the country sits waiting on the steps.

Elizabeth Street has always been a bustling and busy street, here in the early 1900s, trams, pedestrians, delivery carts and other horse drawn vehicles mingle before the entrance. Image from the State Library of Victoria

The three storey station building above the Elizabeth Street entrance is mostly empty despite its splendid red brick work and cream bands. Perhaps it’s just my awareness of this emptiness that makes me find the whole intersection somber.  Perhaps it’s only the afternoon shadows.

It’s five o’clock on a weekday and I’m watching as crowded trams glide into the tram stop in front of the station entrance. According to Jenny Davies, years ago one of the trams failed to stop and ran into the building here.  I would love to see a picture of this, but I’ve been unable to find one.

Due to the long exposure of many of the Railways photographs, they often include blurred figures moving too fast to be captured by the camera. In this one ghostly commuters emerge from the Elizabeth Street underpass in the 1920s. From the PROV collection.

The Elizabeth Street entrance is crowded with people rushing home. The flights of stairs, one leading to Platform 1, and the other leading down into the subway, are packed with commuters. Few look up to admire the splendid vault of pressed metal above the entrance, the graceful Flemish stained glass windows which arch over the whole or the sturdy granite columns topped with ionic pediments.

The curved Wunderlich ceiling over the Elizabeth Street Entrance. Photograph by Eleanor Whitworth

They seem unaware that the stairs and rails are over 100 years old and form part of the original building. Even though the space seems narrow, there are people giving out pamphlets and papers and sometimes musicians busking.

Without the gates, fences, (and commuters) the Elizabeth Street entrance appears much roomier. Stairs down to the subway c1920s. From the PROV collection

Down in the subway below there is often someone busking with a guitar.  Today the spot is empty, marked only by a lone milk crate, but the subway is still noisy. Trains roar and click clack overhead and the crowd chatters and clatters past.

Unlike the concourse, the Elizabeth Street subway has changed little from the time when it was first built. It even retains the Edwardian painted fingers directing you to the platforms and the “Do not spit signs” which fascinated me as a child. (My parents told me then that they were part of a public health initiative to cut down the spread of TB).

A serious entrance for a serious business. Photo by Eleanor Whitworth

Even the toilets have a certain old world charm. I can’t speak for the Gents toilets but the Ladies, though dilapidated, is still rather wonderful.  There’s seats for waiting with your shopping, a gilt edged mirror for adjusting your coiffure, and the old fashioned tiled cubicles are huge because, according to Jenny Davis, there used to be two toilets in each cubicle so that mothers and children could go in together.

Women's toilets in the subway. Photo by Eleanor Whitworth.

Even its dearest friend must admit that missing tiles and water stains make the Elizabeth Street subway look shabby.  This is not just down to age.  Elizabeth Street itself was built on the bed of Williams Creek which now flows underneath it, and beside the subway, in storm water drains, and enters the Yarra right outside the subway entrance.  The creek causes Elizabeth Street to flood occasionally and is probably the cause of some of the damp problems facing the subway.

The entrance to Williams Creek can be seen here. Photograph by Max Strating, Courtesy of Museum of Victoria

An absolutely classic photo from The Age in 1965 shows men in uniform dragging people on trolleys through a flooded Elizabeth Street subway. Find it here at the bottom of this excellent blogpost by Melbourne Curious.

No its not fine Florentine marble but the water stains on subway tiles. Photo by Eleanor Whitworth.

If you look above the stained tiles to where the ramp leads up to the platform, the saw-toothed roof still has little windows that allow natural light into the subway, just as the original architects planned.

The subway has been divided down the centre by what looks like a swimming pool fence so that, as well a providing access to the platforms, people can use it as a thoroughfare to get through to the Yarra bank and the footbridge over to Southbank.  And a busy thoroughfare it is.  Take a trip though it with this Youtube video.

At the other end of the Elizabeth Street subway you climb six steps up to the Yarra embankment and travel forward a hundred years. There’s a modern wooden fence, a nicely paved set of paths and a neat little garden full of architectural plants.  On the river below, black swans nibble at water weed near the Williams Creek outlet. Cyclists ping their bells as they ride by.  Backpackers sit eating a global brand of fast food on green metal park seats.

The greyish workaday world of the Elizabeth Street intersection is gone. Now you’re in a relaxed sunshiney world where the view of the shops and restaurants at Southbank over on the opposite side of the river offers good times. All you need do is join the steady stream of people crossing the arched footbridge over the Yarra which is decorated with a bow and wishes you ‘A Merry Christmas from the City of Melbourne’.

Art @ Flinders Street

A busker in the Elizabeth Street subway sits below the Melbourne version of "Don't shoot the piano player". Photo by Phil Skeggs from Flickr

Buskers are an integral part of Flinders Street Station.  There’s almost always some kind of sound track behind the sound of trains. Music students, visiting musicians pavement artists and eccentrics perform outside the concourse.  Quieter acts, guitarists and singers perform in the Degraves and Elizabeth Street subways.

A chicken 'Under the Clocks"!!!! Photo by Wes Boudreau from Flickr

A man with a chicken suit plays “What is love?”, another in a wheel chair performs Elvis songs to a recorded sound track.  There is the Stickman, the Spaceman, the man with the top hat and the egg, and there used to be a bagpiper although I haven’t seen him for quite a while.

Try entering “buskers flinders street station” in Google for a broad range of past entertainment.

Japanese buskers outside the concourse. Photo by Eva Colladao Mollenda from Flickr

We’d love to hear your stories about Flinders Street Station. We are looking stories of love, lost or found, or journeys that might have changed your life, or in fact any anecdotes that involve the station.

Do you have a story to tell?

If so, submit it (up to 500 words), along with any pictures to us at: culturevictoria@gmail.comand become part of the larger story of our station and our city.  These will be published in a very special “best of” Flinders Street Station Blog post.

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H. W. Clapp: the man who made Flinders Street Station pay

Guest Blog by Jenny Davies, author of Beyond the Facade : Flinders Street, more than just a railway station.


In an early morning radio interview with Red Symons soon after I’d launched my book, Red opened the session with the question, “Tell me something I don’t know about the railways.”

In a very open moment, the answer came clearly: “The railways made money for a period of time.” A deep silence was followed by an incredulous response from Red, “Surely not! Surely not from passengers from Flinders Street to Frankston!”

“No Red, of course not – that’s a service….”

"The peel is but the colour scheme. The juice itself's the gold ORANGES." The slogan over the Elizabeth Street entrance could be used today. PROV collection.

Under the leadership of Chief Commissioner, H.W. Clapp, the Victoria Railways reported record income and even during the Depression, Clapp managed to keep the railways almost in profit.

Clapp was appointed in 1920 and shortly after introduced a number of initiatives which significantly added to the railway income. He had a holistic view of the state’s economy and believed it was the responsibility of all industries to do what they could to support other industries – hence the apparent fixation with fruit…

The first fruit stall on the concourse, customers purchased a ticket from the little booth in the foreground before collecting their juice from the staff at the counter. From the PROV collection

Clapp insisted the fruit was always freshly squeezed in front of the customer - these were probably the first fresh juice stalls in Victoria. From the PROV Collection

He realized that the small fruit blocks assigned to WWI returned soldiers were being used, but that there was no market at home because Australians, at that time, were not fruit eaters. Clapp decided to create a demand for fruit, which would not only deal with the fruit surplus but turn the fruit into products like freshly squeezed orange juice, raisin bread and dried fruits sold in packets.

A cornucopia of fruit on display at one of the stalls. PROV collection

In the 1920s, Clapp established the Refreshment Branch, which gradually took over all the food outlets operated by licensees. He had a bakery built because no one would make his raisin bread in the quantity he required. The bakery then was able to bake pies, cakes and scones.

The dining room along Flinders Street was very formal and used mostly by country passengers from Platform 1. Public Record Office Collection

Railways bakery located at Spencer Street. PROV collection.

A butchery was established nearby, and a poultry farm acquired in Noble Park. The railways were a huge consumer of eggs. The farm also produced vegetables and in Kensington, a plant nursery was established.

Ducks at the railways poultry farm, Noble Park. PROV collection

Apart from food, the Refreshment Branch also encompassed an extensive advertising division with saleable space available on trains, at stations and particularly on large billboards.

Two poster ads - one for raisin bread and the other for the zoo. PROV Collection

Perhaps one of the most remarkable profit making ventures was the establishment of the Children’s Nursery at Flinders Street Station in 1933. This was indeed ‘Clapp’s baby’ and one of just two other nurseries connected to stations throughout the world. It not only provided a valuable, profitable service, but had the additional benefit of encouraging women to travel by train, usually at off-peak times.

Watching the trains must have been an added entertainment for the children in the Flinders Street Station Nursery. Public Record Office collection.

During the Depression, Clapp relocated all offices back into buildings owned and operated by the railways, hence reducing rental expenses. He was a man who left no possibility for improvement to chance, and who set a standard for business management and efficiency for which there are few comparable examples.

When Clapp arrived in Melbourne to take up the position with the Victoria Railways in 1920, he used a phrase that he had learnt in America and to which he remained totally committed : the railways are made up of 90% men and 10% iron and I intend to get to know as many of my men as possible.

H W Clapp - The innovative Chief Commissioner " the railways are made up of 90% men and 10% iron and I intend to get to know as many of my men as possible". Image from Jenny Davies

For more fascinating stories about characters from Flinders Street Station’s rich past visit Jenny’s website

We’d love to hear your stories about Flinders Street Station. We are looking stories of love, lost or found, or journeys that might have changed your life, or in fact any anecdotes that involve the station.

Do you have a story to tell?

If so, submit it (up to 500 words), along with any pictures to us at: and become part of the larger story of our station and our city.  These will be published in a very special “best of” Flinders Street Station Blog post.

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The concourse

Commuters flow through the barriers. Major Projects Victoria

Reading about Flinders Street Station can give you the impression this grand old building is past its useful life. Not so. This is a hardworking station – Melbourne’s public transport hub. Over 100,000 commuters pass through the station every day, well up from the daily total of around 30,000 in the 1930s. In my childhood the concourse was smaller with iron pillars and a galvanized iron roof. I remember it being full of wooden shops, brown panelling and a floor that used to contain bottle top lids, pen caps, paper clips, broken chains and other intriguing items fossilized into the black asphalt.

Crowds surge through the concourse in the 1950s. Public Record Offices image

The current concourse was built in 1982 replacing the wood with white tile and the shops on the platform side with windows. The whole space was widened. Despite the fact that the modern utilitarian 1980s concourse is very tall and open, I always feel as if I’m sandwiched between two slices of white bread.

When empty the concourse can sometimes feel like a shopping centre plaza. Photo by Ambi. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Rebecca.

But on a weekday morning between seven and eight, it comes into its own. Streams of commuters plunge across the big white space between platform escalators and the gates. Clots of uniformed secondary school kids eddy around the pillars; chatting, wrestling, snuggling. A group of children from the deaf school silently discuss skateboards using sign language. The coffee sellers are flat out at their machines providing morning heart-starters to the commuters pooling round their counters, while the tables between the coffee concessions are continuously full of people finishing off work, reading newspapers or having a pre-work confab.

I ask one of the baristas what it’s like working here. “It’s a bit mad,” he says “You see some wild things. It’s not like other coffee shops where you get a set demographic. Here you get all sorts.” Surprisingly the main smell of the morning concourse is of toasted cheese sandwiches not coffee. It makes me ravenous and a lot of people seem to buy breakfast here.

There are railway staff everywhere; watching the barriers, checking the crowd, giving information, carrying mops and buckets or ladders and tools or simply buying coffee. From my own experience you can’t walk through the station in blue uniform or an orange vest without being asked for platform information.

Around 9am the concourse is full of train drivers taking a post rush lunch break. Many of them have been driving since 4.30am. Between shifts train drivers often met up at “The Perch,” an area by the window next to Platforms 2-3.  Here they lean on the steel rail, talk train-driver talk and check out the passing parade. Only the non-smokers though. The smokers are out on St Kilda Road perched on milk crates beyond the food concessions.

This deli on the concourse sold all sorts of cold cuts and other useful groceries (even dog food) to the commuter heading home in the 1950s. From the PROV collection.

But peak hour isn’t the busiest time at the station.

“On Friday and Saturday nights it’s a real circus,” one of the barrier staff told me on a winter’s evening. “You’re flat out here, first with footy traffic and then with people going for an evening out. It’s nice to see the girls and boys in their party gear going out clubbing, but later in the night there are a lot of drunks. The Police and the Authorised Officers try to scoop them up as they get off the train”.

The shops and platforms close up after the last train, but the since the station is staffed 24/7 the concourse itself remains open all night. “On Saturday and Sunday mornings when you get in here for your first shift, there are often diehard party-goers who’ve been out all night hanging round waiting for the first train,” says one of the train drivers.  “Sometimes you get in, and they’re all sleeping along the wall under The Perch. It’s warmer here and safe too because there are plenty of cops.”

The magnificent newspaper stall c 1920s. Public Record Office collection.

I miss the old Flinders Street concourse with its old wooden paneling. But it still retains some history. Just before the barriers through into the domed foyer you can see a plaque commemorating the stations 100th anniversary.  Just beside it are two other little plaques that tell a curious story. The first reads :

This plaque was placed here by The Honorable. John Cain, Premier of the the State of Victoria on 24th May 1985 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Founding of the State of Victoria and as a token to the people who have used  Victoria Station for the past 125 years.

“But wait”, I hear you think  – “I thought this station was called Flinders Street Station?”  Read on.

The second plaque explains:

The above replica represents a plaque unveiled by the Premier of Victoria, The Hon. John Cain. M.P. at Victoria Station London to commemorate the 150 Anniversary of the State of Victoria which coincided with the 125th Anniversary of Victoria Station.  The plaque may be seen inside the main entrance of Victoria Station which is the busiest central London Terminus, serving the southern suburbs of London, and the southern centres of Sussex and Surrey.  The original Flinders Street Station preceded Victoria Station by six years”

So! This is a plaque, commemorating a plaque, commemorating a station on the other side of the world – that isn’t as old as this station!

The modern concourse with a view of the 1910 roof above. The plaques are to the left of the gate seen here. Photo by Jenny Davies

Flinders Street in Art

In 2005 Back to Back Theatre, a company driven by an ensemble of actors considered to have intellectual disabilities, performed Small Metal Objects on the concourse. You can link to a video about the performance here.

Which are the actors and which are the commuters? Still from a performance of Small Metal Objects. Courtesy of Back To Back Theatre.

The plays concerns Gary and Steve “…the kind of men who normally escape notice. But here they play an inadvertent but pivotal role in the night of two ambitious executives they’ve arranged to meet for a transaction. As the intimacy of their situation develops, Small Metal Objects becomes a sly and luminous depiction of everyday issues most take for granted. …. the notion that everything has its price couldn’t be called into starker relief.”

To perform this “ingenious theatrical gem” the actors wore cordless microphones  and the audience listened to them with headphones but otherwise it was an ordinary evening on the Flinders Street concourse, with the uninvolved, and possibly unaware, passing passengers and railway staff providing an ad-lib backdrop.

The performance exemplifies the thousands of other small dramas that take place everyday against just the same backdrop.

Is that Alfred Hitchcock passing through the station? From the PROV collection. c1950s

We’d love to hear your stories about Flinders Street Station. We are looking stories of love, lost or found, or journeys that might have changed your life, or in fact any anecdotes that involve the station.

Do you have a story to tell?

If so, submit it (up to 500 words), along with any pictures to us at: and become part of the larger story of our station and our city.  These will be published in a very special “best of” Flinders Street Station Blog post.

This photograph by Jesse Marlow was taken in the late 1990s. Image from State Library of Victoria collection. Copyright Jesse Marlow.

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Art @ Flinders Street

Art @ Flinders Street Station
A guest post by Mark S. Holsworth

Lovers sail down the river in a detail from the Mirka Mora mural at Flinders Street Station. Photograph by Mark Holsworth.

The average commuter passing through Flinders Street Station could remain blissfully unaware for their entire lives of anything more artistic in the station than the endless advertising images. However, as befitting any major public building, there is some commissioned art at Flinders Street Station.

The best of this is the mural by prominent Melbourne painter, Mirka Mora from 1986 next to Clock’s Restaurant at the Yarra river end of the station nearest Princess Bridge. The mural is full of typical Mirka Mora - images of animals, humans, strangers and angels in a garden. Her broad brushstrokes and whimsical figures translate well into the medium of mosaic. It is full of bright colours and a happy ambience and provides an escape from the mundane horrors of the CBD. When Mirka Mora arrived in Melbourne in 1953 she brought a sense of the joy of life to Melbourne’s staid and conservative art world, just as her mural brings joy to the old station.

Mirka cuts tiles for her mosaic in this photo by Rennie Ellis. Image from the State Library of Victoria collection © Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive.

The entire wall is not a mosaic; the upper frieze and the lower border are painted with low-relief outlines in the wall’s render. Only the middle panel is tiled because mosaics are expensive undertakings, in materials and time. A single artist cannot complete a large mosaic without assistants; in creating the mural Mirka Mora was assisted by Nicola McGann, who now works at a Victorian company, Tactile Mosaics, and Brandon Scott McFadden, who currently lectures at Box Hill Institute.

A particularly observant commuter, perhaps while waiting for someone outside the toilets, might, on glancing high up on the wall inside the main gates, observe a sculpture. “Trades” (1984) by an little known artist Barry Mills, is a construction of carved wooden scaffolding, plumbing, supports, bricks and bus cables. It is a fun take on building materials and construction all cleverly carved entirely from wood.

“Trades” (1984) by Barry Mills. Photo by Mark Holsworth

The sculpture was commissioned, not by the station but by the Building Workers Industrial Union to celebrate the work of its members. It was installed after the redevelopment of the station’s Swanston Street concourse in the 1980′s. Barry Mills now works on commission as a wood worker and craftsman in Mt Eliza, Victoria and says he would love to renovate the sculpture which originally had a carved wooden chain as well.

Commuters still looking for art can exit the station via the Degraves Street Underpass to see the monthly exhibitions at Platform, a small artist run initiative to be enjoyed or ignored by the public who pass through the pedestrian underpass.

Inspecting an exhibition. Image courtesy of Arts Victoria

In 1990 Andrew Seward and Richard Holt established The Platform Artists Group Inc., a non-profit public art organization supported by the City of Melbourne, Arts Victoria and the Australia Council. It is Melbourne’s longest running artists-run initiative and public art project. Platform’s space is a series of built-in glass-fronted cases in the underpass. The artists utilized the display cases left behind when the old Mutual Store closed and attracted a different type of commuter/shopper, revitalizing the shops of the Campbell Arcade. The Underpass is open every weekday and on Saturday mornings.

In the last couple of years Platform has expanded to include the “Vitrine” cabinet for larger installations and even performance work and on the other side, next to the coffee bar, the “Sampler” cabinet for art students. Platform has more cabinets at the Majorca Building in Centre Place.

Platform presents a variety of art from students to emerging artists. The glass cases are not easy spaces to use to best effect and the mix of contemporary art and a public underpass has not always been an easy one for the artists or the public. In 2008 the city council censored an exhibition for nudity but the issue was soon eclipsed by the Bill Henson farrago.

Finally the artistically minded commuter emerging up the steps from the subway on the other side of Flinders Street and still looking for art could turn to look back to consider the great red and yellow façade of the station as a statue – a neo-classical triumphal arch celebrating the the metropolitan railways of Melbourne.

Mark S. Holsworth

Black Mark – Melbourne Art & Culture Critic.

The station glows molten gold, as cars turn onto Swanston Street in this long exposure image from Major Projects Victoria.

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From the station roof, the trains move in and out of the platforms like clockwork toys. Major Projects Victoria photograph

The platforms are the business end of the station. They are places of transit, full of haste and urgency or waiting and boredom. Yet despite being utilitarian, the platforms do have their beauties. There’s an elegance to the line of the corrugated iron roofs above.  The cast iron hand railings, the tiles and most of all, the hand painted signs of pointing fingers are over 100 years old. I like to imagine them as a small barely noticed detail in the lives of my grandparents and even great grandparents.

Signs from Elizabeth Street Subway. Photo by Marcus Wong

Apart from having the old timber seating and wind breaks removed in 1922 to make room for more passengers, they haven’t changed much since they were first built in 1909.

"Waiting" - A 1920s Nestles vending machine sits on the station platform as a man tries to find something of interest in a display of Rosella brand sauces. From the PROV collection.

Platform 1 has a certain country rail air to it with its broad platform and deep sheltering verandas; while Platform 10 is more scenic looking out over the Yarra and Southbank through a row of trees.

There are three more platforms, 12, 13 and 14 that extend back under Swanston Street. I remember catching a train from Platform 13 one winter’s evening of teeming rain.  As we passengers stood in the dark tunnel under the fluorescent lights, avoiding the drips that always seem to find their way under bridges, I heard the distant melancholy sound of someone playing a harmonica up on the concourse and felt as if we were all workers in the coalmines waiting for the beginning of our shift.

A station assistant sits in a shelter on Platform 2-3 in the 1920s. From the PROV collection

The rest of the platforms are fairly similar to each other – each with their own vending machines and refreshment kiosks offering the same hot chips and the same opportunity to experience the entitled glare of hungry seagulls while eating those hot chips. (Have you ever noticed how many seagulls are missing a foot. Bitten off by sharks? That’s what my dad told me when I was young.)

The station sign on Platform 11 declares "Melbourne Flinders Street" - for the benefit of passengers arriving from Port Melbourne and the ships docked there (Beyond The Facade, p.251). Major Projects Victoria Photograph

Any trip to a city without public transport ( Bangkok for instance) will bring home how important train services are. People of all classes, ages and ethnicities pass through Flinders Street Station during any week. Not only to go to work, but also to the theatre, clubbing, the races or the football or just to visit friends. The disabled and elderly rely on public transport to maintain their independence. Even those powerful and privileged enough to have their own parking spots or government cars may grow too old to drive and need to pass through Flinders St to lunch with the grandson at the Melbourne Club.

The Travellers Aid Society of Victoria began in 1916 to protect young female travellers from moral danger, but over time they’ve evolved to serve all travellers and they are vital in helping the disabled to travel.  A look at their website shows the extraordinary range of services they offer.  Their light airy office on the concourse is the go to place if you find yourself stranded in a city without money and their room is usually full of wheelchair travellers waiting to use the disabled toilets or getting help with a meal.

These three photographs of crowds on the platforms give impressions of three different Melbournes, but while the details are different, there’s an underlying similiarity, a  connection between the past and the present.

A hot and crowded New Years Eve 2003. From the PTUA website.

Men and women wait for a train at 5.35pm - in the middle of the evening peak, c1950s. From the PROV collection

This peak hour crowd in the 1920s contained very few women, while the hats and coats created a much more sombre feel. From the PROV collection

The platforms have their stories too.  Melbourne band the Painters and Dockers had one to tell  in The boy who lost his jocks at Flinders Street.

In these days of the internet you can also fight off ninjas while waiting for your train using Flinders Ninja, a cute little mobile phone game.

I really love the beginning picture of the facade.

The original idea was to enclose the platforms but they remain open to the elements.  Last summer I noticed a fine mist of water being sprayed to cool the waiting customers on hot evenings. I’m not sure if this is an ancient or modern form of air conditioning but it did help.  In winter when the wind blows chill off the Yarra, the only way to keep warm is to stay up in the concourse and drink hot coffee till your train glides into the platform below.

Flinders Street Station in Art

The cover of "The Example" a graphic novel by Tom Taylor and Colin Wilson. "Two people. A train station. An unattended Briefcase".

The authors of the comic “The Example“  find that the the cover has been a big hit with their readers. “Both Tom and I use the Eltham line to get into the city, and so it seemed only natural to use the actual station as a reference when we did the story, yet it continues to surprise readers when they notice the familiar Melbourne landmark in the pictures,” says Wilson.

"Sylvia and Uncle Con" on platform 1 - country visitors, perhaps? (c1930s). Image from State Library of Victoria collection.

We’d love to hear your stories about Flinders Street Station.  Comment here, contact us on the Culture Victoria facebook page or send us an email to

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The Flinders Street Station Ballroom: a coveted space

The entrance to the ballroom. Photograph courtesy of Major Projects Victoria

Recently I was lucky enough to gain access to the Flinders Street Ballroom.  Whenever people hear that I am writing about Flinders Street they ask whether the ballroom exists and if I’ve been there. The artist’s collective, Contemporary Site Investigations (CSI), who had a month long residency here, call it “a coveted space” which certainly sums up the fascination of my questioners.

The ballroom today. Photograph courtesy of Major Projects Victoria

I’d seen the old black & white photos, and the more recent images in The Age, but they didn’t bring across the lovely atmosphere of the Ballroom.  Perhaps it was the spring afternoon sun slanting through the dusty windows rendering the stained walls golden brown, or the graceful way the curved pressed metal ceiling enfolded you, but the room was cozier and less spooky than I expected it to be.

Everyone is dressed up to the nines at this function in the early 1900s. From the collection of State Library of Victoria

It’s solidity was reassuring. The room had wonderful acoustics, the parquet floor didn’t echo or shudder under our feet, and the place smelt of dust, nothing worse. Pattering over the dusty floor, my over-active imagination started to churn and I pictured myself hiding out during the zombie apocalypse or wandering through white muslin curtains festooned with overblown roses to find Sleeping Beauty’s four poster bed or Miss Haversham’s wedding cake. But enough of such borrowed stories… I’ve discovered a story of my own which I will detail later.

The Queen looks down benevolently on a table set up for a function in the 1960s. From the PROV collection.

When I stepped through into the bright kitchen beyond (the stove was still there, and you could easily imagine people warming up party pies and sausage rolls for supper break), I was aware of being in a quiet eyrie at the end of the building, way above the busy city street and bustling station below.

Here's the ballroom set up for a performance. From the PROV collection.

Although it’s the ballroom that’s captured the popular imagination, it’s not the only lovely space within the station. There was once a whole little entertainment centre on the 3rd floor, all belonging to the Victorian Railways Institute (VRI). The VRI‘s aims were the “self-betterment” of railway workers with a subtext of luring them away from the suspect pleasures of unionism. To that end, there was a ballroom, classrooms and meeting rooms for a whole range of societies, a billiard room, a library and a gymnasium.  Click here to explore Jenny Davies website of stories about the VRI at Flinders Street Station.

Since the VRI rented out many of these facilities to the public, the station acted as a kind of community centre/neighbourhood house for the inner city.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it could do so again?

Young apprentices receive instruction in the ballroom (c1950s). From the PROV collection.

The light and airy gym was last used in 1994, and the old ropes still hung from the ceiling. One of the CSI artists, Robbie Rowlands, used the gym to present a filmed performance piece called Vulnerable that re-constructed the boxing ring that was once there, and turned pieces of 80′s office furniture into sculptures. In one corner, old digital watches which the artist had collected from around the space, were piled into a heap. No one knew how they got here or why they were abandoned, but they seemed oddly symbolic of the space itself.

The VRI Athletics team assembles for a photo on the roof, the city skyline behind them.. From PROV collection

After seeing the gym, we climbed a narrow flight of stairs onto a flat section of the station roof, once used as a running track for athletes. What a view!  We leant against the parapet and admired the river sparkling below and the trains and people bustling in and out of the station. I felt smugly privileged to be here. We could see west to the bobbly white shapes of the sports stadiums along Batman Avenue, and east to where the thin masts of the Polly Woodside were reflected in the glass cliffs of the Melbourne Convention Centre.

The platforms and the river are spread out below in this photo from the roof of the station. Major Projects Victoria photograph

Later, at a bar on Southbank, we looked back at where we’d been. When you know where it is, you can see the ballroom clearly. It’s under the curved galvanized steel roof at the Elizabeth Street end of the building.

I recently asked my father about his experiences at Flinders Street Station. He startled me by saying that in the early 60′s he met my mother in the ballroom – fancy my reaching my forties and not knowing that fact! The Youth Hostels Association used to run meetings there, and Mum came up and signed on for a bush walk that Dad was organising. Given how many of their friends met through YHA, how many other groups met in the same space, and that for many years dances were held there, the ballroom may well be the great unsung hero of Melbourne genealogy.

I’m sure there are more stories out there.  So, as part of our blog we are calling for love stories related to the station… Funny, poignant, delightful… it may be an awkward first date that began under the clocks or, a story about your parents.    Comment here or contact us on the Culture Victoria Facebook page or email us at


Flinders Street in Art

from CSI's facebook page

CSI film the concert in the ballroom. Courtesy CSI

On 19-21 October, 2012 Contemporary Site Investigations (CSI)– artists Campbell Drake, Cameron Robbins, Elizabeth Drake, Robbie Rowlands, James Carey and Jeremy Taylor – presented a series of site-specific art events from within the historic, hidden realms of Flinders Street Station as part of a Public Art Commission from the City of Melbourne’s Public Art Program. Pieces set in the Mailroom, the Ballroom, the Gymnasium and the Elizabeth Street Clock tower were recorded and broadcast through various public spaces at Flinders Street and on the big screen at Federation Square. The artists also created and distributed a broadsheet celebrating the paperboys who used to work on the Flinders Street Steps under the clocks.

Renowned composer and pianist Elizabeth Drake and fellow pianist Caroline Almonte helped create a new story for the ballroom by performing Simeon Ten Holt’s Canto Ostinato, Piano Phase. I’d love to know how they got the twin grand pianos up the narrow stairs. Since the space remained off-limits to the public, the performance was broadcast into the dome, through the platforms and via a live feed to Federation Square. I sat in one of the Fed Square deck chairs and watched the performance on the Big Screen as the evening sun dipped behind the station.

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