So folks, I have something pretty cool to share with you today – Melbourne’s main train station is Flinders Street Station. Southern Cross Station is the station where all the intercity and regional trains depart from Melbourne, however Flinders Street station is where all the local trains terminate and leave from.
It also has the classic façade which is one of the most iconic Melbourne images there is – the corner of Flinders and Swanston streets with the clock tower above the entrance to the station. It has I think around 14 platforms, the last ones are a bit hidden which is kind of exciting, being under Swanston street. Trains go in and out all day long, except for those hours when they don’t run at all – bar the odd freight train of course.
And regional trains do pass Flinders Street if they are heading to the eastern part of the state, there’s no way they can avoid the monolith that is ‘Flinders Street Station’. And then you have the special days when they run steam trains on the suburban lines for the kids. Usually at the time of the Royal Melbourne Show, there is often a steam train out to that.
The station has a concourse with eateries (mostly stalls) on the Swanston street side, that you pass through if you enter from the main entrance to get to your train. It’s undercover but not what one might technically call ‘inside’. The toilets there are not for the feint of heart – purple lights light them. They wouldn’t win any design awards.
But it’s down Flinders street that the station continues in a way you might not expect. It must go 400 metres down Flinders Street, if not more. The far exit is at the Elizabeth street exit, but that underpass where you can exit the station if you don’t head towards Swanston Street also connects you to the third side of the station, the side that sits along the Yarra River. From here you can walk along the Yarra or cross to the other side and South Bank. Whereas the Elizabeth street side is the grittier side, this part is open and fresh and feels like a modern, more friendly city.
But it is the side along Flinders street where, if you stand on the opposite side of the street, you will notice there are actually three levels up. There is an old building along there, with a door, maybe two on Flinders Street for access, the kind of door with no signage that looks very solid. What lies in this building?
Well, I found out recently (ish) when I saw a post on Facebook with some photos of the ‘Flinders Street Ballroom’. I’d heard of it… somewhere in the past. I think they might run night tours to it from time to time. A ballroom at the station? That piqued my interest straight away. It had an enigma about it. There was a festival running called ‘The Rising’, and in this building on part of the third floor, there was an exhibit as part of it by Patricia Piccinini called ‘A Miracle Constantly Repeated’. It was extended I found out so in July I bought a ticket.
The art was… well interesting in a way. Told some story I was not really aware of as I was principally attending to gain access to see inside the station. Through the padded door I was allowed, the décor was something from 50 years ago. A staircase to the right, a lift not far, I took the lift up to the third floor.
I was stunned immediately. I gained insight into the size of the building because I came upon a corridor that stretched, in both directions, further than I could see. I could not see the ends from the middle. The paint was peeling, or perhaps I should say ‘peeled’. The ceiling was a situation which I’m surprised had been allowed to pass. Pipes, holes so that you could see the corrugated roof from the corridor, I was at the top of the building here.
The original Flinders Street Station was built in 1854 but the current building, iconic that it is, was constructed in 1910. In 1926 Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, was the busiest station in the world. Well, that’s what the interweb tells me, which actually came as a big surprise. It’s ballroom has been abandoned for many years. In the Second World War it was used for dances for returned servicemen, and I presume those who were leaving for war, and in the 1950s and 60s it was used as a dancehall. It had been closed off to the public since the last dance held there in 1983.
I’m not sure when people were first allowed back in there. But I found it quite a special space which when I was there was filled with modern art. The exhibition had some interesting rooms, but somehow I think the Ballroom would have had more impact empty. The ceiling was completely missing, but the beams and crossbeams seemed to be strong, and you could see the roof through them. I can only presume that everything was given the thumbs up as safe before letting people into it.
Down the corridor the other, towards Swanston street, well, that was a part the general public couldn’t enter but I presume that that part of the building was full of offices with people who do office work in them. I can only imagine that the part of the building to the right of you as you exit the lift was closed and abandoned since 1983 and boarded up or something. They certainly hadn’t gone through it with paint or bothered restoring anything, but I presume they did replace anything that was dangerous and made it safe.
I really enjoyed seeing inside it. It was something different in my own town that I didn’t even know existed, even if I had walked past it so many times in my life without a second thought. Have you ever walked around you city and thought ‘Hey… I wonder what is in here?’ What a great way to discover the place you live!
Thanks for popping by today. Take care, and as always – May the Journey Never End!