Flinders Street Station

Originally known as Melbourne Terminus, Flinders Street Station, named after explorer Matthew Flinders, was opened on 12 September 1854. It is Australia’s oldest train station, and with its prominent green copper dome, distinctive yellow facade, arched entrance, tower, and clocks that greet you at the main entrance on the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets. Platform 1 used to be home to the Milk Dock and the Parcels Office and until 1986, most of Melbourne’s milk was unloaded there from Gippsland

It is a cultural icon that comprises lots of hidden spaces including a large ballroom with a seated capacity of 400 people. Once a meeting place for competitions, dance classes, an array of concerts, and many more events, the doors to this space have unfortunately been closed to the public since 1983.

Flinders Street Station History is Full of Strange Achievements

Staying on the topic of Flinders Street Station’s design, did you know that it is home to the longest train platform in Australia? Platform 1, stretching out at 708 meters, is the longest single train platform in the country, and fourth longest globally. This makes sense when coupled with the fact that, in 1926, Flinders Street Station was the busiest station in the world. Keep in mind that, at this time, other iconic passenger stations were already in use, including New York’s Grand Central Station.

Additionally, did you know that Flinders Street Station’s steps were fitted with electrical circuits in the 1980s? While this may seem strange, it’s actually a quite pragmatic choice. These electrical circuits serve two purposes. Firstly, they act as a dryer to avoid the bustling steps to get overly slippery during wet weather. Secondly, as the steps are seen as a busy meeting spot, they provide a little extra warmth to those that are sitting on them.

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Work began on the new station in 1900 and was completed in 1910

On the ground floor were ticket booths, the lost property office, an information counter and a public cafeteria. On the street facing side were new retail shops, some down one flight of stairs, below ground (the last of these, now called ‘City Hatters’, is still in operation).

In the floor above were the railway’s administrative offices.

The top floor, level three, had been a late addition to the plans. This was reserved for the Victorian Railways Institute(VRI) established in 1909

The VRI was intended to achieve both. By providing cheap leisure activities and other benefits, the Commission hoped to increase job satisfaction; happier workers would mean fewer strikes.

The top floor at Flinders Street featured a long main corridor, running the length of the building.

At one end, inside the dome, was a circular shaped room that was used as a gymnasium; at the other end was a large, open space with a stage at one end, intended as a lecture and concert hall.

Branching off the main corridor at irregular intervals were a series of different sized rooms, that had other options for members:

Library, billiard room

n 1934 the VRI converted the lecture hall, and rebadged the space the ‘VRI Ballroom’. The stage was removed to accommodate larger crowds, and it was rented out to external organisations for their own dances.

 

Eventually, the popularity of dance halls began to wane.

By the 1970s, the Flinders Street ballroom was being used less frequently. The number of clubs the VRI supported had declined as well.

The building itself was in decline.

The enormous space had always required a large amount of upkeep, the expense for which had been born by the VRI. But with the facilities less used by their members, the organisation was less inclined towards maintenance.

The paintwork began to peel, the roof began to leak. The long main corridor took on a shabby appearance.

The last dance was held in the VRI ballroom in September 1983. In 1985, the VRI moved from the building to new, modern offices in nearby Flinders Lane.

The rooms on the third floor of Flinders Street station fell into disuse.

In 2015, the state Labor government announced a major refurbishment program for Flinders Street Station.

Budgeted at $100 million, the works would include overdue repairs and maintenance, and improvements to passenger access. The outside of the building, comprising 4 000 individual bricks, would be cleaned and repointed.

The work was completed in 2018.

As part of the program, the ballroom roof was repaired, and the floor stabilised. New uses for the third floor would again be possible.

From the Museum of Lost Things

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