Flinders Street Railway Station, Melbourne, Australia

Over the years, Flinders Street Station has become a famous Melbourne landmark. Today, despite the opening of the City Loop stations, it is still one of the busiest railway stations in the world. In spite of many changes, the station has remained the hub of Melbourne's suburban railway network.

Flinders Street Station has emerged as a symbol of Victoria's capital city and is an institution in the daily routine of nearly a quarter of a million people. It owes this pre-eminence not only to its role as a gateway into Melbourne's golden mile, but also to its arresting architectural form.

In 1854, Flinders Street Station was an interesting collection of weatherboard sheds known as the Melbourne Terminus. It was the first steam rail station in Australia, a fact that pleased Victorians who were used to taking second place to New South Wales, the mother colony.

Flinders Street was the main station owned by the Hobson's Bay Railway Company and was opened on September 12, 1854, by Lieutenant-Governor Charles Hotham. The Governor and Lady Hotham were welcomed in grand style for the opening ceremony at the station. They were presented with copies of the train timetable and by-laws printed on silk as a memento of the occasion.

Thousands of people assembled at the station and along the track to Sandridge (today known as Port Melbourne) to see not only Victoria's, but Australia's first public steam train.

The other two city stations, Princes Bridge and Spencer Street, were opened in 1859. Although these stations were only a short distance away from Flinders Street, it took a number of years before they were connected.

In the late 1880s, Flinders Street Station trains went to Port Melbourne and St Kilda; Brighton Beach and Hawthorn trains departed from Princes Bridge Station; and Spencer Street Station catered for trains serving Williamstown, Geelong, Ballarat, Woodend, Kyneton, Sandhurst (renamed Bendigo), Echuca and Wodonga.

Three times the Hobson's Bay Company secured plans to connect the three systems. Public opinion and official reports had condemned Spencer Street Station as a general metropolitan terminus. The need for a central city terminal became the subject of recurring investigations.

In early days, a site in Elizabeth Street, between Queensberry and Victoria Streets was the most favoured position for the proposed terminal. Flinders Street, between Swanston and Queen Streets was also considered as a convenient location.

On several occasions, land adjacent to Flinders Street was acquired for railway purposes. For more than 30 years the city morgue was located in Swanston Street, close to Princes Bridge Station entrance. The building was finally demolished in 1890 and the site was taken over by the Railways.

The Municipal Fish Market - built during 1860 by the Melbourne City Council on the south-west corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets - was the area that later became the famed meeting place 'under the clocks'. The Fish Market closed in 1891 when the City Council opened new quarters at Flinders Street West. The old building was leased for general business until it was demolished about 1902 to make space for the new station.

About the same time, the Railways Department resumed use of the Military Engineers Corps' Depot and the Education Department's National Gymnasium on three and half acres of land, adjoining the East Melbourne Cricket Ground located at the corner of Wellington Parade and Jolimont Parade. In 1921, the cricket ground was taken over to provide additional sidings for carriages.

In 1882, a Government board of inquiry, dealing with improvements to the Yarra River, including the building of Queens Bridge and a new Princes Bridge (the third), recommended that Flinders Street Station be made a central passenger terminal. The Government then held an architectural competition offering a prize of 400 pounds which was won by a Melbourne architect, William Salway. The Government took his plans, estimated the cost at around $200,000 and then did nothing about it.

The Railways Department later planned a new Flinders Street Station extending from Russell to Queen Streets, with connection to Spencer Street over a viaduct and platforms at Flinders Street to serve Williamstown, Essendon and Coburg line trains.

Construction of the viaduct with two tracks got underway about December 1888. The viaduct was duplicated in 1915 and provided four rail tracks between Spencer and Flinders Streets.

A few years after the viaduct opened, enlargement or rebuilding of Flinders Street Station became an ultimate necessity, because of the increased passenger traffic using the station. In 1889, the Railway Commissioners arranged a competition for the design of a new station, and 17 entries were received. A first prize of 500 pounds was awarded to J. W. Fawcett and H. P. C. Ashworth, both of the railway's Existing Lines branch. A few changes were made to their plans but generally Flinders Street Station today is the same concept the two railwaymen designed in their entry.

The entry was a successful example of stylistic eclecticism which blossomed during-the late Victorian era and continued into the twentieth century. Stained glass work adopts the contorted patterns of the art nouveau era, resulting in the ray of weird light patterns onto the floor of the booking lobby.

Preliminary work began in 1901, and on September 25, 1905, a contract was let for construction of the station building. After a couple of years, difficulties arose with the contractor, and the Department took over the work, which was completed in 1910 at an estimated cost of 514,000 pounds. This cost was far in excess of the original estimate.

Eleven through platforms were provided at the station on its completion in 1910 and were vastly different from the original platforms which sported semi-circular verandahs terminated by timber valances and at the west end 'train sheds', embracing both platforms and tracks.

The old Port Melbourne and St Kilda line platform verandah was far too good to throw away, so the department had it dismantled and re-erected at Hawthorn, which in those days, was a much busier station.

At last, the people of Melbourne had a station of which they could be proud. The concourse ran along the Swanston Street end, with ramps dropping down to each platform. A subway replaced the old footbridge at the Elizabeth Street entrance. The Victorian Railways Institute was granted space within the new building and room was eventually found for a nursery.

The Children's Nursery was established by the Railways Department in June 1933 for the convenience of mothers visiting the city. Three cot rooms and two play rooms were attractively decorated and well lit; a kitchen where infant food could be hygienically prepared was available. An open air playground was on an adjoining roof.

A staff of five mothercraft nurses and an infant welfare sister had cared for over 50,000 children when the nursery was closed in January 1942 owing to war precautions and restrictions. The nursery never re-opened as a lack of space and other problems prevented the same facilities being offered at the station after the war period.

Flinders Street's architectural style is neo-classical, and it is built in granite and basalt, with the octagonal dome, the clock tower and pavilions linked by the facade. It may not be physically in the centre of Melbourne, but Flinders Street Station is still undoubtedly the 'heart' of the city.

Along Flinders Street, the station provides the longest continuous building facade, ancient or modern, in the central area. It is strengthened, at its southern end, by the viaduct, which continues the theme of cement render and red bricks. With an entrance like Luna Park and a dome like the Taj Mahal, a classical pediment dominates the main entrance which is flanked by rustic plasters and cupolas on top.

The clocks at the main entrance of the station were part of the original design plans, and remain in almost the same place as they did in the early years of construction. The 13 clocks are now operated by computer and indicate train departures to suburban lines. An attempt was once made to replace them with video screens, but the outcry was enormous and therefore they have remained.

Electrical circuits were fitted to the entrance steps in June 1985 to keep the steps dry and therefore prevent people slipping. The granite steps were also replaced with red brick tiles as part of a $23 million redevelopment project.

During the early seventies, development rights were leased by the Government to increase office and shopping activity at this strategic location. The proponents of the scheme had not anticipated the attachment which had been forged over the years between the people and their station.

A number of proposals withered for various reasons and public support for the station lead to the restoration of its weather-beaten facade. Architectural details concealed behind advertisements for decades were revealed as the work commenced. Original paint color were researched and re-applied. During 1994 the station exterior was repainted.

Flinders Facts

Growth of Hillside Trains Network

Lilydale, Belgrave Lines
8 February 1859 Princes Bridge to Punt Road (near Richmond)
12 December 1859 Punt Road to Swan Street
24 September 1860 Swan Street to Pic Nic (near Burnley)
13 April 1861 Pic Nic to Hawthorn
3 April 1882 Hawthorn to Camberwell
1 December 1882 Camberwell to Lilydale
4 December 1889 Ringwood to Upper Ferntree Gully
18 December 1900 Upper Ferntree Gully to Gembrook
(narrow gauge, closed 30 April 1954)
19 February 1962 Upper Ferntree Gully to Belgrave (broad gauge)
17 December 1922 Flinders Street to Box Hill
30 January 1923 Box Hill to Ringwood
28 November 1924 Ringwood to Croydon
12 October 1925 Ringwood to Upper Ferntree Gully
30 November 1925 Croydon to Lilydale
19 February 1962 Upper Ferntree Gully to Belgrave
Glen Waverley Line
24 March 1890 Burnley to Darling
3 February 1929 Darling to East Malvern
5 May 1930 East Malvern to Glen Waverley
17 December 1922 Burnley to Darling
3 February 1929 Darling to East Malvern
5 May 1930 East Malvern to Glen Waverley
Alamein Line
30 May 1890 Camberwell to Waverley Road (closed)
4 July 1898 Camberwell to Ashburton
28 June 1948 Ashburton to Alamein
30 October 1924 Camberwell to Ashburton
28 June 1948 Ashburton to Alamein
Hurstbridge Line
8 May 1888 Royal Park to North Fitzroy, Clifton Hill,
Collingwood (now Victoria Park), Heidelberg
5 June 1902 Heidelberg to Eltham
21 October 1901 Victoria Park to Princes Bridge
25 June 1912 Eltham to Hurstbridge
31 July 1921 Princes Bridge to North Fitzroy
Clifton Hill to Heidelberg
15 April 1923 Heidelberg to Eltham
2 August 1926 Eltham to Hurstbridge
Epping Line
8 October 1889 North Fitzroy to Reservoir
23 December 1889 Reservoir to Whittlesea
(line closed 29 November 1959)
30 November 1959 Thomastown to Lalor
30 November 1964 Lalor to Epping
31 July 1921 Clifton Hill to Reservoir
16 December 1929 Reservoir to Thomastown
30 November 1959 Thomastown to Lalor
30 November 1964 Lalor to Epping
Central Business District
23 November 1891 Flinders Street to Spencer Street
26 January 1981 Spencer Street to Richmond (City Loop)
1 November 1982 Parliament to Jolimont
28 May 1919 Flinders Street to Spencer Street
26 January 1981 Spencer Street to Richmond
1 November 1982 Parliament to Jolimont
Flemington Racecourse Line
28 December 1861 Newmarket to Flemington Racecourse
(closed 1 July 1864, reopened 31 October 1867)
28 May 1919 Newmarket to Flemington Racecourse