[Jenny Davies]

Jenny Davies gives an animated talk about Flinders Street Station

Our speaker, Jenny Davies, became interested in the Flinders Street Railway Station when she learnt that her grandparents had first met there when they went ballroom dancing. She has published a book titles "Beyond the Façade - Flinders Street Station and It's People."

Completed in 1854 the Melbourne Terminus was the first railway station to occupy the Flinders Street site. It was made up of a rather ad hoc arrangement of timber buildings and eventually it was decided that a new central passenger station was needed. The first plan produced by the railways in 1896 was dismissed by the Railway Commissioners so in 1899 a world wide competition was held for a design for the façade. There were 17 entries from well known architects, but the prize winners were railway employees James Fawcett and H. P. C. Ashworth. Their design was in French Renaissance style with a dome and clock tower.

Construction of the station was awarded to builder Peter Rodger. Whilst work began on the tracks, the foundations for the building, which were being dug by hand, were completed in 1903. Work on the dome started in 1906. It required strong foundations as it extended over the tracks, but work went too slowly and Peter Rodger's contract was terminated. Not all problems were his fault and eventually he was compensated for loss of earnings. The Way and Works Department of the Victorian Railways took over and construction was almost completed in 1909, with the opening ceremony being held in January 1910. Originally designed to be constructed in brick and cement, the station was built of brick and grey granite. Jenny was interested to learn that several homes built by Peter Rodger for his family were constructed of the same materials.

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It had been decided during construction to add a third floor to house the Victorian Railways Institute (V.R.I.).

The Victoria Railways Institute was opened on 22nd January 1910. Its purpose was to provide extra curricular activities and self improvement classes to Railway employees as well as training for specific railway jobs. It was not compulsory, but it was recommended that employees try to learn new skills to enable them to gain promotion in the Railways. Classes in subjects like accounting and bookkeeping were provided. There were many social activities provided. Not only did the Station have a picture theatre and lecture hall where ballroom dancing was later held, there was a billiards room, a boxing ring, and a gymnasium. Members could learn to fence or play a banjo. There was a running track which was used up to the 1980's and ballroom dancing which probably continued up to that date also.

Organised much like the Athanaeum Club Library, the Library run by the Railways Institue provided a country lending service and a housewife could go to her local station, hand a list of books which she wishes to read to the engine driver, who in turn could pass on the order to the library in Melbourne. She may receive her books the next day when the train returned.

Although no longer housed at Flinders Street Station, the VRI continues to provide services to its members from its office at 600 Collins Street, Melbourne.

The Flinders Street building façade is the longest in Australia. It was designed to include shops which could be rented by the public and amongst those that are well known are Hearn's Hobbies which has traded since the 1940's and City Hatters which was started in 1910 in what was originally the Station Master's Office. City Hatters, which has been owned by Henry Bucks since 1927, was originally run by the Buzolich brothers. Another interesting person who occupied rooms 52 and 56 at the Station was dancing was dancing instructor Dorothy Gladstone who taught thousands of students in her dancing school.

Extensive improvements continue to be carried out at the station and hopefully the 3rd floor which has been empty and neglected for many years will be renovated and occupied again. Platform 1 is now the 4th longest platform in the world. Like Central Station in New York, Flinders Street Station and was threatened with demolition in the 1960's and 1970's. Fortunately both have been saved and Melbourne's popular station has a Victorian Heritage Listing thanks to hard work done by the National Trust of Victoria. 2010 marks the centenary of the station. The building needs to be maintained so we can keep on meeting 'under the clocks.'

(The above is a report on Jenny Davies' address at the General Meeting on 14 November 2009)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)

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