Flinders Street Station is an iconic hub of activity in Melbourne, with more than 100,000 people passing through every day. But there’s a side to the station that lies mostly forgotten which few people see – a grand ballroom, long since neglected, now decaying and falling to pieces.
There’s two distinct ends to Flinders Street Station in Melbourne. There’s the part on Swanston Street that everyone knows – commuters pass beneath the impressive dome, it’s the feature of Melbourne photographs and postcards, the activity of trains, and the meeting place ‘under the clocks’. Apart from this the station stretches for two city blocks, away from Swanston Street and past Elizabeth Street. Away from the activity, it gets a lot less attention.
Now mostly derelict, this end of the station was home to the Victorian Railway Institute. When the station building was complete in 1909 there was much more focus on employee welfare, public programs and a sense of community. The Institute housed bakers and childcare crèches, a gym, a library, and most notably, a ballroom. There was even an unofficial running track on the roof of the building – four laps was roughly equal to a mile, at least before the eventual installation of air-conditioners.
The ballroom in particular became a hub the Melbourne social scene. Originally a lecture hall and at one point a movie cinema, it found its true calling as a ballroom where events such as ballroom dancing, performances and concerts were held. The design changed in later times – a mezzanine bandstand was added in the 1950s as the balls became so popular, there wasn’t room on the floor to accommodate the band. Events would also end at midnight, to ensure everyone made it on the last train in time to get home.
When the 1980s rolled by the Victorian Railways Institute was in desperate needs of repairs and upgrades, but lacked the funds. They moved to new premises, and the southern end of Flinders Street Station, containing the ballroom, the gym, the library, were shut behind a metal gate and allowed to decay. Those few who are allowed inside the ballroom aren’t permitted to stray near the walls due to falling masonry, and the edges of the room are cordoned off by a barricade cobbled from vintage music stands.
Under the proposed redevelopment the Flinders Street Station Ballroom is to be restored. If and when that happens, the grand old space might see a second life yet.
Station Experience Manager
Metro Trains, Melbourne
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