Guest Blog by Jenny Davies, author of Beyond the Facade : Flinders Street, more than just a railway station.
In an early morning radio interview with Red Symons soon after I'd launched my book, Red opened the session with the question, “Tell me something I don’t know about the railways.”
In a very open moment, the answer came clearly: “The railways made money for a period of time.” A deep silence was followed by an incredulous response from Red, “Surely not! Surely not from passengers from Flinders Street to Frankston!”
“No Red, of course not – that’s a service….”
Under the leadership of Chief Commissioner, H.W. Clapp, the Victoria Railways reported record income and even during the Depression, Clapp managed to keep the railways almost in profit.
Clapp was appointed in 1920 and shortly after introduced a number of initiatives which significantly added to the railway income. He had a holistic view of the state’s economy and believed it was the responsibility of all industries to do what they could to support other industries – hence the apparent fixation with fruit...
He realized that the small fruit blocks assigned to WWI returned soldiers were being used, but that there was no market at home because Australians, at that time, were not fruit eaters. Clapp decided to create a demand for fruit, which would not only deal with the fruit surplus but turn the fruit into products like freshly squeezed orange juice, raisin bread and dried fruits sold in packets.
In the 1920s, Clapp established the Refreshment Branch, which gradually took over all the food outlets operated by licensees. He had a bakery built because no one would make his raisin bread in the quantity he required. The bakery then was able to bake pies, cakes and scones.
A butchery was established nearby, and a poultry farm acquired in Noble Park. The railways were a huge consumer of eggs. The farm also produced vegetables and in Kensington, a plant nursery was established.
Apart from food, the Refreshment Branch also encompassed an extensive advertising division with saleable space available on trains, at stations and particularly on large billboards.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable profit making ventures was the establishment of the Children’s Nursery at Flinders Street Station in 1933. This was indeed ‘Clapp’s baby’ and one of just two other nurseries connected to stations throughout the world. It not only provided a valuable, profitable service, but had the additional benefit of encouraging women to travel by train, usually at off-peak times.
During the Depression, Clapp relocated all offices back into buildings owned and operated by the railways, hence reducing rental expenses. He was a man who left no possibility for improvement to chance, and who set a standard for business management and efficiency for which there are few comparable examples.
When Clapp arrived in Melbourne to take up the position with the Victoria Railways in 1920, he used a phrase that he had learnt in America and to which he remained totally committed : the railways are made up of 90% men and 10% iron and I intend to get to know as many of my men as possible.
We'd love to hear your stories about Flinders Street Station. We are looking stories of love, lost or found, or journeys that might have changed your life, or in fact any anecdotes that involve the station.
Do you have a story to tell?
If so, submit it (up to 500 words), along with any pictures to us at: [email protected] and become part of the larger story of our station and our city. These will be published in a very special "best of" Flinders Street Station Blog post.