Meeting your date under the clocks at Flinders Street Station is a great Melbourne tradition. As the 1905 postcard above shows, people were meeting there even before the current station was built.
The graceful front steps with their elegant brass rails are also the perfect place for people watching - you’re sure to see someone you recognise - perhaps even someone famous. I once saw John Clark on the steps holding forth to the camera about Australian English.
Even people who haven't come by train meet under the clocks. It’s central and there’s protection from the weather. Last time I was there, 30-somethings were meeting for a meal, 60-somethings were about to go to the gallery, families were having an ice-cream after shopping. And of course, there were the kids!
People complain about street kids, but take a closer look... it's rare to be that cheerful in Melbourne if you're sleeping rough in a crop top and studded high heels. "Under the Clocks" is a time honoured location for cliques and sub-cultures to show off the latest fashions, and I'd hazard a guess that most of these kids come from good homes in the suburbs.
There used to be a newspaper seller - and paper boys calling out Heeeraaald. Now, a microcrosm of Melbourne passes through. Nicely-dressed ladies and gentlemen stop to examine the fresh flowers under the dome, while just inside the concourse police help up a drunk who’s passed out. Yes, there are shady types here but there are always plenty of station staff and police moving about, both uniformed and in plain clothes. I always feel safe while standing on the steps.
And what about the Clocks themselves? They have plaques on them dating from 1916, but that's just the first time they were overhauled. In fact they are much older than current station - they were first installed over the old weatherboard station in the 1860s, only 40 years after the city was first thought of and they’re still working. The things they must have seen!
Up until the 1970s, they were changed manually, by a man with a very long stick. Then, in 1983 the railways had a brief flirtation with the idea of digital clocks. There was such an outcry they reversed the decision and simply set the old ones up to be computer operated.
Apparently Melbournians love their clocks.
Flinders Street Station in art
The Clocks have been celebrated in photos, films and videos. Didn't Kath and Kim's Brett and Kel wind up chained to the shiny brass rail on the steps beneath them after Kel's Bucks night? They have also been featured in music - the Weddings, Parties Anything (1988) song "Under The Clocks" is perhaps the best known.