The platforms are the business end of the station. They are places of transit, full of haste and urgency or waiting and boredom. Yet despite being utilitarian, the platforms do have their beauties. There’s an elegance to the line of the corrugated iron roofs above. The cast iron hand railings, the tiles and most of all, the hand painted signs of pointing fingers are over 100 years old. I like to imagine them as a small barely noticed detail in the lives of my grandparents and even great grandparents.
Apart from having the old timber seating and wind breaks removed in 1922 to make room for more passengers, they haven’t changed much since they were first built in 1909.
Platform 1 has a certain country rail air to it with its broad platform and deep sheltering verandas; while Platform 10 is more scenic looking out over the Yarra and Southbank through a row of trees.
There are three more platforms, 12, 13 and 14 that extend back under Swanston Street. I remember catching a train from Platform 13 one winter's evening of teeming rain. As we passengers stood in the dark tunnel under the fluorescent lights, avoiding the drips that always seem to find their way under bridges, I heard the distant melancholy sound of someone playing a harmonica up on the concourse and felt as if we were all workers in the coalmines waiting for the beginning of our shift.
The rest of the platforms are fairly similar to each other - each with their own vending machines and refreshment kiosks offering the same hot chips and the same opportunity to experience the entitled glare of hungry seagulls while eating those hot chips. (Have you ever noticed how many seagulls are missing a foot. Bitten off by sharks? That's what my dad told me when I was young.)
Any trip to a city without public transport ( Bangkok for instance) will bring home how important train services are. People of all classes, ages and ethnicities pass through Flinders Street Station during any week. Not only to go to work, but also to the theatre, clubbing, the races or the football or just to visit friends. The disabled and elderly rely on public transport to maintain their independence. Even those powerful and privileged enough to have their own parking spots or government cars may grow too old to drive and need to pass through Flinders St to lunch with the grandson at the Melbourne Club.
The Travellers Aid Society of Victoria began in 1916 to protect young female travellers from moral danger, but over time they've evolved to serve all travellers and they are vital in helping the disabled to travel. A look at their website http://www.travellersaid.org.au/flinders-street shows the extraordinary range of services they offer. Their light airy office on the concourse is the go to place if you find yourself stranded in a city without money and their room is usually full of wheelchair travellers waiting to use the disabled toilets or getting help with a meal.
These three photographs of crowds on the platforms give impressions of three different Melbournes, but while the details are different, there's an underlying similiarity, a connection between the past and the present.
In these days of the internet you can also fight off ninjas while waiting for your train using Flinders Ninja, a cute little mobile phone game.
The original idea was to enclose the platforms but they remain open to the elements. Last summer I noticed a fine mist of water being sprayed to cool the waiting customers on hot evenings. I’m not sure if this is an ancient or modern form of air conditioning but it did help. In winter when the wind blows chill off the Yarra, the only way to keep warm is to stay up in the concourse and drink hot coffee till your train glides into the platform below.
Flinders Street Station in Art
The authors of the comic "The Example" find that the the cover has been a big hit with their readers. "Both Tom and I use the Eltham line to get into the city, and so it seemed only natural to use the actual station as a reference when we did the story, yet it continues to surprise readers when they notice the familiar Melbourne landmark in the pictures," says Wilson.
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