History for Flinders St in makeover

History for Flinders St in makeover

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Inside the famed Flinders St ballroom

Ahead of six finalists revealing their designs for Flinders Street Station on Tuesday, we took a tour down the decrepit end of one of Melbourne’s most historic buildings.

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To stand inside the disused gymnasium on the third floor of Flinders Street Station is to witness the slow, hard forces of ageing at work.

Corrosion has left large holes in the pressed-tin ceiling. Peeling paint clings precariously to the decaying plaster walls. A thick sheet of dust coats the floor.

The grand ballroom next door has fared no better. Once a thriving venue for public dances and film screenings, it is now shuttered behind a metal grille door. Milky stains mark the parquetry floor. The fire escape doors are boarded up with heavy planks.

The historic ballroom on the third floor of Flinders Street Station.

Ray Mizzi, the stationmaster, opens a book of black and white photographs. They show wrestlers and weightlifters training in the gymnasium’s glory days several decades ago, female dancers pirouetting in sync on the ballroom floor. The images scarcely seem real.

Flinders Street Station is a contender for Melbourne’s most famous building, but it is tired, and as much as it is loved, sorely in need of more love.

Mr Mizzi has worked at the railway station long enough to have seen the gym filled with sweaty athletes, to have watched runners jog four laps of the heritage-listed administration building roof in a bid to join the »mile club».

Flinders Street Station. Photo: Peter Glenane Photography

He started here 41 years ago as a junior office worker, and has been stationmaster for 12 years. He loves the job and he loves the station.

History for Flinders St in makeover

»People will ask me ‘Why have you been here so long?’ But each day is different, you can’t pick two days that are the same,» Mr Mizzi says.

Every train service on the Metro timetable starts or ends at Flinders Street, all 2200 a day. More than 150,000 passengers a day move through here, easily the most in Melbourne.

Mr Mizzi’s job is to keep that fraught process flowing as smoothly as can be achieved by managing the station’s 160 staff and control room operations. It doesn’t always work out, and he says the station must evolve to meet the demands of increasing patronage. Simple things irk him, such as the fact anyone who leaves through the Elizabeth Street underpass must climb stairs.

But, however it changes, its history must remain to the fore, he says.

»If you look at this building and then you look at Southern Cross, personally, you can’t beat this building. I’d go for something like this any day.»

Six new visions of how the station might be revitalised will be revealed on Tuesday, when the state government releases the shortlist of its $1 million redesign competition.

The designs will be displayed on the station concourse, and a jury of architectural experts and Melbourne luminaries will pick a winner. But there is no government commitment yet, nor any funding, to build the winning design.

The competition objectives state the design must »restore and protect» the building’s heritage spaces, including the ballroom and gymnasium.

But the competition is not all about aesthetics.

Peter Watson, Metro’s network operations manager and another who knows Flinders Street Station’s every nook, says the winning design must future proof the station for generations.

»From a functional point of view you’ve got to be looking at the next 50 years minimum because we’ve doubled patronage in the past 10 to 15 years,» Mr Watson says.


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