Flinders Street Station, the busiest railway hub in all of Australia, is home to a decaying beauty of a ballroom, an abandoned leftover from the bygone era of railroad romance.
While the station serves nearly 100,000 travelers a day, the old third floor ballroom, closed off from the public since 1985, rarely opens it doors to visitors. Viewing the space has been so coveted in recent years that during Open House Melbourne (an annual celebration of design and urban preservation) special entry was granted by a secret “Golden Ticket,” tucked into a lucky few visitors’ programs.
Designed in 1899 by James Fawcett and H. P. C. Ashworth, Flinders Street Station opened in 1910, and quickly became a Melbourne icon. The space occupied by the Ballroom was originally the lecture hall of the Victorian Railways Institute, an association established to provide “betterment of railway staff.”
This included night courses, a lending library, and physical fitness classes. There were also “men only” spaces, such as a billiard room, table tennis, and a private gym with a boxing ring and running track on the roof.
The heyday of the ballroom was in the 1950s and 60s, when public dances would fill the hall, always sure to finish on time so they could catch the last train home. All these accommodations are long-gone, but the spaces they occupied are there, just waiting to be rediscovered.
As of early 2017, the station is about to undergo a major overhaul and renovation, including a return to the original colors of the early 20th century. For the ballroom itself, the Victorian Government has put together a business plan to bring it all back to life—hopefully that will happen soon. The dancers are just waiting to catch that train.