Picture this: it’s 1869, and you’re dead. The funeral’s at Rookwood Cemetery at 10am, and you’re in Chippendale. It’s 9:30am. You have no money. What to do? How will you get there in time?
At the time of its construction, the Mortuary Station was adjacent to the original Central Station, then known as Sydney Station. Despite a misleading mural beside the station on the train track side attributing its design to Florence Mary Taylor, Australia’s first female engineer and architect born ten years after its completion, it was in fact designed by colonial architect James Barnet. Barnet also designed Mortuary’s sister station at Rookwood, but more on that next time.
The sombre design is perfectly suited to the task performed by the station, and the gothic detail is fantastic. Standing before it, you can only imagine how many mourners boarded trains bound for their loved ones’ final stop. Funeral trains would depart from Mortuary Station each day for either Rookwood, Woronora or Sandgate cemeteries. By 1927 the cost of a ride was around four shillings (roughly 40c); corpses traveled for free.
And didn’t the station live up to its name! Beneath the gloomy facade was an insatiable bloodlust:
Sometimes, trains didn’t even have to be involved in the carnage:
Spooky. Gotta wonder if these guys ended up on one of the trains at the station. Speaking of spooky, it is alleged that the station is haunted. Further rumours suggest that a building across the road once operated as a mortuary itself, and that there exists a tunnel beneath the road connecting this building to the station. Evidence is pretty much non-existent, but if you know more, let Past/Lives know.
In 1875, at the height of Mortuary-mania, a junior version of the Mortuary Station was set up at Newtown to provide a starting point for mourners unable to reach the city. It was in keeping with the design of the original, but didn’t have the staying power. It was demolished in 1965.
Eventually, Sydney’s roads got to a standard that corpses could be taken to the cemeteries by car. If the roads then were anything like they are now, I’m presuming most of the deaths were caused by starvation or perhaps boredom from being stuck in traffic for so long. There became less and less of a need for funeral trains, despite complaints like these in 1925:
Overcrowded trains aren’t just a modern problem. Anyway, in 1938 the Mortuary Station closed and the cemetery services departed from Central instead until they themselves ceased operation ten years later. Not long after its closure, the Mortuary Station was renamed Regent Street Station and used for dog trains, which took dogs to races in Wollongong and Gosford. I’d like to think corpses could still travel for free.
Since 1981 the station has been restored a number of times. In 1986, it became the site of a pancake restaurant: Magic Mortuary. Four train cars were stationed beside the platform, and hosted meals, live shows and a gift shop. Thankfully, this grotesque display only lasted three years. It’s currently undergoing further refurbishment since those graffiti scallywags are always tagging it, but an optimistic sign out the front expects refurbishment to be completed by the end of 2011! Hope so!
The Mortuary Station’s a strange, jarring sight along the changing face of Regent Street – across the road lie the remains of the Kent Brewery and the empty shells of the pubs that used to surround it. It’s heritage listed, but so was the Sharpie’s Golf House sign. Nothing lasts forever, and it’s only a matter of time until the station itself goes for that last ride.
Next stop, Rookwood…
The Parcels Post Office, situated at Railway Square beside Central Station, was built in 1913 and operated as a post office until the 1960s. Prior to the construction of Central Station in 1901, this was roughly the site of the Benevolent Asylum:
After decades of sitting derelict, someone finally decided the former post office would be good to go with a little funky cold Medina:
Nothing like a hotel right next to the train line!
The story of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs railway is a long one, and we won’t be going down that tunnel today. Instead, we’ll be going down this one.
The reason this set of escalators down to the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra line trains at Central Station is so long is because it’s actually going down two levels, not one. When the Eastern Suburbs platforms were being built throughout the 1960s and 1970s, construction crews made concessions for four extra platforms, not just the two that exist today. 26 & 27 lie above 24 & 25.
The plan was that platforms 24 and 25 would service the Illawarra and the Eastern Suburbs lines, and above them, platforms 26 & 27 would someday cater to an airport line. The platforms were built, but the planned airport line never materialised, and since 1979 the platforms have sat derelict. In fact, even when an airport line was built in the leadup to the Olympics in 2000, the platforms weren’t used – the reason being that modern trains were too heavy for the loadbearing capabilities of the platforms. Many photos exist online of these platforms, but since 26 & 27 are not accessible to the general public (with terrorism fears cited as the reason, because terrorists want to blow up empty train platforms), they won’t be appearing here. What’s interesting is the evidence of the platforms’ existence that is readily available, such as this:
But shhh! Don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret!
ANNUAL UPDATE: One year doesn’t seem to have made a difference to the future of these dead platforms.