There’s not much reason to hang around Sydney’s Central Station. It’s a place to pass through on the way to somewhere else.
A Transport Hub
However, occasionally you may have to spend time at Central Station. Perhaps, like me, you’ve rushed up the stairs only to see your train pulling away from the platform. And in my case that means waiting an hour for the next train.
At those times, I’ve sat on a wooden bench and read, gone for a short walk or perhaps relaxed with a coffee nearby. I haven’t spent time exploring Central Station itself. Recently, I did just that. Here’s what I discovered.
Background to Central Station
Central Station is the third Sydney Station. Unlike the first and second Sydney Terminals located south of Devonshire Street, between Devonshire and Cleveland Street, it was built north of Devonshire Street in 1906.
The busiest railway station in New South Wales, Central was built on the site of the Devonshire Street Cemetery. Bodies had to be moved. They were exhumed and re-interred in other cemeteries around Sydney including Rookwood and Waverley.
Devonshire Street became a pedestrian underpass, generally known as the Devonshire Street Tunnel.
A Little Park and a Little Dog
Walking from the Inwards Parcel Shed (now the Railway Square YHA), I pass what was once the Parcel Post Office (now the Adina Hotel) and continue through a little park towards the main concourse.
Decorative iron palisade uprights and heavy iron link chain edge the grassed area. The grey green paint is chipped in parts.
I’ve walked through this park many times, but never noticed a little memorial to Donna. Listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest living Hearing Guide dog, Donna belonged to a John Hogan of Pyrmont.
The Clock Tower
One of the four faces of the 85m high Clock Tower, completed in 1921, overlooks the park. Visible for miles around, it became known as “the working man’s watch”. Now of course it’s dwarfed by the skyscrapers around it.
Behind ‘Donna’, a long brick building with arched windows backs onto Platform One. I look for the Governor’s Archway halfway along. The Governor’s coach would stop here.
A Bullet Hole
In the marble entrance to Platform One, I look for a small bullet hole in the marble. It is the only reminder of a gun battle in 1916 between disaffected soldiers (the rioters) and military police.
All I can find is a chip in the corner of a marble column near the public telephone. It looks like a photograph I’ve seen claiming to be of the bullet hole. The only problem is that the next column has a similar chip. Maybe it is the bullet hole, maybe not.
The Main Concourse
The huge arched roof towers above a tiled floor in the main concourse. There are few people about, as COVID restrictions slowly ease. At the far end of the hall, the clock is off-centre. Earlier photos show it positioned centrally. I wonder when it was moved and why.
Between the detailed stained-glass windows of the booking hall (now the Eternity Bar and Grill), four Honour Boards list those who worked for NSW Railways and Tramways who died in active service. The Eternity Bar is currently closed and there’s little to see by peering through the glass doors.
A bust of John Whitton stands in an alcove near the Honour Boards. Known as “The Father of NSW Railways” Whitton was Engineer-in-Chief from 1857 to 1890. He was responsible for growing the rail network from 27km in length to 3538km in thirty three years.
The Old Interstate Booking Office
The neighbouring food court was once the Interstate Booking Office. Carefully restored in 2017, a large four-walled mural celebrating train travel in NSW deserves careful attention. I wonder how many travellers tucking into their burgers and chips look up to appreciate the beautiful polished plaster artwork.
On the terrazzo tiled floor, circles enclosing variously a red lion, a black swan and crown and stars sit beside a map of Australia. I don’t quite understand the symbolism. Perhaps someone can help here.
The Light Rail
At the light rail stop, outside the main concourse, a few people wait patiently. A woman, dressed in a grey hoodie, stands behind one of the police vehicles parked on the other side of the tram tracks. She’s talking on her phone.
I step carefully over the tracks to look out towards Belmore Park. Almost immediately the woman approaches me flashing her police ID. “Excuse me ma’am you can’t be on this side” she says. I apologise and hastily retreat.
Elizabeth Street Exit
A man with two dogs and a boom box busks near the Elizabeth Street exit. Other apparently homeless people sit on the low wall. I smile at a young aboriginal woman walking towards me. She smiles back and asks for spare change.
Murals and Busts
Large murals celebrating 100 years of NSW Rail history decorate the station wall running alongside Chalmers Street. In the 2000 -2005 panel, workers wear orange hard hats and Hi-Viz vests, quite different from the workers in the 1925-1940 panel who have no safety gear at all.
Several busts of Spanish and Portuguese historical figures stand on sandstone plinths in the Ibero-American Plaza. This plaza acknowledges the contribution of people from Spain and Portugal to the history of Australia.
The only woman represented, Juana Azurduy de Padilla, fought in the Bolivian wars for independence.
Devonshire Street Tunnel
Relatively quiet today, and missing the usual buskers, the Devonshire Street Tunnel is tiled with digital print murals depicting railway scenes. Another person asks for ‘spare change’ as I exit the tunnel. Coins fall from my purse as I fumble for change. He picks them up and pockets them.
My exploration ends here, where the tunnel opens out into Henry Dean Plaza, named after an Engineer-in-Chief involved in Railway Construction.
Thoughts on Central Station
Central Station is more than just a transport hub. Give yourself a bit more time when you’re next passing through and discover more of the history of this heritage station.
For Your Information
My walk started at the Railway Square YHA next to the Adina Hotel and basically circumnavigated Central Station.
For a different walk to discover Central Station, take a look at this self-guided tour.