Previous as a Palimpsest: An Specific Historical past of Sydney’s Central Railway Station


Sydney is a palimpsest – a metropolis whose foundations have remained fixed, and whose earlier buildings are often lined with new, fashionable faces of cement, sandstone and brick. There’s an indelible piece of historical past in each nook of our metropolis, but many streets in Sydney look very totally different from 10 years in the past.

No place or web site in Sydney higher exemplifies the fragmented and multi-layered nature of our metropolis than Central Station. Now the biggest railway station within the Southern Hemisphere, the station has undergone vital adjustments to its façade because it was first in-built 1850 at Haymarket, the place it nonetheless stays. The land on which Central stands is Gadigal Land and was a gathering place for the Aboriginal folks of Sydney hundreds of years earlier than colonization. 19. throughoutth-Century, the positioning quickly turned a cemetery for European colonization, which operated on the southeast facet of the current Central Station till 1901, when land was annexed to type the Grand Concourse. Through the years, the land’s unique function of Central as a culturally essential place for the Gadigal folks has been destroyed by colonialism; As a substitute, it now serves as a gathering place for each town of Sydney and the inhabitants of Australia extra broadly.

Regardless of the obvious banality of Central Station for many people, the query stays: How websites like these – websites we often take with no consideration or really feel nostalgic for as we speak – have formed our present dwelling. given measurement?


ira The identify given to the nation to which the Gadigal folks belong. Nonetheless, in keeping with students Dennis Foley and Peter learn of their work what the colonists by no means knew (2020), there actually is not any such factor as an Ira nation; Slightly, ira is a European building that connects the assorted tribal teams of the Parramatta River catchment. There’s archaeological proof of a pre-colonial Gadigal open camp on Broadway, one kilometer west of Central Station, proper subsequent to the College of Sydney. Foley and Reed additionally observe of their e book that the realm round Central “was as soon as a mature Angophora forest … it was one other funeral forest … the place all of the bones of the useless have been deposited after cremation. it was achieved.” This attitude offers us a wealthy perception into the historical past of the land earlier than 1788. Sadly, there’s little commemoration of this historical past among the many Eurocentric plaques and sculptures round Central, highlighting missed lapses about Sydney’s historical past.

After the European invasion, Prince Alfred Park subsequent to Central Station was a camp web site for Aboriginal folks within the early nineteenthth-century. Often known as the Cleveland Paddocks, the positioning was dwelling to a big part of Sydney’s Aboriginal inhabitants as they fled their lands round Sydney Cove attributable to violence and evictions generated by European colonization. It is a reality we should keep in mind when inspecting any ingredient of Sydney’s historical past. The Cleveland paddocks have been used as a campsite by the Aboriginal folks of Sydney till the mid-1850s when the development of the Central Railway Station started. This building reworked Sydney right into a linkage to a metropolis of disparate settlements, and has since change into a serious a part of the Sydney expertise.

Because it was in-built 1855 on its present web site between Haymarket and Surry Hills, Central Railway Station has remained a ‘central’ hub for commuters regardless of adjustments to its design. By the 1850s, the consequences of the Industrial Revolution have been being felt deeply in Australia. Importantly, the railway line was a serious industrial improvement that not solely accelerated the urbanization of metropolitan areas but in addition made it simpler for folks to journey and carry items between rural and regional Australia. The railway system was additionally a serious employment supply for each the working and center class inhabitants, driving migration to the Sydney metro space. Thus, the development of a central railway station was seen not solely as a necessity to help on this cosmopolitan improvement, but in addition as a method of accelerating Sydney’s significance as a serious buying and selling centre. It is all within the identify.

It appears unusual to think about as we speak, however within the mid-1850s, a corrugated iron shed in Central consisted of a wood platform. Though extra railway sheds have been added to the positioning in 1856, it turned obvious within the early 1870s that the station was unsuitable to satisfy the calls for of the colony’s quickly rising inhabitants, which grew thirty-five in simply two years between 1870. had exceeded a thousand. and 1872. To satisfy the demand of the rising inhabitants, a second terminal, as proven in determine 1The latter was constructed at Central Station in 1874.

determine 1, A View of the Second Terminal of Central Station, c. 1879. This picture is taken from the japanese facet of the station, which was generally known as the ‘departure facet’. This terminal was added to satisfy the altering wants of town as its inhabitants grew quickly within the 1870s.

Nonetheless, the addition nonetheless couldn’t cater to the rising variety of residents of town till the Nineties. In the course of the 12 months 1899 alone, the station’s solely two terminals have been serving 2.5 million passengers. Subsequently, a 15-platform station was authorized for building in 1900, utilizing the most recent industrial strategies of metal framing and concrete to construct the positioning. At the moment, this design is named the Grand Concourse. The ‘grandeur’ of this constructing, as felt in Determine 2sheds gentle on the trouble behind the development of the station, therefore suggesting its ‘central’ significance to Sydney within the early 20’sth century.

Determine 2: Inside of the Grand Concourse, c. 1906. On this supply we will really feel the ‘grandeur’ of the station’s structure. Thus we will infer its significance to Sydney within the early 1900s.

Round 1901, a number of buildings have been destroyed to accommodate the Grand Concourse, emphasizing the character of Central’s historical past as a palate. For instance, the unique web site of the Sydney Ladies Refuge was cleared for the development of a railway constructing. The asylum was established in 1848 to supply shelter and help to each prostitution survivors and single pregnant girls, or Sydney as in. Empire The journal annotated for “enchancment and revenue” in 1860. [society’s] Companion-creatures.” The demolition of the refuge to make approach for the growth of the railway station was felt by a whole lot of girls who used its companies. Fortunately, nonetheless, the refuge was moved to a different web site in St. Peters the place it continued to supply help for ladies till 1925. Thus, change has been a relentless characteristic of the land on which Central Station stands. Certainly, the Grand Concourse remains to be present process intensive renovation, which It’s scheduled to open in the course of 2022.

Central hasn’t simply been a gathering place to stay. On land bounded by Elizabeth, Pitt and Devonshire streets – now the southern a part of the Grand Concourse – stood the Devonshire Avenue Cemetery. Based on historian Alice Edmonds, curator of the 2019 State Library of NSW’s ‘Lifeless Central’ exhibition, which explored the historical past of this cemetery:

,[The Devonshire Street] The cemetery was opened in 1820, however the metropolis’s main cemetery rapidly stuffed within the following a long time, solely to be overgrown and deserted. In January 1901, when the state authorities introduced its intention to vacate the cemetery, greater than 30,000 our bodies have been buried there. (State Library NSW web site, 2019).

actually, Determine 3 Reflecting the extent to which the ‘greater than 30,000’ useless have been buried on the web site of the Central, modern Sydneysiders proceed to seek for the stays of the tomb. For instance, in the course of the building of the Sydney Metro Rail Line in mid-2010, builders discovered human stays and 19. meetth-Century cemetery constructions, such because the brick vault and crypt, when excavated across the 13 platform. With Sydney’s multi-layered historical past being uncovered to the world, they needed to cease exploring these areas so that they may very well be archaeologically inspected.

Determine 3: A picture of Devonshire Avenue Cemetery, c. 1885. Right here, we will see a restrict to the variety of folks buried on the web site of Central Station, increasing our view of what a gathering place is.


The subsequent time you board a prepare at Central Station, cease for some time and take into consideration the folks of the previous and the locations round you. Once we open our eyes to the potential for probing Sydney’s extra unknown historical past, we rapidly notice that locations we usually take with no consideration, such because the Central, could also be wealthy websites of discovery. Finally, to higher perceive our metropolis’s previous is to higher perceive our place inside Sydney, and the way we’d symbolize it as our dwelling sooner or later.


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