IT LIES in plain sight just metres from Australia’s busiest transport interchange; thousands of passengers passing it daily; but this little known Sydney railway station harbours a spine-chilling secret.
Locating the Regent Street station on any map is a struggle, if you should stumble across its rusting gates you’ll find them locked and creaking in the wind, while the solemn building is more church than train. But maybe you don’t want to find yourself waiting for a train at this platform because it could be the last journey you’ll ever make.
This railway building, otherwise known as Mortuary station, was designed for one very creepy purpose — to carry Sydney’s dead to their final resting place.
Australia’s version of the ferry across the river Styx was a train to Lidcombe, western Sydney.
Operations director of Sydney Trains, Tony Eid, said the station opened in 1869 and “trains would arrive at the station, mourners could buy a ticket, there would be a small ceremony, the family would hop on and the coffin travelled free”.
“It wasn’t first class, just a wooden train with chairs for the mourners and a purpose built wagon to hold the coffins.”
Mortuary station is one of 50 spaces, usually shrouded in secrecy, that the public will be able to explore as part of the annual Sydney Open on 1 November. Other buildings allowing people to have a one-day only sticky beak inside include the ornate Government House overlooking the harbour, the Sydney Masonic Centre and the hidden corners of the famous Queen Victoria Building.
Mortuary station’s position was no coincidence, Mr Eid told news.com.au. “There used to be a cemetery at that location but by 1860 it had reached its capacity.”
“They were looking for a new site and Lidcombe was ideal but the trouble was, in that period, there were no cars so how do you shift people to the cemetery?”
The answer was regular trains departing with the dear departed.
Designed by James Barnet, the building, with its Gothic arches and soaring roof is deliberately ecclesiastical in nature to show due respect for its important cargo.
The teary travellers would make their way through Sydney’s suburbs before arriving at the almost identical Cemetery station, conveniently located in the middle of the graveyard. The coffins, as many as 30 on one train, would be unloaded and deposited in their final resting place. In the 1950s, Cemetery station was dismantled stone-by-stone and re-erected in Canberra as All Saint’s Church.
“What used to be a station that looked like a church is now actually a church,” said Mr Eid.
With so many of the recently dead having passed its platform, have there ever been any other worldly encounters at Mortuary?
“The way it’s been designed it has an ambience that does feel quite cold,” said Mr Eid, “But nothing untoward has ever been reported.”
In fact, the 160,000 commuters who pass Mortuary every day are far more likely to experience a paranormal presence at Central than within the church like building they passed just moments before.
Children’s voices have been heard deep with the bowels of Central, far from the bustle above, said Mr Eid. This could be down to the fact the Devonshire Street cemetery, he said, once covered much of the area now occupied by the busy terminus. Yet the graves never quite reached as far as Mortuary station itself perhaps sparing it from being haunted.
By 1938, the car was proving more popular as funeral transport. Mortuary station’s original role began to wind down and it became, variously, a platform to dispatch animals, a parcel depot and, for a time, a pancake restaurant called the ‘Magic Mortuary’.
In the 1980s, the station was heritage listed with Neville Wran unveiling a $600,000 refurbishment in 1985 restoring it to all its ghoulish glory. Today, it celebrates not death but life, Mr Eid said, with five wedding ceremonies due to be held in the coming months under the station’s arches.
“We cherish the building, we look after it because we know it’s a big part of our history and we want the community to enjoy it as much as we do.”
Article by Benedict Brook appeared on news.com.au on 18 Oct 2015.
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