Heritage win for rail history

Heritage win for rail history

By Rosemary Cameron - Royal Historical Society of Victoria

Built in 1889, the Number 2 Goods Shed in Docklands, near Southern Cross Station, is one of the most significant buildings in Victoria’s rail and industrial history.

It was built in the Melbourne Yard, the original rail freight terminal in Victoria which ran from Flinders St to Moonee Ponds Creek. When it was built, it was the longest building in Australia (385 metres, with 26 arched doors on the east side and 28 on the west side) and was in continuous use until 1977. It was also the busiest goods shed employing up to a staggering 1500 men by the 1890s.

Melbourne’s population grew by a massive 67 per cent in the 1880s to reach around 482,000. Never since has Melbourne grown so fast. This is when Melbourne started to dominate its countryside as railways not only brought exports through Melbourne but also enabled Melbourne’s factories to undercut country town small businesses, from foundries to cordial makers.

During this decade cable trams replaced horse trams, telephones made their appearance and suburban railways and tramlines fanned out, tying new suburbs to the city. What marked Melbourne in this decade was a spirit of progress and optimism. Home ownership reached 45 per cent, the highest rate in Australia and indeed in the world. During this decade, in 1880 and 1888, Melbourne’s grand new Exhibition Building hosted two momentous exhibitions, both demonstrating Melbourne’s development as the rival of Europe’s great cities.

The prosaically named, Number 2 Goods Shed, is actually a grand polychromatic brick building which clearly illustrates the dominant role played by Victoria’s railways in the economic development of the State in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The huge scale and grandiose style of the sheds is a reflection of those boom decades, the 1870s and 1880s, and the consequent increase in goods traffic. The building housed three rail tracks with loading platforms for horse-drawn vehicles accessed through the arched doors on both sides of the building.

Melbourne Yard in Docklands remained the major transit point for goods in Victoria through to the 1960s when the introduction of containerisation forced a move to more modern, less-congested rail facilities and to the more efficient door-to-door road transport. The final death knell for the Melbourne Yard was the Docklands and stadium developments in the 1990s which removed most of the sidings and goods sheds, leaving the Number 2 Goods Shed as a lonely reminder of a former glorious age of rail supremacy.

Despite its listing on the Victorian Heritage Register and its National Trust classification, in the early 2000s it was cut in half by the extension of Collins St into Docklands. To allow for the extension, nine bays in the middle of the Goods Shed were demolished, and since then it has existed in two parts, known as Goods Shed North and Goods Shed South. Despite the loss of its middle section, the Number 2 Goods Shed is still the largest and most architecturally elaborate 19th century railway building in Victoria                            

In 2022 a developer applied to Heritage Victoria for a permit to demolish the two existing modern office buildings on Collins St and build two larger office towers in their place. This would have involved some demolition, dismantling and reconstruction of Goods Shed North and Goods Shed South to allow for the construction of the new towers, and to accommodate the larger floor plates proposed for the two new towers.

Fortunately, in January 2023, the application for redevelopment was refused by Heritage Victoria. The Royal Historical Society of Victoria applauds this decision by Heritage Victoria. •

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