Looking back at the ‘Cavalcade of Transport’ mural

For decades the ‘Cavalcade of Transport’ mural was a landmark of the otherwise unremarkable main concourse at Spencer Street Station. So how did it come to be?

Cavalcade of Transport mural (photo by Rennie Ellis dated 1983, SLV H2011.150-2517)
Rennie Ellis 1983, SLV image H2011.150/2517

The dreary Spencer Street Station building that we all remember dated back to the 1960s.

Melbourne Spencer St 045-315 CAD sheet 03 10
Photo by Graeme Butler, part of the 1985 Melbourne Central Activities District (CAD) Conservation Study

But the Cavalcade of Transport mural wasn’t added until a decade later – the Victorian Heritage Database listing gives some background.

The 36.6 metre long and 7.32 metre high History of Transport mural featured across the main concourse of the Spencer Street railway station, depicting the first century of transport in Victoria (1835-1935), was commissioned by the State Government in 1973.

Painted by State Artist, Harold Freedman (1915-99), and two assistants, the work was completed in January 1978. The mural, a realist oil painting on canvas mounted on plywood, was painted in five main sections at the East Camberwell railway substation, and erected in stages above the Spencer Street station concourse

Putting the mural into place at Spencer Street Station was quite the task.

Hanging the first pieces of the mural in the great hall at Spencer Street Station 18-6-1974 (PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 4218)
PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 4218, dated 18-6-1974

An entire wall of scaffolding was required to give access to the wall where the mural was hung.

Hanging the first pieces of the mural in the great hall at Spencer Street Station 18-6-1974 (PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 4219)
PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 4219, dated 18-6-1974

Once in place, the mural could be viewed from the maun station concourse.

Cavalcade of Transport mural (photo by Rennie Ellis dated 1983, SLV H2011.150-2537)
Rennie Ellis 1983, SLV image H2011.150/2537

Or from the mezzanine level cafe.

Cavalcade of Transport mural (photo by Rennie Ellis dated 1983, SLV H2011.150-2517)
Rennie Ellis 1983, SLV image H2011.150/2517

Cavalcade of Transport mural (photo by Rennie Ellis dated 1983, SLV H2011.150-2518)
Rennie Ellis 1983, SLV image H2011.150/2518

The mural stayed untouched until 2000, when the right hand end of the mural to be repositioned perpendicular to its original location, to allow the construction of the Bourke Street Bridge at the north end of the station building.

Further changes came in 2004, when the redevelopment of Spencer Street Station saw the mural put into storage while the new Southern Cross Station was built.

View south along Spencer Street

There it stayed until being re-erected in April 2007. Finding the mural was quite the ordeal – the new location was the north wall of the new Direct Factory Outlet shopping centre that formed part of the new station.

'Cavalcade of Transport' mural now relocated to the shopping centre

But unfortunately this wasn’t the end of this undignified story – in 2014 the shopping centre was redeveloped and the former viewing platform being demolished, leaving the mural hidden from view at the back of a discount shop, behind a forest of light fittings and air conditioning ducts.

'Cavalcade of Transport' mural sitting above a new factory outlet store

A sad end to something at used to take pride of place at Spencer Street Station.

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9 Responses to “Looking back at the ‘Cavalcade of Transport’ mural”

  1. Albert3801 says:

    Wow! I’ve never seen it nor was I aware of its existence. I must look for it next time I’m in Melbourne. What store is it in?

  2. Seph says:

    I’ve always thought the fate of this was pretty sad. I’ve wondered if reproducing it at a larger scale that was weatherproof and hanging it on the back of the Shopping Centre so that it was visible from the Bourke St End of platforms would be possible.

    Also, I can’t say that I can remember the old Spencer St Station building, though I do remember going there and seeing the mural.

  3. Peter says:

    What an inglorious end to such a lovely bit of art work, and importance to Victorian transport history.

    I was working just up Bourke St, and went to see it just after the “opening”. Someone needs a rocket up their ass!

  4. Baz Daly says:

    Try Cavalcade Of Transport Rescue Group on Facebook and you can see where its destiny lies.

  5. Sean Kellly says:

    Marcus,

    Look, my memory is a bit rusty but my old regular mate from the locomotive knows a fair bit about this painting. I will find out and reply to you again in due course.

    The “faces” of some of the people in the mural were “particular people” known to Freedman and not just random images.

    Let me ask Trevor and I’ll get back to you with a more detailed response.

    Sincerely,

    Sean.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Thanks for that Sean!

      • Sean Kelly says:

        Marcus,

        The mural was painted in the East Camberwell VR sub station in panels.

        In the centre panel with the steam locomotive cab, the Driver is the late VR steam and diesel Driver, Ron Chandler (he died about 1988?). Ron often drove “Polly” when she was number 3 steam crane (up until she was cosmetically converted back to Z 256 in the mid 1980’s) so the cab controls and interior are that of steam crane “Polly”.

        The Fireman in the cab is actually the late VR Rolling Stock Branch Engineer, Norm Cave. Norm was also a brilliant modeller and built the huge “TT” scale VR layout that was at the VR stand at the Royal Agricultural Society Showgrounds for many years when I was a kid.

        In the far upper left hand side is supposedly a picture of Hobson’s Bay Engine No.1, built here in Melbourne. This illustration (imagined – of the locomotive’s design) was created by late VR draftsman Charlie Hansford. We now know this illustration is very likely quite inaccurate (See green covered A.R.H.S. book on locomotives of the VR by Cave, Buckland et al…).

        On the pier next to this train at Sandridge is a little girl holding a rag doll. This is the late modeller Frank Kelly’s daughter. Frank was famous for his brass VR and SAR locomotives and he consulted with Harold as to details whilst he was painting and asked if one of his children could be in the painting. Frank’s son Colin is a Fitter Foreman to this day and the Secretary of DERMPAV.

        There is a recurring woman’s face in the mural which we believe to be Harold Freedman’s wife. In the lower right hand corner there is a man hand pumping the tyre on a 1930’s “ute”. We believe this is a self-portrait of Harold Freedman!

        Hope this helps?

        Sean. 🙂

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