Children’s literature from E. Nesbit to J.K. Rowling evokes the thrill of the railways: the sweat of the engine worker piling in more coal, the smoke and the soot, the way the day can be measured by a train’s shriek as it enters a tunnel in the morning or its more sedate call as it finds its rhythm mid afternoon. There is something in the impending promise of a journey, the physical presence of a station, the very act of waiting for a trip to begin, which continues to appeal to adult and child alike. The animal heft of a train, its raw power, is tempered, however, through the fastidious management of time.

An authoritative presence on Platform One at Spencer Street Station for almost one hundred years, the Main Line Starter Clock stood over the people of Victoria from its installation in 1871 until 1960, when the station was re-developed and the clock was gifted by Victorian Railways to the Melbourne Museum.

This majestic artifact is now cleverly housed in a model ‘Museum Station’ in the new Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery.

Built by watchmaker Thomas Gaunt at his premises in Bourke Street’s Royal Arcade in consultation with Government Astronomer Robert Ellery, the clock weighs some 150kg and stands – as you can gauge from this image of Conservator Sarah Babister as she repaired paint loss and removed decades of accumulated grime from the face – an imposing 1820mm high by 1190mm wide.