Railway stations

Page 4 – The dark side

There was a darker side to station life. Like other public facilities, railway stations often attracted loafers and drunks, bored teenagers or lonely souls seeking human contact. Some of these people became local identities, such as the enigmatic Catherine Hill who frequented Frankton station for decades from the Second World War. Locals dubbed her ‘Coffee and Bun’ after her usual purchases from the station refreshment room, and they speculated that she was waiting for a fiancé who had never returned from the war.

In the early 1900s late-night drunkenness and fighting at city stations was typically blamed on ‘the rough element’ and gangs of ‘young ruffians’. In the aftermath of the First World War, there were complaints of men ‘loitering’ and drinking around station lavatories, with returned soldiers reportedly ‘frequent offenders’.

Stations were also easy targets for graffiti and vandalism. Toilets and advertising signs suffered the most damage. Some suburban stations were popular night-time gathering places for local youth. At Opawa in Christchurch in the early 20th century, youthful ‘hooligans’ scratched obscene words in the walls, tore down posters and notices, stole light bulbs, urinated on the floor, set rubbish on fire and broke windows. In 1938 vandals even smeared cow dung over all the station’s door handles.

From the 1950s the Railways Department faced increasing problems with vandalism, rocks being thrown from overbridges, pilfering from wagons and even attempts to derail trains by wedging rocks in points. By the 1980s many unattended suburban stations had been boarded up and seemingly abandoned to a dilapidated, graffiti-covered fate. As rail’s heyday passed into memory, so too did the railway station’s status as a vibrant community hub.

How to cite this page

'The dark side', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/railway-stations/dark-side, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012