1924 Fruit kiosk at Flinders St station

Victorian Railways poster

The Chairman of the Victorian Railways Commissioners, Harold Clapp, wanted to see primary producers succeed, so the railways would succeed and the State succeed. He vigorously promoted sales of fruit, opening a fruit kiosk at Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station and stalls at other stations. His campaign initially addressed a glut of oranges in northern Victoria growing areas.

Harold Winthrop Clapp (later Sir Harold) became Chairman of the Victorian Railways commissioners in 1920. He was Australian born and educated, but had spent 20 years in America where he held managerial positions in a number of railway companies. He transformed the Victorian Railways with many technical and administrative reforms.

He took a deep interest in country affairs, in part because of the role of the railways in transporting produce to the city. He commissioned a special Victorian National Resources Development Train, known as Reso, to acquaint city businessmen with regional centres. Working with the Department of Agriculture, in the mid-1920s a Better Farming Train toured Victoria to demonstrate farming best practice.

Prior to Clapp’s appointment, catering on railway stations and trains had been handled by private contractors. There were many complaints about the standard of the food supplied. Clapp brought the catering function back under the control of Victorian Railways, establishing the Refreshment Branch. Soon the branch had its own butchery, bakery, laundry and poultry farm. He improved dining car facilities and introduced new buffet cars. These were first used during the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927.

Among Clapp’s many initiatives was the vigorous promotion of fruit. He used the poster sites on stations to encourage fruit consumption and set up a fruit kiosk at Flinders Street Station. The stalls not only improved passenger amenity and supported fruit growers but increased the railways’ freight business.

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