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Celebrated mural at Sydney's Central Station brought back to life

A woman wearing a mask working on the mural.
A small team from International Conservation Services brought the Central Station mural back to life.

Supplied: Transport for NSW

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It was covered in a greasy film, left to deteriorate above a food court and damaged by smoke from a kitchen fire, but now a celebrated mural depicting train travel in NSW has been brought back to life.

A small team of conservation experts spent a month at Central Station lovingly restoring the large design, which was made from a fine plaster and polished to look like marble.

The mural, which was a finalist for the Sulman Prize in 1951, was designed by Italian immigrant Peter Melocco and built by Guido Zuliani, an artist he brought out from Italy.

The damaged mural
Grease from the food court and smoke from a kitchen fire damaged the mural.

Supplied: Julian Bickersteth

It was originally a feature of the four walls above the Interstate Booking Office but more recently the area had been turned into a food court, with the artwork largely ignored by patrons tucking into fast food below it.

After a fire in one of the kitchens in 2015 the area was closed off, but will be reopened next year with the restored Melocco mural to take pride of place.

Man working on the train mural.
The team of five spent a month at Central Station completing the work on the mural.

Supplied: Transport for NSW

Julian Bickersteth from International Conservation Services and his team were brought in by Sydney Trains to clean up and detail the surface.

"Everyone is really pleased with it because it doesn't look new, it's got a lovely age to it, but at the same time it really looks fresh and vibrant and I think people will walk in and go 'wow!'," Mr Bickersteth told ABC News.

"Well, like everything else it's getting the technique to work first then applying it over several square metres."

The four-walled mural is three metres high, 18 metres long, and six metres wide across each end.

The team very carefully used a solvent on cotton buds to remove the grease then painted in the grooves to bring out the detail.

"We had five people there for a month just slowly working their way around and the whole thing has come alive again in a wonderful way," Mr Bickersteth said.

Mural to help modernise railway station

In the late 1940s, railway commissioner Reginald Windsor advocated to modernise the railways in the face of increasing competition from the family car and air travel, and the mural was part of a facelift for Central Station.

Mr Melocco and his brothers had come to Australia and progressively brought their relatives and other skilled workers out from Italy to take advantage of Australia's post-war building boom.

Some of their other work includes the crypt of St Mary's Cathedral and the Tasman map on the floor in the entrance to the State Library.

The mural in situ.
Many dined in the food court unaware that an important mural was above them.

Supplied: Transport for NSW

Sydney Trains heritage specialist Gretta Logue said she thought the mural was destroyed in the fire as she watched the flames on the news.

"The minute the fire brigade cleared the space we went in and we were lucky — it survived with water damage but when we did the inspection we saw there was a lot of gunk and grease in it too."

Now the surface has been cleaned up and detailed people can clearly see a story unfold, Ms Logue said.

"You can start at one corner, work your way around, and get an idea of the immense history and the fact that it's actually a beautiful piece of art.

"It also has a framed effect with an Indigenous motif as well so it's interesting that the railways understood the land they were travelling over."