The room is so neglected that stalactites are forming on the ceiling. Mould creeps up the flaking walls, which are tagged with graffiti.
“That would be the squatters,” says Neil Brand, Plant and Stations Manager at Citipower. Today, he’s taking Time Out on a tour of J Substation, just opposite Southern Cross Station. The electrical plant is still in operation, but some of its rooms are only just being reclaimed from squatters and pigeons. Others are home to huge, dusty switchboards reminiscent of Star Trek or Homer Simpson's nuclear plant. The network of echoing tunnels would make the perfect setting for a horror movie – and we love it.
In 2008, Open House Melbourne unlocked the doors to eight CBD locations. This year, the not-for-profit organisation is putting 100 new and historic locations on show and offering free talks, documentary screenings and art installations.
If you’re feeling lucky, enter the ballot to visit the Flinders Street Ballroom. Most of the venues welcome an unlimited number of visitors over the weekend, but the decaying state of the ballroom meant that last year, only ten places were offered to the 15,000 people who expressed interest.
Don’t fret if your name isn’t drawn. There’s still South Yarra’s antique-filled Como House, Government House and the Block Arcade to satisfy your hunger for history. For something more left-field, try Carlton’s Cairo Flats (it's ballot only, but you'll have better luck getting chosen): a block of Art Deco residential buildings erected in the ’30s.
Open House also offers fascinating insights into some of Melbourne’s more unusual professions. You’ll have the rare opportunity to watch medical research at work in the state-of-the-art labs of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, or see where death-defying magic happens at Circus Oz’s new headquarters.
If you're drawn to the mystery of the past, then there's the Melbourne General Cemetery and Scots' Church, built in 1841. Or, you could delve into the tunnels fo the J Substation and try to help Neil Brand figure out what all of them were actually used for. "It's one of those things lost to the past," he says, smiling enigmatically.
Perhaps Plato was right when he said that “this city is what it is because our citizens are what they are”: curious, diverse and sometimes, a little creepy.
For the full list of buildings, visit the Open House Melbourne website.