Monday, March 31, 2014

Then and now: Tram Town!

And now for something completely different: the memories — and amazing photos — of an ex-tram-driver. As someone who’s regularly heard bad-mouthing her local tram in no uncertain terms (96, I hate you!), this has been quite a revelation.

Peter Bruce started with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board in 1966, and worked for them until 1977. A railway enthusiast since he was a toddler, his interest in trams started with the job. He also happened to be handy with a camera, which resulted in photos like this:

St Kilda Road, c. 1968. Photo: Peter Bruce
This photo is both familiar and strange. In the foreground, we see the number 8 tram to Toorak, still going strong today. (Peter tells me the number 4 behind it has since become the 67 service.) The iconic Flinders Street Station dome is hard to miss, and the spire of St Paul’s Cathedral dominates the horizon.

In the distance, the former Carlton and United Breweries site is just visible, with its rooftop logo and a ghostly ‘Victoria Bitter’ sign beneath it. ‘The Wales’ (Bank of NSW) is now Westpac (in a different building), while the Olympic Tyres sign twinkling coquettishly in the centre of the image also appears in the Angus O’Callaghan photo I featured in my first blog post. The Arts Centre had yet to be built (construction started in 1973), and the me Bank skyscraper is nowhere to be seen.

Peter explains another big difference between then and now: “City Road, which now passes underneath St Kilda Road, crossed on the level then. You can see distant traffic there in this shot.” And speaking of traffic, check out all the cool cars: a Mini, the front right corner of a Holden, a few Beetles, just to name a few.

Flash forward to 2014, and this is what you get:

Try as I might, I couldn't get both the Flinders St station dome and the Cathedral spire to show.

Peak hour squeeze

Hands up who finds the peak-hour tram-crush hard to endure? Rest assured, you’re not the first. Says Peter, trams “could be very crowded especially in the am and pm peaks and the connies [conductors] had to work hard to collect all the fares and keep the car (tram, but trammies always referred to them as cars) as close to time as possible. That required close co-operation between driver and conductor.” Beats Myki’s uncooperative attitude, I reckon.

Clarendon St & Albert Rd, c. 1968. Photo: Peter Bruce
The photo above shows the number 12 — “the equivalent of today’s 112 which runs from the corner of Fitzroy and Park Streets, St Kilda to St. Vincent’s Plaza.” This is what it looks like now:
To take this photo, I had to brave a tsunami of 4WDs and luxury sedans flooding out of Albert Park (what is it about so-called ‘sporty’ people and their SUVs?). While the gate, tree and house to the left remain, the pub and dry-cleaner to the right are no longer there.

Breakdown shakedown

Asked about whether trams broke down very often back in the 60s and 70s, Peter says, “The old trams didn’t break down very often and we’d always try to limp along so as not to delay the rest of the service.” (so what happened, Metlink?)

But he’s pretty diplomatic about how today’s trams stack up in comparison. “Trammies then were expected to use initiative to prevent avoidable delays; today they are not allowed to. Risk management is necessary but it has become an industry and thus has to continually justify its existence by finding more risks.”

Park Street at Kingsway, South Melbourne, c. 1968. Photo: Peter Bruce
There’s the number 4 again, at an intersection that’s completely unrecognisable today, Park Street and Kingsway. The 67 no longer takes that route, but then, I doubt you can get Voca dictation machines anymore either, if the photo below is any indication...

Believe it or not, this is the Park Street-Kingsway intersection today

Fairweather friends

One of my pet tram peeves is how they immediately go haywire when the weather changes. Peter recalls them being a bit hardier back in the day: “The weather, rain that is, had to be pretty heavy and sustained to badly affect the service, basically there had to be about 200mm flooding over the tracks.”
Number 11 at Park and Heather Streets, South Melbourne, c. 1968. Photo: Peter Bruce
“Number 11 was not a passenger-carrying tram. It was what was called a Scrubber Car and it existed to clean the head of the rail. The service at this intersection is the same today, route 1, South Melbourne Beach-East Coburg.”

As the photo above so hideously demonstrates, Park Street is no longer a swoonfest of EHs, Cortinas, original Mini wagons, EJs and other automotive gems. The milk bar advertising Craven Filter ciggies on the corner now appears to be vacant, if not downright derelict (that’s it with the graffitied wall), and a roundabout has since been built to moderate the traffic flow (interestingly, Peter recalls that “motor traffic in those days was much lighter but much less disciplined!”)

One thing that’s much the same is the towering council flat high-rise up the top of Park Street.

The television effect

Perhaps the most fascinating difference between then and now is the impact of television on peoples’ lifestyles (and their tram-going habits). Whereas the majority of PT passengers these days sit there glued to their mobile device, back then, people had to wait til they got home for their entertainment fix — the goggle box.

As Peter explains: “After about 8.00 or 8.30pm, the trams didn’t carry many people and that has to do with popular culture, TV. Most of the suburban picture theatres had closed down shortly after the advent of TV in 1956-57 and most people were glued to the box after they got home from work.”

Well, with shows like Go!! to be had, who could blame them?

A note about Peter’s photography:
“In 1968 I bought a Pentax Spotmatic which was a camera and lens system which enabled enthusiastic amateurs to buy a great camera at a reasonably affordable price. Most of the Japanese optical companies made very good cameras in this price range. I nearly always took black and white photos as I had my own darkroom.”

By the way, any trainspotters out there might like Peter's blog, I Was a Teenage Railfan, while tram-nuts will dig his online photo gallery here.

Related post: 
Then and now

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