Saturday, October 27, 2012

Darlinghurst Blog: History: Books: Trams

A well-placed source of historical photographs last week sent me some great 1940s colour images of trams trundling down Darlinghurst and Sydney streets.  
They belong to a private collector and as far as I know have never before been published, so it's an honour to be able to reproduce them here.
I had a hard time placing where exactly the photograph above was taken and had to refer to a tram line map (below, Copyright John R Newland, 2010) to see exactly where the lines ran.

I believe the photograph at the top of this post shows the 'Special' turning off Oxford Street and into Greens Road, Paddington, on its way to Moore Park. In the background there is a smokestack, which I assumed belonged to the Royal Hospital for Women in Paddington (which still marks the horizon today), but it would be in completely the wrong position if that is Greens Road. If anyone can identify it, please let me know.

This one, above, was definitely taken at the corner of Greens Road and Oxford Street. As my source says, the "luminous" colour photographs "have a depth and intensity of colour that only film from that era seems to provide. Gems!".

Here's another one, above, showing the trams cruising down Oxford Street. Again, that smokestack is in the background.

The photograph above shows a tram turning from Elizabeth Street into Liverpool Street, on its way to Oxford Street. The trams really were beautiful with their lovely heritage green and cream, with red-trim, paint. They also, for some undefinable reason, remind me of great big caterpillars wriggling along the streets.

The photographs also brought to mind a book I received early last year: Bondi to the Opera House, the trams that linked Sydney, by Dale Budd and Randall Wilson.
The 92-page book was published by the Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW division) and is a comprehensive and educational look at Sydney's tram system, once one of the world's largest.
Budd and Wilson are certainly passionate about the Sydney trams, which scuttled along the streets from 1879 to 1961, and one of the things I love about the book is that they place contemporary photographs alongside historical ones, such as this one:

According to the caption information, Bennelong Point, now the site of the Sydney Opera House, was once home to a tram depot designed by government architect Walter Vernon. 
Trams terminating at the Fort Macquarie depot would arrive on the western side, while those beginning another trip would travel around the depot to its eastern side to make their first stop at the Man O' War Steps.
The ornamental tower you can see in the top left corner of the depot housed an elevated water tank - the  early 20th century version of fire safety.
Prior to the tram depot being built in 1901, the headland was home to the real Fort Macquarie: a square stone fortress with an armament of 24-pound guns and five 6-pounders. Boom.

A tram climbs through the Bronte cutting, now a car park (Copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson).

According to the authors, "the Sydney tram system extended from Narrabeen in the north, to La Perouse in the south; from Bondi in the east to Ryde in the west.
"From the 1920s to the 1940s there were up 1,500 trams operating on 290km of lines serving the city and more than 70 suburbs. Trams carried more than a million people every weekday."

Tram passengers line up at Market Street stop on Elizabeth Street, Central Sydney (Copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson).

There are more than 250 photographs in the book, featuring trams in a vast array of suburbs including Birchgrove and Balmain, Botany and West Kensington, Manly and Milsons Point. There are also a couple showing William Street and Kings Cross.
Most of the photographs were taken by John Alfred, who apparently "had a special talent for spotting unusual vantage points, often elevated," the book says.
"Starting in the 1950s he took more than 4,500 colour transparencies of Sydney trams: his total body of work amounted to more than 21,000 images, almost all of trams and trains throughout Australia."
Alfred died in 1969 - in a road accident - and his photographs are now in the collection of the Mitchell Library, part of the State Library of NSW. 
The authors owe him a great debt. 

One of the Kings Cross photographs in the book is identical to the one above, which I have framed on my wall. My father picked it up at a garage sale in the 70s. The only clue to its origin is the name of the framer printed on the back: Mr Frame of Wetherill Park. But I think it was a common travel pic of the 1940s as I have seen it before in many places.

 Pic copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson.

This photograph (above) showing the tram passing within a few metres of The Gap is one of my favourites in the book. I would have loved to have ridden that tram. The authors say the view would have been "stunning"

Pic copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson.

Back in the 1950s some major fool decided to start closing off the electric tram lines and replace them with diesel buses, the same vehicles that today emit such a foul stench and ear-grating noise throughout the city. Bravo.
The photograph above shows the last tram in George Street, Central Sydney, in November 1958. 
"It is after midnight, a wreath has been attached and everyone is trying to get into the newspaper photographer's picture," the caption says.
"This scene was repeated many times as the tram network was progressively closed down."

 Pic copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson.

The La Perouse and Maroubra routes were the last to be served by the trams, with the final day of operation on 25 February 1961.
"Travellers packed aboard the trams and crowds gathered at vantage points along the route," the book says.
The very last tram (pictured above) was "jammed to the rafters" and it would be "36 years before a tram again carried passengers in Sydney."

Pic copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson.

Some of the trams were donated to various institutions and museums, such as the Sydney Tramway Museum at Loftus, south of Sydney. Many other trams were burned to death, as illustrated in this very sad photograph above.
Trams, or light rail, returned to Sydney in 1997 and the authors hope that this network is expanded.
The City of Sydney is pushing the NSW Government to commit to an expanded network, including the addition of a line along George Street, which they would like to close off to north-south traffic.
Part of their vision is detailed on their website, which is worth visiting just to see, at the bottom of the page, a film that was shot in 1906 by someone on the top of a vehicle cruising down George Street
The animation at the top of the page showing what George Street would look like with trams today is also pretty cool.
From Bondi to the Opera House, the trams that linked Sydney
By Dale Budd and Randall Wilson
Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW)
92pp, $39.95


Anonymous said...

Great photos Violet - good that these seem to continually drop in your lap.

What is interesting in all of these pictures is the total lack of cars (both driving and parked) which I think made light rail work in those days...

Whilst I agree that trams are more efficient (number of passengers and fuel source), the problem is they are on fixed routes and can't respond like buses to accidents, illegally parked cars etc.. they work much better on dedicated lanes.

You may note that the Infrastructure NSW report (released early October) recommended against light rail on George St and instead for underground bus tunnels and terminals (much like Brisbane's brilliant system)

Whilst I support light rail to UNSW and Moore Park given the numbers of passengers involved on these journeys, I am inclined to agree on George St...
The existing 555 Free City loop bus appears poorly patronised, so there is maybe not much demand for the tram, and it would be inefficient to get people to take a tram and then change to another mode of transport (eg bus) to get home...
The proposed underground tunnel (like the Brisbane system) keeps the buses out of traffic (and traffic lights and pedestrians) in the CBD, then lets them fan out in mulitple directions, all without requiring change of mode.

Unknown said...

I love these old photographs of Sydney and have to admit that I have an interest in the area - from a fictional perspective.
Each time I see photographs like these, trams especially, the streets as they looked back then, I just want to step through the images and return to that era.
The image of people actually lining up is just something else, something that seldom happens now, with the exception of a few bus stops in the city, around the QVB, where people have no choice other than to line up due to the limited standing room, but it seems that chaos is coming to the fore, with people in a mad rush for a seat - even if it's only to get off a few blocks down.
Wonderful photographs.

Violet Tingle said...

Hi Anon, Thanks for your comment. I'd say the 555 is poorly patronised because it's poorly publicised. I used to catch it to work meetings as my former employer refused to issue cabcharges for CBD trips, but most of my friends had never heard of it and have no idea of its route.
As for the INSW report, I think the idea for the tunnel is frightening and backward-thinking. Where are the fumes going to go? Why encourage an increase in the numbers of noisy, smelly buses?
I would also loathe the idea of putting more public transport users, such as myself, so far underground, because it's such an uninspiring way to travel.
That Bondi Junction interchange is the most depressing place.
Tourists and city-workers would be more encouraged to take public transport at street level, because it's so convenient.
I'm with the tram-geeks: open George Street to light rail and pedestrians.

Anonymous said...

Trams are great, but to bring them back now, wouldn't that require a huge increase in electricity generation, with all the associated detriments relevant to today's society????

Darlo YES! said...

Re Anon,
More electricity - not at all. There is ample baseload and all the power needs can be achieved by timeshifting devices that soak it up at night when it costs peanuts and use it in the day, avoiding infrastructure costs and making it cheaper. This is now current off the shelf Australian technology (I dont work for them ) eg The other thing is that coal vs solar price parity is already here in some markets and at 2016 at the latest will be here eg see

This means no more coal needed and watch for stranded assets (ie useless old uneconomic coal stations . A fact that will lead to a lot of pain for the uninformed before too long.

I'm all for light rail ASAP in George St (and everywhere else).

Violet Tingle said...

Hey 'Darlo Yes', also note the City of Sydney is investing in a trigeneration network:

Lithopsland said...

Such a great post Violet! Would love to have trams back in Sydney like in the past. What a joy it would be. And the wattle colours do look nice on them. I believe that Melbourne works fine with trams, so I'm sure that Sydney can do the same if the planners are serious. Best.

Julie said...

Ngeun: Melbourne is much flatter than Sydney, which may be why the trams work down there.

Not that they didn't work in Sydney. It was the NRMA flexing its power that did the trams in.

Violet: re the smokestacks. The first one looks like it could be for St Vincents, but now replaced by the SV Clinic so no longer. I will check Thursday morning when I go down to photograph the Jacs along Vic Barracks. The second one looking back along Oxford is definitely the RHW smokestack which is still there.

I have the booklet by the Tramway Museum, 'The Eastern Lines'. I cannot speak highly enough of it.

I am all in favour of trams that do the 555 route, plus out to USYD, out to UNSW and out to Bondi Beach. However, shops are increasingly underground in the CBD, so I expect transport to follow. Expected better from Greiner.

Anonymous said...

Great photographs - love the ones at Bronte!
The photo of the tram at what you speculate is Greens Road and Oxford Street is definately placed correctly. The shop fronts on Oxford Street match perfectly to existing structures. The smokestack visible actually belonged to St Vincents hospital - it was located on the Barcom Avenue frontage near Barcom Avenue Park and was demolished in the early 2000's when the hospital was redeveloped.

Michael Lewis said...

Hi Violet,

I came across your Darlinghurst "Tram" section by accident. I enjoyed your pictures and comments. I was (still am) a tram fan during the last years of Sydney trams and lived on the Bondi route.

The (Labor) Gov't at the time, was following a world wide trend (no doubt encouraged by car manufacturers and motorists' organisations) to replace fixed infrastructure tram road transport with flexible "free" infrastructure buses.

It also had a population, enjoying prosperity after 20 years of severe privation. Suddenly almost everyone could afford a car of some sort - and bought one.

The advent of the car also showed up the fatal flaw in Sydney's tram layout. While often large sections were in roadside, private track, all lines, particularly approaching the city, shared narrow busy roads, where the traffic stopped when the tram stopped.

So, patronage dropped off, roads jammed up, most of Sydney's tram fleet needed replacement, they were old fashioned, therefore replace them with "modern flexible buses" Done!

Just a few comments on the pictures. The corridor tram pictures at the start are from 1960. I suspect the mass movement up Greens Road, is part of the emptying out of Waverley Depot during the last days. The shots in Paddington are also just before closure. The pictures of the coupled O class "toastracks" are taken during normal operation in the mid 1950s. The sets going from Oxford St into Greens Road are heading for the Show/Cricket Ground. You can just see the sports-races working large "W" plate on the leading tram. The city shot is at the same time.

The two sorts of toastracks, the Os (as seen here) and the Ps (no open sections), were brilliant at moving large crowds - as long as cars did not get in the way - but were hopelessly out of date, from a comfort and safety point of view. The moderen light rail tram - (almost a train in some cities) did not yet exist.

Last point. Look for the 1949-50 "short", "J.A.Y. Walker Deceased"
from the NFSA. It is full of pictures of large scale tram usage, showing just how "flexible" the boarding and alighting procedures were then. (The film was produced by "The Road Safety Council").

David Caldwell said...

michael, indeed the city running delays ultimately broke the back of trams in sydney. But there was a solution to that which the Liberals took to the 1959 election: