or Some Books and other Printed Items from my Tramway Collection
In the December 2006 issue (352nd Issue) of Biblionews, author and collector of books about railways, John Newland, had his article “Some Books in my Railway Collection” published (pp. 95-118). This article was the inspiration for the present one, though I can lay claim to only a very modest collection of “tramwayana” in comparison with his collection of railwayana, as collections of such material are evidently widely referred to these days (hence my coinage above).
Trams were very much a part of the first two decades of my life here in Sydney. I was born in 1937 in the Sydney suburb of Annandale, through which the Lilyfield tram passed. I was taken home a few days later to a house in Birchgrove, which had had its own tram service since the 1917, and in later years to a series of houses in the adjacent suburb of Balmain, which had had its own tram service for much longer, starting with steam trams in the 1890s and changing to electric trams in the first decade of the 20th century.
From Balmain we had the choice of travelling to the city by, in an at first westerly direc tion, a direct tram route via Rozelle and White Bay, past the now for years derelict White Bay powerhouse, which then provided current for Sydney’s electric trains and trams, and on via Forest Lodge to Circular Quay. Or else, we could go in the opposite, easterly direction, by tram to Darling Street Wharf in Balmain East, where we caught a ferry to Erskine Street Wharf and then the Watsons Bay tram up King Street to George Street, at which point the line crossed the Circular Quay tram route from Balmain. By far the quickest way of reaching the city, however, was by the Route 401 double decker bus that went via White Bay and then the Glebe Island and Pyrmont Bridges to York Street in just 15 minutes. Interestingly, while I only ever saw the trams in their green and cream livery, the buses started off red and cream – for the duration of World War II, however, being painted in camouflage light and dark khaki – and changed soon after the war to a green and cream livery.
As a primary school boy I lived in Pashley Street, so close to Balmain Demonstration School – or Pigeon Ground School, as it was called locally – that I could walk it in minutes and needed no tram. But from the upstairs windows of the school we had a good view of the trams terminating at or passing through the stop at Gladstone Park, where the old steam trams had their terminus and took on water, so my 1891-born grandmother told me.[i]
By the time I moved on to Petersham’s Fort Street Boys’ High School in 1949 we had moved further west to Elliott Street, Balmain, into a house only a couple of hundred metres from a tram stop. I could thus readily travel to Petersham on the other tram service running through Balmain, that from Darling Street Wharf to Canterbury. While we used the regular service to get to school, we had a School Special tram for pupils only to come home on, picking up girls from a school at Leichhardt as well.[ii] These daily trips to and from school ran from 1949 to 1953.
Another advantage of Elliott Street was, however, that in the quiet of the night I could hear the hourly all-nighter tram going by at the top of the street and I timed my studies by its regularity.
When I went to the University of Sydney as a student in 1954 I travelled there daily by the Circular Quay tram till, at the end of 1957, I left Balmain for Gladesville, which had lost its tram service in 1950. 1958 was the year I did my Diploma of Education as preparation for my career as a school teacher, and that involved two periods of a month each doing practice teaching in high schools. The first of these was at North Sydney Boys’ High School and to get there I travelled by bus to Wynyard in the city, transferred on foot to the Wynyard tram station and continued on by tram over the Harbour Bridge to the school. As it happened, the whole of the North Sydney tramway system closed down during that period of practice teaching, so after school on the last day of the trams there, I took the opportunity to travel around on a few of the North Sydney lines for the last time. My second period of practice teaching, at the end of that year, saw me in the eastern suburbs at Randwick Boys’ High School, serviced by trams from Waverley Depot, which will come in for mention again below.
When I finally went out to my first teaching appointment in 1959 it was to the just established Merrylands High School way out in the semi-rural west of Sydney far from any tram line.
However, the acme of my tram travel experience had come in late 1956 when, in the university vacation, I got a temporary job as a tram conductor – or tram guard, as we were usually called then – working out of Rozelle Depot, which was by that time geographically so far from Rozelle that it was really in Forest Lodge.[iii] I sported a badge on my peaked cap that said I was conductor number 9650, the “9” indicating that I was a temporary employee, though to the permanents I was a “quiz kid”, as they called us university students working in our summer vacation. The huge depot building – or shed, as we referred to it – is still there today, but unused and neglected. This depot provided the trams for the services to the inner western Sydney suburbs of Balmain, Birchgrove, Lilyfield, Leichhardt, Abbotsford and Glebe, though some trams had previously operated also from the Fort Macquarie Depot (on the site of today’s Sydney Opera House), which was by 1956 only used to stable tramcars temporarily in its forecourt and, as a terminus, to provide us staff with a meal room in a corner tower.[iv] By my time at Rozelle the line to Birchgrove had been closed, the Balmain line cut back from Darling Street Wharf to the Birchgrove turn-off, and the Abbotsford line cut back to Five Dock and, after Christmas 1956, to Haberfield.[v]
(Illustration 1 – The author in uniform as conductor no. 9650 about to leave his Balmain home for his shift at Rozelle Depot)
A few times I was sent to work out of Waverley Depot. Its trams serviced by then only the Bronte and Bondi lines – the latter surviving in the still used vernacular phrase dating from the steam tram days “to shoot through like a Bondi tram”, meaning ‘to move or depart at high speed’ -, the line to Ocean Street Woollahra and the CBD line that went from the Colonnade at Central Railway Station down Pitt Street to Circular Quay and back via Castlereagh Street.
While at Rozelle in the offpeak periods and on the Ocean Street line we worked on so-called corridor trams – R and R1 class trams -, where we collected the fares by moving through the centre of the tramcar, in peak periods at Rozelle and all the time on the Bronte and Bondi lines we worked on the so-called footboard trams – O class and P class trams colloquially known as “toastracks” because they consisted of eight transverse compartments. On these we had to collect the fares by walking along outside the tram on a board some 25 cm wide, hanging on, often only by a finger, to vertical and horizontal rails provided for the purpose while we pulled tickets and took money. It was dangerous and would never be allowed today. Conductor deaths were not all that infrequent. On the day I left the service to return to university in February 1957 a young conductor was killed when a police wagon collided with his tram just where he was standing on the footboard. For this risky work we were paid an extra fourpence, so about three cents, per hour “danger money”.
Despite the danger and the great discomfort of working the footboard trams, especially when one was out in very wet weather, I loved the job and still think that in some ways it was the best job I ever had. I felt a bit of a hero out there on the footboard giving the strap that sounded the buzzer a double pull to tell the driver to move off or a triple pull to tell him to stop in some minor emergency, such as a would-be passenger running to catch the tram just after it had moved off. And it was a great way to show off to all those pretty young girls that got on your tram.
But I left the tramway scene to return to my studies, and soon the trams left the city scene altogether. As one old driver said to me when I started in 1956: “Son, you’re joining a sinking ship”, and that ship had completely sunk by the end of February 1961 when the last Sydney tram ran to the eastern suburb of La Perouse. So, exactly 100 years after the first horse tram plied a Sydney street, as will be mentioned again below, Sydney saw the closure of the last of its electric tram system. I had managed to ride as a passenger on the last Leichhardt tram and the last Balmain tram with the closure of the western lines in 1958[vi] and the last Bronte tram with the closure of the eastern lines in 1960, but though the driver of the latter had said to me: “See you on the last Laper!”, meaning the last La Perouse tram, neither he nor anyone else did, as I was by then a student in Germany riding as a passenger in the old prewar and new postwar trams of Heidelberg and missed that last timetabled Sydney tram ride.
The Sydney tramway system was, at its peak in the 1920s, reputed to be the second largest in the British Empire; only London’s was bigger. It consisted not only of the huge central network of trams running to the eastern, western and southern suburbs, but of several other separate networks and isolated lines: the North Sydney lines on the other side of Sydney Harbour, the Manly lines serving the northern beaches as far as Narrabeen, the Enfield lines serving Ashfield, Burwood, Cabarita and Mortlake, and the short electric line from Rockdale to Brighton-le-Sands, the steam line from Kogarah to Sans Souci, the Sutherland to Cronulla steam line, the steam line from Parramatta to Castle Hill (where in recent years the Powerhouse Museum has stored its trams) and the short steam line from Arncliffe Station to Bexley. These were all government lines, though the Rockdale one had begun as a private line to sell real estate. As well there was a private line belonging to the Sydney Ferries company running from Redbank Wharf on the Parramatta River to Parramatta Park; it was the last Sydney-area steam tram line, closing as late as 1943. There was also a considerable government tramway network in Newcastle and smaller systems in Maitland and even out at Broken Hill for a time.
In the last few years, trams have been restored to Sydney to a small extent, but by private enterprise and not by the state government, in the form of light rail operated by the Metro Transport Sydney company, largely on disused railway lines, from the Colonnade at Central Railway Station to Lilyfield, with the at present vague possibility for the line to be extended further on the disused railway tracks to the suburbs of Leichhardt and Dulwich Hill. There is also agitation for a CBD line from the Colonnade to Circular Quay, like the one I used to work on, to be developed too, but the current NSW Labor government, which has to approve such things, has so far not shown all that much enthusiasm for the idea.[vii]
Sydney’s first tram was a horse-drawn one operating from 1861 to transport people from the old Sydney Railway Station near what is now Redfern Station to Circular Quay. Unfortunately, the rails sent out for it from England were laid in such a way that they were above the road surface and thus hazardous for pedestrians and horse traffic. Unfortunately, too, Australia’s first significant composer, Isaac Nathan, a forebear of orchestral conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, fell while crossing them and was run over and killed. His death led to the closure of the service in 1866.
It wasn’t till 1879 that Sydney next had trams. The Great Exhibition was to be held that year in the Botanic Gardens and some means of transport was needed to bring people from Sydney Station to a point close to the Gardens, so the government decided to establish a temporary steam tram line for the purpose. The rolling stock consisted of steam locomotives, or steam motors, as we usually say, and single deck and double deck tramcars. The service was such a success that it was decided to keep it and, indeed, expand it. At the end of the century and in the first couple of years of the new century the steam trams were gradually replaced on the central network by electric trams. While Melbourne had an extensive system of cable trams in its pre-electric phase, Sydney had cable trams in only a couple of areas where there were very steep grades: from 1886 to 1900 in North Sydney uphill from the harbour wharf at Milsons Point and on to Crows Nest before the replacement by electric trams and the building of the Harbour Bridge, and from 1894 till the beginning of 1905 between Edgecliff and the city before the route was taken over completely by the electric service to Watsons Bay.
Perhaps it is now time to move from the autobiographical and historical to some of the items in the collection itself.
While I have a few books about tramways in other states – they all had trams in the capital cities and usually in other large centres -, such as Wilson and Budd’s The Melbourne Tram Book, Clark and Keenan’s Brisbane Tramways: The Last Decade, Cooper’s Hobart Tramways: A Centenary Commemoration Review, and Proctor’s Launceston Municipal Tramways, my interest and collection focus mainly on New South Wales tramways, but quite especially Sydney’s, and on the books, ephemera and other printed matter relating to them. I leave it to some other reader or readers to provide us with accounts of collections relating to other tramway systems.
Obviously there are general books dealing with tramway systems across Australia. Probably the most general is a very recent one that also takes in New Zealand tramways as well, namely Hugh Ballment’s Tram Images of a journey through Australia and New Zealand (Sydney: Transit Australia Publishing, 2009), a 120 pp. card covered book, 210 x 300 mm,[viii] which covers 26 systems large and small in alphabetical order whose coverage ranges in length from several pages for the largest systems (Sydney gets five pages in a block) down to one page for very minor ones (and even less for some “Other Tramways”, e.g. a picture of tram stop post on p. 117 is all there is of the Arncliffe-Bexley line). It consists largely of b/w and numerous colour photos with captions.
Of less breadth in its coverage is Samuel Brimson’s The Tramways of Australia (Sydney: Dreamweaver Books, 1983), a 215 x 300 mm hardback with dustwrapper dealing with sixteen Australian tramway systems, of which the last dealt with is Sydney’s. Although I find some of its captioning irritating, what warms my heart particularly about this book is that the photo on the dustwrapper is of an early tram about to depart up the steep hill from Darling Street Wharf, Balmain
(Illustration 2 Caption: The dustwrapper of The Tramways of Australia).
It is assisted at the back by the “dummy” that we old “Balmainiacs” knew and loved. This, officially named the counterweight car, was a sort of trailer attached by an underground cable to a counterweight and pushed on the downgrade by the front of the tram to prevent the latter from running out of control when moving down the hill and to assist it on the steep grade on the way back up.
I have a couple of books dealing with tramways in New South Wales other than Sydney ones. There is David Keenan, Ken McCarthy and Ross Willson’s Tramways of Newcastle (Petersham, NSW: Transit Press, 1999), an oblong hardcover, 300 x 215 mm., of 138 pp. with maps and colour photos, also on the 4 pp. of cover. It deals in detail with steam operation from 1887 to 1932, and electric operation from 1923 to closure in 1950. Inside, it is copiously provided with b/w photos (2 pp. of colour photos) illustrating the history of the system, and by diagrams and tables of technical detail. The other is Ken McCarthy’s “Steaming down Argent Street”: A History of the Broken Hill Steam Tramways 1902-1926 (Sutherland, NSW: The Sydney Tramway Museum, 1983). It too is a hardback, 210 x 295 mm, 90 pp. with colour and sepia illustrations on the front cover and the same green diagrams on the front and back endpapers. Apart from on the cover all the photos and diagrams are b/w; it is replete with diagrams and other technical information as well as the history of the system.
There are general books on the tramcars themselves. There is the modest, paper covered Destination Circular Quay: A Pictorial Review of Sydney Tramcars (Chadstone, Vic.: Traction Publications, 1958), 160 x 210 mm, 40 pp., edited by J Richardson as no. 3 in the ‘Destination’ Series and sold according to the price printed on the cover for 3 shillings (30 cents). Its title refers to the fact that most of the Sydney tram routes had as their destination in the city Circular Quay and so the Sydney ferry wharves, though Railway Square was almost as important a terminus and passenger pick-up point. The entirely b/w photos almost all focus on the actual tramcars themselves with little view of their surroundings and it is essentially a technical book listing the various classes of tramcars and their specifications (with a picture and details of the Darling Street counterweight car on p.27). A couple of decades later came N Chinn and K McCarthy’s two-volume New South Wales Tramcar Handbook 1861-1961 (Sutherland: South Pacific Electric Railway Co-operative Society, 1976), 150 x 230 mm, card covered with 88 pp. and 92 pp. respectively, of which I unfortunately have only Part Two, containing b/w photos of all the cars dealt with as well as historical and technical information on each. More attractive perhaps to the general reader is The Sydney Tram: A Pictorial Review (Petersham, NSW: Transit Press for the Sydney Tramway Museum, 1988), 170 x 240 mm, a card covered booklet consisting of nearly 60 pp. of mostly b/w photos of tramcars dating from 1895 to 1953 in a wide variety of often quite scenically attractive locations.
A later series of undated and unpaginated ten-page pamphlets in the series Tramcar Guides, published by the South Pacific Electric Railway, elaborated on the sort of thing in Chinn and McCarthy’s books by being each devoted to one individual class of tramcar, and not just those of Sydney (e.g. Brisbane Dropcentre Type Cars). They contain a history of the class with numerous b/w photos and a diagram of the car with, on the back page, “Technical Data”. I have Sydney ‘K’ Class, Sydney “R” Class and Sydney & Newcastle “L/P” Class (the use of inverted commas fluctuating).
As mentioned earlier, apart from the unsuccessful horse tram of the 1860s, the first trams to provide a transport system for Sydney were steam trams, beginning in 1879 and, in the central system, being largely replaced by electric trams just after the end of the century. A fairly recent coverage of the steam tram in this period is David Burke’s Juggernaut! A Story of Sydney in the Wild Days of the Steam Trams (East Roseville, NSW: Kangaroo Press, 1997)
(Illustration 3 Caption: The cover of D Burke’s Juggernaut).
It is a quite attractive hardback volume, 185 x 265 mm, of 152 pp. with, inevitably, mostly b/w photos, though a few colour illustrations (e.g. opposite p. 92 Arthur Streeton’s famous 1893 painting showing a couple of steam trams at the old Sydney – now Redfern – Station). There are two appendices with technical information, a bibliography and an index, so with its handsome dust wrapper, a nice item for us book and tram lovers.
A small steam tram museum was set up in Parramatta Park many years ago by the NSW Steam Tram and Railway Preservation Society and, until some vandal a few years ago burnt down its shed and the rolling stock it contained, this enabled later generations to have some experience over a short length of track of what it was like to ride behind one of these little steam locomotives. The last government steam tram ran on the Kogarah to Sans Souci line in 1937 and was replaced by an electric trolley bus. By sheer chance my wife and I were at the park one weekend in 1967 when the 30th anniversary of the running of the last steam tram was being remembered and a handful of the old drivers had come along for the occasion. The youngest of them was still “in harness” wearing his government bus driver’s uniform and I overheard him saying to the others: “I’ve driven every type of government passenger road transport in Sydney: steam tram, electric tram, trolley bus and motor bus.”.(He hadn’t, of course, driven a cable tram.) That particular steam tram route is commemorated in Gifford Eardley’s The Kogarah to Sans Souci Tramway (n.p.: St. George Historical Society Book No. 2, n.d.), a modest 21-page card covered booklet, 170 x 240 mm, with text and b/w photos
(Illustration 4 Caption: The cover of G Eardley’s The Kogarah to Sans Souci Tramway).[ix]
At this point I want to go back to general books about the Sydney system. One I did not mention above is David R Keenan’s Tramways of Sydney (Sans Souci, NSW: Transit Press, 1979, repr. 1985), oblong 280 x 210 mm, 88 pp. + 4 pp., card covered, which has the best and most informative overview of all the general books that I have, containing as it does an abundance of b/w photos, colour illustrations on the front and back covers and, on a fold-out between pp. 32 and 33, complete sets of the destination rolls, in colour where relevant, which I will discuss presently. Almost anything one would wish to know about the system – history, maps, fares, what the tickets looked like, even on the inside back cover a series of tramway cartoons by the Sydney Sun newspaper’s cartoonist (and one of my all-time favourites) Emile Mercier. Much of it would be a turn-off for the average reader, but for the true aficionado it is in all its detail a great turn-on.
Apart from the general books there is a series of books dealing with the tramway subsystems by geographical area. The central Sydney system was notable in having destination rolls at the front and rear of the tram colour-coded by district, so that, for instance, the boards for the western lines were red, those for the south western lines green.[x] As the trams on these two subsystems ran over the same tracks between City Road and Railway Square, it allowed the signalmen in their signal boxes at both points to see from some distance away in which direction they were to switch the points. There was within the colour coding a kind of iconic subsystem of geometric shapes. For example, if the signalman at the City Road box saw green on the board, he switched the points left towards Newtown, if red, then he allowed the tram to go straight ahead; if the signalman at the next box after City Road, the Victoria Park box, saw on the destination board a white and a red square or a red St Andrew’s or St George’s Cross he knew to let the tram go straight ahead, but if it was two red balls on a white background, then the points were switched right towards Glebe.[xi] He was also responsible for the next junction, where he would switch the points for the tram with the red and white squares right towards Balmain, but the two with red crosses would continue straight ahead past the university. In peak hours the signalman at his little box opposite Leichhardt Town Hall (which is still there to this day) would register that it was not the red St George’s Cross for Leichhardt which would require the tram to go straight ahead, but the St Andrew’s Cross which required he set the points to the left for the Abbotsford line. Out of peak hours the conductor had to do this manually with his pointhook (usually pronounced “poinook”) at the last mentioned junction.
(Illustration 5 Caption: Some of the destination rolls reproduced in Keenan’s Tramways of Sydney on the fold-out opposite p. 32.)
All this accounts for the title of the first book dealing with the lines operated from Rozelle Depot, R K Willson, R G Henderson and D R Keenan’s The Red Lines: The Tramway System of the Western Suburbs of Sydney (Sydney: Australian Electric Traction Association, 1970)
(Illustration 6 Caption:The cover of Willson et al., the Red Lines, showing a “toastrack” O car about to enter Rozelle Depot).
They had also published The Green Lines: The Tramway System of the South Western Suburbs of Sydney (trams operating from Newtown and Tempe Depots, both still standing, the former dilapidated, the latter today housing the Sydney Bus (formerly Bus and Truck) Museum, due to move soon to the old Leichhardt depot). These books, 162 x 216 mm, of just under 90 pp. give the history of their lines from opening to closure, a lot of b/w photos, along with some technical information, including timetables and fares.
While using a colour in the title was fine for these two subsystems, it didn’t work so well for the others where the use of colours – red, green, blue or, most often, only b/w – was not used so consistently. As a result the later series used the geographical districts in their titles. Thus Willson and company’s Red Lines was expanded and republished in enlarged format as David R Keenan’s The Western Lines of the Sydney Tramway System (Petersham NSW: Transit Press, 1993), 295 x 210 mm, 72 pp. + 4 pp cover, with copious b/w photos, and a few colour ones, especially on the cover front and back, and as well as the information provided in the earlier book there are maps and even cartoons from contemporary newspapers – altogether a very thorough account that evokes almost painful nostalgia, in this reader at least.
(Illustration 7 Caption: The cover of Keenan’s The Western Lines showing a corridor tram with the dummy near Darling Street Wharf, Balmain)
Keenan was, of course, the author of that 1979 general book Tramways of Sydney and appears as the author of all but one of the new series, whose component books, all oblong and card covered, are clearly modelled in format, layout and content on Keenan’s general book.
Others in the series are: The South-Western Lines of the Sydney Tramway System (Petersham: Transit Press, 1992), 295 x 210 mm, 72 pp. + 4 pp. cover, based on The Green Lines; The South- Eastern Lines of the Sydney Tramway System (Sans Souci: Transit Press, 1982), 285 x 210 mm, 120 pp. + 4 pp., the system operating from Dowling Street Depot; The Eastern Lines of the Sydney Tramway System (Petersham: Transit Press, 1989), 290 x 205 mm, 80 pp. + 4 pp. cover, the system operating from Waverley Depot; The Watson’s Bay Line of the Sydney Tramway System: Cable and Electric. 1894-1960 (Sans Souci: Transit Press, 1990), 295 x 219 mm, 90 pp. + 4 pp. cover, the single tram route operating out of Rushcutters Bay Depot; The North Sydney Lines of the Sydney Tramway System (Sans Souci: Transit Press, 1987), 290 x 210 mm,120 pp. + 4 pp. cover, the lines operated from North Sydney Depot and not directly connected to the main, central system;[xii] The Rockdale and Enfield Lines of the Sydney Tramway System (Petersham: Transit Press, 1994), 295 x 210 mm, 52 pp. + 4 pp. cover, the two systems separate from each other and from the central system, namely the single line operating between Rockdale and Brighton-le-Sands and the two-tram-route system operating out of Enfield Depot. As well there is Ken McCarthy’s The Manly Lines of the Sydney Tramway System edited by Keenan (Petersham: Transit Press, 1995), 295 x 210 mm, 80 pp. + 4 pp. cover, the quite separate two-route system operating from Manly Depot between Manly and Narrabeen and Manly and The Spit.
One book in this series which I lack, but which I am sure I once had, is The Ryde Line of the Sydney Tramway System, covering the line operating out of Ultimo Depot (where Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum had its first building before expanding to the powerhouse itself). This line running from 1910 between Circular Quay and Ryde was, at over nine miles in length, Sydney’s longest with, till 1934, a branch line running from Top Ryde down to Ryde (now West Ryde) Station. There was also a line to Pyrmont that left the main Ryde line in Harris Street, Ultimo. The line to Ryde was often known as the “bridges line”, as it passed over three bridges on its run from the city: Glebe Island Bridge towards Rozelle, Iron Cove Bridge near Drummoyne and Gladesville Bridge. The first and third were opening bridges, and the second and third had originally been designed to be railway bridges and were almost dangerously narrow, Iron Cove Bridge being so narrow that two trams could not pass on it so that there was a signal box at one end operating signals at both ends .While Iron Cove Bridge had a pedestrian deck along one side, Gladesville Bridge had no way for pedestrians to cross it, so that it became one of only two stretches of line that anyone could travel on free of charge, the other being, for administrative reasons, the short stretch between Circular Quay and Fort Macquarie Depot. Unfortunately, this Ryde volume has been out of print for some years and I have not been able to replace it.
There were also a couple of other isolated government steam tram lines: between 1900 and 1926 the steam tram line between Parramatta Station and Baulkham Hills, later extended to Castle Hill; the Sutherland to Cronulla line from 1911 till passenger services were replaced by electric trains in 1931 (the line being used a little longer for freight); and the line between Arncliffe Station and Bexley that lasted from 1909 till 1926. None of these appears to have merited collectively or individually a book in the series; nor has the Kogarah to Sans Souci steam line, but it has its own book by Eardley already mentioned above. Although I myself have never seen a copy, Richard Blair has told me he possesses Eardley’s The Arncliffe to Bexley Steam Tramway (n.p., St George Historical Society Book No. 4, n.d.), 16 pp.[xiii]
Much of the material in books of the above series appeared first in journals, and David Keenan as editor of The Manly Lines says in his foreword that “[t]he history of the Manly tramways, written by the late Ken McCarthy […] appeared as a magazine article comprising nine instalments[…] between 1979 and 1994. The magazine was Trolley Wire, journal of the Australian Tramway Museums, published by the South Pacific Electric Railway Co-operative Society Ltd., operator of Sydney’s tramway museum at Loftus” (p. 2 – his bolding). Trolley Wire still appears to this day; the handsome May 2009 issue (no. 317) (48 pp. including covers), replete with colour photos, has scenes from the Loftus museum on the back cover. The journal of today has come a long way when compared with, say, the August 1964 issue in format and price: 16 pp., 138 x 203 mm, with only b/w photos at one shilling and sixpence (15 cents) versus 48 pp., 172 x 240 mm, with only colour photos at $9.90.
There were other magazines, e.g. the monthly Electric Traction, incorporating Tram Tracks, the journal of the Australian Electric Traction Association published in Melbourne by Traction Publications. The “compleat” collector would, of course, have a complete run of such magazines, but I have only a few of the dozen-page issues of Electric Traction from the mid-1950s. Even worse is the case of the magazine Light Rail, journal of the Light Rail Association and published in Sydney by the Association, I have only the 8-page vol. 1, no. 1. of Spring 1982.
At this point it is worth remarking in passing that books of local history and the magazines of local historical societies will often have sections or articles on the district’s tramways, or at least interesting photographs of trams and tramway street furniture (waiting sheds, tram stops, bundy clocks for checking the tram’s being on time etc.), so they may well belong in a collection, and I have some such items. There is, for example the Leichhardt Historical Journal no. 12 for 1983 with the brief article “The First Steam Tram to Rozelle: 1892” (pp. 26-27).
It is possible too to collect in scrapbooks articles from newspapers and general magazines. Two examples may suffice. Highly relevant to the present article is James Cockington’s item titled “On track for profits” on p. 13 of the Money supplement to The Sydney Morning Herald of 1 April 2009, which recommends collecting tramway memorabilia as a suitable investment, as exemplified by the pictured “tram buff” Ben Barnes. A few days later on p. 3 of the News section of the Easter Weekend Edition for 10-12 April of the same newspaper there is John Huxley’s article “Off like a Bondi tram: heritage left rotting in a shed”, which bewails the vandalising of “[t]he six corridor-style trams” still stored in the long deserted and insecure old Rozelle tram depot.
It is, of course, not only mainstream newspapers like the Herald that can be a useful source, since local newspapers will very often have contemporary or historical articles, usually with photos, about trams in their area. An interesting example is the article “Moving after 85 years” on p 13 of the Inner Western Suburbs Courier for Monday, May 6, 1996. The article is in fact about the moving of Hyland’s shoe store from the place where it had stood for 85 years on one corner of the Victoria Road and Darling Street intersection at Rozelle. The only reference to trams comes in the single sentence: “A fire in 1936 and a tram accident in the 1940s were some of the major events that have impacted upon the store throughout its history.” But the accompanying three photos are all of the intersection, where three major tram routes intersected: the Balmain and Birchgrove to Circular Quay, the Ryde to Circular Quay, and the Darling Street Wharf to Canterbury lines. One 1915 photo shows the network of tramtracks with, on the left, the Rozelle Junction signal box, and the 1940s photo shows the pile-up of four tramcars impacting onto the façade of the shoe store.[xiv]
The collector might even like to add fictional material involving trams. An example of this is would be Jim Blair’s short story “The lost tram”, published in the Sydney magazine The Bulletin of 16 May 1934 and republished in the book edited by his son David Blair, Blown to Blazes and other works of J.B. Blair (Sydney: Published by the Editor, 2007). (The book was reviewed by Helen Kenny and advertised in the 360th issue of Biblionews of December 2008, pp. 175-178.)
We move now to stand-alone printed items that are effectively ephemera. One type is the calendar. These are still being published annually and contain largely colour photos, many of which would also be found in the books devoted to trams. Apart from picture captions they contain no information. I have, for instance, Australian Trams 1996 Calendar (Marrickville NSW: Topmill Pty Ltd) and Trams 2002 (Sydney: Topmill Pty Ltd).[xv]
Moving back in time, very desirable are items that connect trams with tourism. These items are often undated, but a knowledge of tramway history will usually make at least approximate dating of them possible. One interesting item of the kind that I have is the 55-page booklet, 100 x 235 mm, titled on the front cover Sydney wants to see you. New South Wales Tramways, though the title page has the title Seeing Sydney by Tram and states that it is “Issued by the Railway Commissioners for New South Wales”.[xvi] Each page contains a small photo of a Sydney sight followed by explanatory text. While trams do not appear, except incidentally in three photos where one would almost need a magnifying glass to see them, pp. 51-54 contain lists of “Tramway Routes” (and on p. 55 a map titled “N.S.W.G.T. Detail of City Tramways” showing the inner-city lines), on the basis of which one can date this otherwise undated booklet to the 1920s. For instance, the Sutherland to Cronulla tram, which closed as a passenger line in 1931, is still going strong, but the Parramatta-Castle Hill line, which was so drastically curtailed in 1923 as to no longer qualify as a tourist facility, is not mentioned. Unfortunately, my copy of the booklet is quite water-stained (taken by a tourist to one of the beaches serviced by trams?).
(Illustration 8 Caption: Front and back covers of the 1920s water-stained tourist brochure Sydney Wants to See You!)
Similarly, one can date the undated Premier Street Directory of Sydney and Suburbs, “containing 149 maps”, “Compiled and Published by A.E. Jones late of Yates & Jones Ltd”, to the early ‘20s because Map 94 clearly shows the Parramatta to Castle Hill tram line going out beyond North Parramatta, to where it was cut back in January 1923 (though the fashions on the people in the car advertisements at the front and the car prices – “£390 cash” for a “Dodge Brothers Touring Car” – would suggest the early ‘20s). On the other hand,there is the undated General Map of Sydney and Environs Showing Localities, Railways, Tramways and Principal Roads (Sydney: H.E.C. Robinson), 730 x 985 mm, folding down to a card cover, 130 x 205 mm, with the different title Robinson’s latest map of Sydney and suburbs, “complete and comprehensive”, 2nd edition, costing two shillings (20 cents). It shows the Sutherland-Cronulla steam tram completely replaced by the railway to Cronulla in 1932, but still shows the branch line from Ryde to Ryde Station that closed in 1934 and so can be dated around 1933 on those grounds. The same dating can for the same reason be attributed to my disbound and badly tattered copy of Sydney: A Complete Guide for Country, Interstate and Overseas Visitors, 3rd edition (Sydney: N.S.W. Government Tourist Bureau), whose map on pp. 41-42 has the tram routes clearly marked out in red – the Cronulla line has gone, but the Ryde Station branch line has not
(Illustration 9 Caption: The somewhat damaged map on pp. 41f. of A Complete Guide for…Visitors showing in red the Sydney tramway system in the early 1930s).
Much more recent items that have some relevance are the Sydney Public Transport Directory (Sydney: Public Transport Authority: circa 1998), 90 pp., which on p. 23 has brief items on “Sydney Light Rail” and “Sydney Monorail” (which latter is, I suppose, running on a single rail somewhat tramlike) and includes the routes of these two forms of electric-powered street transport on the map on the inside of the fold-out back cover, and the quite separate Sydney Public Transport Map, apparently, but not explicitly, published about the same time by the same authority. It shows in tiny detail on the main map both light rail and monorail using the same line symbol, an unbroken line, while on the reverse side the “Getting around the city of Sydney” map shows their routes in much clearer detail, the monorail by an unbroken line with dots along it, the light rail by a broken line without dots; however, the latter appears to have its original terminus at the Sydney Casino and has not yet been extended to its present terminus at Lilyfield.
A very nice and desirable item for the collector that I have is the Tramway Fares Book “(includes fare schedules and section points)”, “For Staff use Only”, published according to information at the bottom of the Introduction page – in the absence of any title page – by the Department of Government Tram and Omnibus Services (but on the front cover Department of Government Transport) in September 1952.[xvii] Not only does this little 112 pp. greyish green book, 105 x 165 mm, have all the surviving tram lines (and the two trolley bus lines – Rockdale to Dolls Point, and Wylde Street Potts Point to Town Hall, City) listed alphabetically with the fares to the various section points, but it has dozens of reproductions of tickets and passes, e.g. Blind Person’s Permit, Postman’s Tramway Pass. Because all these illustrations are in b/w or greyscale, it was not possible to show the tickets with their colour coding that allowed conductors and inspectors to identify quickly how far they entitled the passenger to go. However, occasionally the colour of a ticket is mentioned in the text, e.g. on p. 45 “Children’s 1d [= one penny, so just less than one cent] (Grey) tickets” (this being the only fare children paid, no matter how far they travelled on the one trip, unless via the Harbour Bridge, which added another penny to cover the toll), and “4d. Salmon tickets issued for travel from Darling Street Wharf to Rowntree Street Junction”. (Illustration 10 Caption: The opening p. 5 of Tramway Fares Book)
There were, of course, other publications for the staff. In the University of Sydney library I used as a student in my spare time to read through old bound volumes of Staff News, which contained information about the tramways, but I never managed to obtain any copies for my own collection. When I was a conductor, we received instead a brochure of a dozen pages or so called Weekly Notice, 105 x 170 mm, produced by the Department of Government Transport, and I still have numbers 5 and 6 for the first two weeks of February, 1957. However, by that late stage there was far more information about buses than about trams.
On first receiving our conductor’s uniform, we were also issued with a quite thick book that contained huge amounts of information about the Sydney tramways, including, as I remember, minute details about the tram tracks such as every crossover (the point at which a tram could move from one track to the other), every loop, every siding etc. My copy had obviously been handed down through perhaps generations of conductors and/or drivers and it not only lacked a cover but also many pages at the front and the back. Foolishly, I handed it back in with my uniform when I left and subsequently wished I had fibbed and said I’d lost it, for despite its condition I would – as a tram lover rather than a book lover – have regarded it as one of the jewels in my collection of tramwayana.
My modest collection was boosted a little during 2009 by the fact that the Sydney Tramway Museum, itself located in the southern suburb of Loftus near Sutherland, provided the exhibits for the excellent little exhibition of 4 April to 18 October called “Shooting Through Sydney By Tram”, mounted at the Museum of Sydney (in the CBD on the site of Australia’s first Government House of 1788) by the Historic Houses Trust and curated by Caroline Butler-Bowden. Naturally, I attended it and enjoyed greatly a talk given there by the Tramway Museum’s public relations officer, Peter Kahn. It brought back so many memories of details great and small. My collection grew by Caroline Butler-Bowdon, Annie Campbell and Howard Clark’s 128 pp. booklet Shooting Through Sydney by Tram, (Sydney: Historic Houses Trust, 2009), 35 x 75 mm,
(Illustration 11 Caption: The cover of the exhibition booklet Shooting Through Sydney by Tram )
which is replete, including the 4 pp. cover, with b/w and colour photos of trams, postcards featuring them, notices, destination signs, street signs, tickets, badges, historical advertisements etc. etc. and by ephemera such as an illustrated postcard advertising the exhibition, another illustrated card offering two vouchers (“1-Day Light Rail Supervoucher Pass” that gave a discount of $5 off a $15 pass, and a “2 for 1” coupon to get into the Tramway Museum), a card headed “Vintage Tram Rides” advertising the Tramway Museum itself, and a 12-page brochure produced for the exhibition by the Historic Houses Trust in association with the Tramway Museum titled “Tram Quiz Kids Trail” asking questions about driving or conducting a tram etc.; my copy had been already filled in in pencil by the very young hand of the child who had dropped it. Of course, I also bought the video and DVD on offer, but they don’t qualify as printed items, though the dark blue T-shirt I bought printed with a picture of a Coogee Beach tram and the exhibition’s title might just qualify.
The term tram has been used at times rather differently from what we have understood by it so far in this article. The origin of the word is not altogether certain, but some word historians – etymologists – think it was probably originally borrowed into English hundreds of years ago from the medieval Low (= North) German word traam, meaning ‘beam’, so a length of wood. Lengths of wood were laid down as rails for wagons, e.g. in mines, to run on over uneven ground and such lengths of track came in English to be called a tramway. The 4th edition of the Macquarie Dictionary defines tram as “a passenger vehicle running on a tramway, having flanged wheels and usually powered by electricity, taken by a current collector from an overhead conductor wire”.[xviii] But the word has around New South Wales and elsewhere been used more widely. Apart, of course, from a tram being powered by steam or cable as well, the words tram and tramway have been used for a type of small vehicle or line that we might rather think of as a train or trainline. Thus there was the Camden tram that ran on the edge of Sydney from Campbelltown to Camden up until the 1960s. I rode it on the day of its closure and it was pulled, as it usually was, by a railway locomotive, though in the early days it had been pulled by a steam motor. The December 1964 issue of the journal The Railway News. Publication of the N.S.W. School Railway Clubs Association (I was at one stage the teacher-patron of one such club) has on its cover a photo of a tram on the Goondah-Burrinjuck tramway and in the commentary below it says: “The railway was built to convey materials for the construction of the [Burrinjuck] dam, and to supply the residents of ‘Burrinjuck City’ (the construction camp) with food and necessities.” However, the photo is captioned as “a typical tourist tram” and there are only passenger carriages behind the little railway locomotive called “Archie”. One might therefore feel justified in extending one’s collection in this direction too.
Finally, with trams effectively gone from Sydney for the foreseeable future – apart from the one light rail line -, there is perhaps a case for someone to produce a book on what one might call tramway archaeology, i.e. a book that records the vestiges of the old tramway system still to be found. I have myself toyed with the idea and have made a car trip to seek out and photograph such vestiges with three other tram fans: BCSA member Dr John Ward, his wife Gail, and Professor Stuart Semple, a Sydney-born geographer long living in Canada but regularly coming back to Sydney (and the only person I have come across these days who knows what a “flying canary” was); his father was a tram driver working from North Sydney Depot before becoming a signalman working in boxes on the central network.
Grist for our mill were the following, though only a selection. Holes in telegraph poles and rosettes, the latter often still with their hooks protruding and adhering to building façƒi ades, showed us where the suspension wires were attached that held the trolley wires which supplied the electric current via the tram’s trolley pole to its motors; the sweeping curve of a corner indicated the route of a tramline; a number of tram waiting sheds could still be found; a particular type of iron plate in the road showed where the drainage system for the tramlines had been; and there are still tramlines under some streets that are exposed as the road surface wears.[xix] There is a monument at Top Ryde recording the arrival of the first tram in 1910 and another in a small park off Victoria Road, Rozelle, claiming it to be at the site of a steam tram depot, though it has come down in my family that O’Connor Reserve was merely part of the route of the Balmain steam tram. As mentioned earlier, the little signal box at the junction of the Leichhardt and Abbotsford lines still exists nestled away in a corner unrecognised by any except tram fans; in fact it is nestled next to a building, now a shop, which was once tramway property and we were able to photograph the last paint vestiges of the dark green and cream tramway livery typical of waiting sheds, signal boxes and so on still to be seen on it; and the yard behind it was where the coke for the single track Abbotsford branch line steam tram motors was stored until it, as the last line, was electrified in 1905.
And so it goes on. If such a book ever appears I will definitely acquire it for my collection – even if I do have to write the thing myself!
[i] On p. 51 of the book The Red Lines (to be discussed later in the present article) there is a photo with the caption “O class car 810 believed to be at Birchgrove terminus soon after the opening of the line [in 1917]”, but the tram is in fact standing at the Gladstone Park terminus, as shown by the fence and part of the structure of the Balmain Congregational Church. There even appears to be a water crane at the side of the road left over from the steam tram days, which in Balmain ceased entirely in 1903. (Compare the photo of a steam tram at this terminus in Keenan’s The Western Lines, p. 11, and a photo of another electric tram standing at the same spot on p. 24.)
[ii] On one occasion I managed to break a window on the School Special while showing off at the age of thirteen to one such girl that I’d fallen for, but I seemed to make no impression on her, good or bad. Strictly the conductor should have reported me, but since he’d been egging me on, he pretended he hadn’t noticed the window shattering.
[iii] The public called us “trammies”, but we called ourselves “troubs”, said to be from the word “troubadors”, medieval poets of southern France; we evidently had romantic ideas about ourselves. (See Keenan’s The Western Lines, p.72, and the cartoon pages of some of his other books for an explanation of this term.) There were a number of words peculiar to the trammies: kelly for ‘inspector’, limerick for a staff car that took crews to and from the places where they picked up their trams, head-off for a tram that in peak hours entered the route before the regularly scheduled tram to take up some of the excess passengers waiting at stops and, my favourite, flying canary for a short run ticket coloured yellow that was often dropped by passengers as they got off after a few stops and then picked up by a guard and resold for his own profit. To be caught with a flying canary in your ticket case meant instant dismissal. Apart from the 2005 4th edition of the Macquarie Dictionary listing kelly as ”1. a crow. 2. a female prostitute. 3. a ticket inspector” and tram troub/trube as “a tram conductor”, none of these tramway words have made it to that dictionary or to the 1988 Australian National Dictionary. I have given both dictionaries lists and live in hopes that at least the coming second edition of the AND will take them up, but they require that such words can be sourced from print, not just speech, before they can be taken up into their dictionary. Some are to be found in Keenan’s books.
[iv] There was also the Leichhardt Tram Depot, but it was only ever used as repair workshops. Today it is the major depot for the inner-west buses and, since expansion, will soon become also the new location for the Sydney Bus Museum, which will be housed in the original tram sheds..
[v] I had hoped to secure my place in tramway history by being the conductor on the last Five Dock tram (the suburb I happen to have lived in since 1967 ), but the traffic was so heavy on Christmas Eve 1956 that we couldn’t make that last run, so I lost that place to some unknown who probably never appreciated it.
[vi] Vandals began demolishing the interior of this corridor tram as it made its final run; one had begun ripping out the back and side destination rolls, so a friend and I fought him for them, so that, though pieces were torn off, I still possess most of both and will ultimately offer them to the tramway museum at Loftus.
[vii] It was a NSW Labor government that ran the tram services down over the 1950s. The opposition Liberal Party said at the last election before the trams disappeared entirely that they would retain them if they won the election, but they lost, so were never tested on their promise. The present Liberal opposition seems to be open to some revival of tram services in the form of light rail.
[viii] The dimensions given in this article are often rounded slightly to give approximate rather than absolutely exact formats.
[ix] Two enthusiasts made films of the Kogarah steam trams before the line closed and these were later turned into videos for sale and can now be obtained as a single DVD, e.g. – like books, magazines and other DVDs about trams – from the Railway Historical Society shop on the concourse of Sydney’s Central Railway Station
[x] The term board for the destination sign was taken over from the early steam tram days when the destination was in fact painted on a wooden board (see Illustration 4), but it was retained by the trammies to the end of the electric tram period. As a guard I was threatened with being put on a charge “because you didn’t change your rear board”, i.e. because at the Leichhardt terminus (being distracted by a patient from the nearby Callan Park – now Rozelle – Psychiatric Hospital), after “swinging the pole” for the tram to go in the reverse direction I had omitted to change the rear destination sign from “Leichhardt” to “Circular Quay via George Street”. Nothing came of it, as I had already resigned from the service and left a few days later.
[xi] These symbols were, of course, helpful to passengers too to know whether it was their tram coming or not, especially when the tram was some distance away. One interesting instance told to me by old hands was of the Chinese man who could not speak English. To indicate where he wanted to go he kept poking his two clenched fists at one of the tramway staff, who was at first puzzled, then realised the man meant he wanted to get on the tram that would take him to Glebe (where there was and still is a Chinese joss house)! As the back cover of Tramways of Newcastle and the front cover of “Steaming down Argent Street” show, Newcastle and Broken Hill trams also had destination rolls that exploited these colour and geometrical schemes.
[xii] Keenan’s book was preceded by W Denham’s Tramway Byways: North Sydney (Sutherland: South Pacific Electric Railway, 1973), a card covered book of 58 pp. with 3 pp. of cover illustrations, which gives a largely historical overview accompanied by numerous b/w photos and not very much technical information. According to the publisher’s statement on the inside front cover, this book “is our first excursion into the many backwaters of the once vast undertakings, the Australian tramway systems”.
[xiii] As my collection is a relatively modest one, it is perhaps worth adding here a few more books that Richard Blair has but I haven’t: David R Keenan, City Lines (Petersham: Transit Press, 1991), 88 pp. + 4 pp., card covered; Howard R Clark, The tramway system: A pictorial review (Sans Souci: Transit Press, 1980), 56 pp. + 4 pp., card covered; V C Solomons, Sydney trams on postcards (Loftus: South Pacific Electric Railway Co-operative Society, 1984), 64 pp. + 4 pp., card covered.
[xiv] The calendars can contain errors too. My 1996 one has opposite the month of August a 1957 photo with the caption “No 1451 entering Oxford Street on Route to Gladesville, Sydney, NSW”. However, trams had ceased to service Gladesville in 1950, and this is clearly a tram fans’ tour with the side destination board showing “Gladesville” merely for old times’ sake.
[xv] Not without relevance would also be photo albums of trams, and many tramlovers have compiled their own. I remember as a high school boy around 1950 seeing in the front window of Tyrell’s bookshop in George Street North a number of albums of old photos on Sydney subjects, but including ones specialising on ferries and trams. I think the photos were for sale individually but I never bought any ,and I wonder to this day what might have become of all those lovely historical tram pictures.
[xvi] This explains why tram conductors were called “guards”: in the early days both the railways and the tramways were controlled by the same government body. Only once in my life have I heard a bus conductor referred to as “guard”.
[xvii] Interestingly, one can readily infer from the closure dates throughout Ballment’s Tram Images that most significant systems in Australia and New Zealand closed in the ‘50s, but 1952 was a particularly bad year for closures. In Sydney the worst of the rot had not yet started by that year, though its longest line, the Ryde line, had already been closed beyond Drummoyne.
[xviii] In more recent times the Germans and the German-speaking Swiss took the English word back into their language as Tram, though the former now prefer their own word Strassenbahn, literally ‘street track’.
[xix] Around 1970 and for years afterwards I used to wait for buses on the corner of Great North Road and Hampden Road, Abbotsford. There was right on that corner a large telegraph pole with telltale holes in it and a “waistcoat” of grey paint around the lower part of it. Over the years this layer of grey paint wore off and revealed printed vertically in white lettering on a background of red paint the words “Tram Stop”; over further years this wore off and revealed another layer of old red paint and on it in rather faded, obliquely printed lettering the words “Wait here for trams”, a form of wording at tram stops that preceded my birth, so that pole was a museum piece. Not being much given to photographing in those days, I never did take any pictures of it. It is still there, as far as I know, but not a skerrick of paint or lettering remains: a loss indeed to the cause of tramway archaeology.