Content copyright © Tramway Museum Society of Victoria Inc. Reproduced with permission.
This is a short history of the tramway of my youth. It is not meant to be a full technical history of the line, but merely a collection of my reminiscences and meditations. The dates, car numbers and names are as accurate as my research can get them.
WHAT WAS IT?
Just an ordinary tram service? To some people perhaps, but to me and many others it was as much of our lives as eating and sleeping. In cold statistics – it was a short suburban tram service. Isolated from all others but unlike its sister service (St Kilda to Brighton) the gauge was set at 4'8½” and not the railways 5'3”. This was done with an eye to future connection to the main city systems. The line was controlled and operated by the Victorian Railways Commissioners.
There were three car types used-
Two only single truck cross-
Two only Bogie drop-
Two only Bogie type, front and centre loading (pneumatic folding doors and steps): converted from the drop-
But the statistics are not everything, will try here in these pages to pass on some of the love (for want of a better term) I had for the system.
On the opening day the local schools had a Half-
THE BEAUMARIS EXTENSION
As previously stated, this had been under proposal for some time but owing to the sparse population in the area, the V.R. Commissioners were loath to extend the line. Having gained an indemnity from the Sandringham Council to cover the losses to the tune of £2000 per year for five years, they then gave the go ahead. The line was opened on Wednesday, 2nd September, 1926, when two of the oldest residents (Miss Cullinane and Miss Middleton) cut a ribbon across the track, and the line was declared open but the Assistant Minister of Railways (Mr. Mackrell). One of the speeches was worthy of note. Mr. Snowball (still M.L.A.) said that there had been a lot of agitation for a bus link, but he was glad that a permanent link had been built to link the two suburbs. The next step would be to link up the line with Cheltenham and Mentone. (Cheering and applause) The official party travelled to Black Rock by decorated Tram no.51 where the opening ceremony was performed. They then boarded again to travel to Beaumaris where the ceremony was repeated, after which they retired to the Beaumaris Hotel for a sumptuous dinner. It was once again a half-
Map of the Sandringham to Beaumaris tram. Click on map for larger version.
THE CLOSURE – BEAUMARIS EXTENSION
Unhappily, the extension was a failure right from the outset. The population was not dense enough to warrant the service and due to the starting of the depression, had no chance to increase. In the fours years after the opening the line had shown a loss of £18,500. The undertaking give by the Sandringham Council had not been honoured, and not one payment had been made. (The Beaumaris rate-
HAPPENINGS AND MEMORIES
The tramway crews were very well known and liked but the travelling public. Nearly everyone of them called by their first names regardless of sex. The respect of the public was so great that when one of the oldest drivers (Paddy Lalor) retired he was showered with gifts by his passengers on his last trip, and also had speeches and presentations made to him at factories on the route for several weeks afterwards. Many of the people that had known and loved him from their youth to adulthood, And he never failed to give a smile and a greeting. He was typical of the staff, efficient, but courteous to all.
One particular motorman was always with the hottest of tips for the races, which he would dispense to all and sundry with gay abandon. I personally do not know with how much success, however.
...Always special tram coming out of the depot for the crowd from the pictures on Friday and Saturday nights.
...Sitting in the rear of car 50 or 51 at night on the swivel seat, pretending to drive and watching the flashes from the trolley-
...Coming out of the pictures Saturday matinee, having spent the fare and getting on the tram looking shamefaced and saying that the fare was lost. After a stern warning, a wink and a smile, and told not to let it happen again, we were allowed to travel gratis at the pleasure of the railway commissioners' servants. This trick was played regularly by some small urchins.
...Once again sitting in the rear seat of car 50 or 51 watching the car twist ad roll as it traversed the uneven track. On the worst section in Bluff Road. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that the front of the car would twist at least 9” -
...The time the power went off on a Saturday afternoon leaving our tram stranded in Fernhill Road for at least 1 ½ hours and we waited for it to start, thinking that if we walked home it would start off as soon as we left. For the power to go off was almost unknown, and Dad didn't believe our story, so we dad or tails tanned for coming home late.
...The low accident rate. Apart from the occasional dog, there were very very few accidents on the line. The worst happened on the Fernhill Road hill when two trams collided, injuring the driver of the rear tram and necessitating a completely new front of the car. It was just as well there weren't many collisions as the driving cabs were very cramped and had no rear access door for emergency withdrawals.
...The immaculate conditions of the cars. They were a credit to the railways – the finish on the varnish work was beautiful to behold. The cars were nearly always clean and only rarely did you get one that needed a lick and a polish.
...The lack of any padding on the seats meant that only people well endowed with plump posteriors ever felt really comfortable. The rest of us put up with it.
...Comig into the terminal and helping the conductor push up the barrier bar (across the wrong-
...The punctuality of the trams was legion; if a car was to leave at 8.06am it left at 8.06am; but perhaps a few seconds late as the driver waits for a regular panting his way to the stop.
...The time I was on a packed car ready to leave Sandringham Station on evening peak hour. The driver (Wally) was in his cabin when the conductor (Nerida) found she had just out of a particular stub of tickets. She quickly ran into the station for a new supply and, as soon as she was gone some smart alec gave the conductor's bell two rings and away went the tram minus the connie. The tram was so crowded that most people didn't realise the situation and this character gave the “all-
I remember vividly the terrible condition of the track. So bad in some sections that these had to be negotiated at greatly reduced speed. Yet I have been in an almost empty car that has gone across at full parallel and still stayed on the track.
I was standing next to the motorman one night with a terrific crush load on board when the safety gate guard hit a bump in the road and tripped down. “That's strange”, said he and reset it. We only went about another 100yds. and it tripped again so he got out to check it. Shaking his head with disbelief he got back in and said that the tram had so many people on board that the catcher had only 2” clearance left over the track. It tripped a further six times, until I got the idea of standing on the reset rod so that it was not able to trip until some of the people got off and we got some more clearance.
The destination boxes usually showed Black Rock on one end and Sandringham on the other, but there were other destinations. To the best of my knowledge, these were printed on a large hexagonal piece of wood, rotated from inside the cab by a handle just like a water tap, set in the roof. As a boyish prank I sometimes altered it to read Royal Ave. or Beaumaris which must have been confusing to strangers. But the locals never looked at the destination, knowing that the tram could not be going anywhere else. The Royal Ave. destination sign always confused me, because I have never been able to find any evidence of a cross-
It was obvious after the war that something had to be done to the track as it was in a terrible state. The line was not running at a profit and it was decided to abandon it at the earliest opportunity. The local reaction was in short – furious. “What, scrap our trams? Never!!”
There were hostile public meetings called and so strong was the reaction that the V.R. Commissioners decided to let them run a little while longer, while still not doing any track maintenance. Eleven years passed until the final closure.
Sadly, however, governments are bigger than little people and it was decided to replace the trams with buses. The end came early on the morning of Monday, November 5, 1956 when car 51, packed beyond capacity, made the “graveyard” run amid scenes of tears, laughs, car horns and loutish behaviour. I stayed on board right into the depot against official demands that we get off outside. And I'm glad... So ended a chapter in my life, made just a little brighter through having lived and travelled on the Black Rock trams.
Photo: The first car leaving Sandringham Station at the Official Opening, 10th March, 1919.
Photo: The abandoned trackwork at Beaumaris showing the typical scrubby nature of the surroundings.
Photo: One of the bodie drop-
Photo: The arrival of the closed cross-