Friday, September 25, 2009

Brisbane Trams

Don't you love the way language evolves? When tram lines criss-crossed the city, Fortitude Valley was a central hub for the trams, and also a very busy retail centre. So, a common request by the passengers to the tram conductor was "Two to the Valley!" - an order for two tram tickets to that destination. But then the phrase also came to mean something else. It became a polite way of saying something quite impolite, probably stemming from the hand signal that semaphored the same message - two fingers pointed upwards in the reverse-victory formation. These days, it seems the signal used is the raised middle finger alone, in the American way.

Well, today's post is about trams - Brisbane's
long lost and much lamented trams. They disappeared from our streets forty years ago, and that is a decision that many politicians wish they could revisit now. Brisbane's then Lord Mayor, Clem Jones, who did so much that was right in Brisbane, commissioned a report from a US urban consultancy firm, Wilbur Smith, to develop an infrastructure plan for Brisbane. Wilbur Smith recommended an upgraded motorway system, and the abolition of the electric trams and trolley-buses in favour of diesel buses. Unfortunately, Clem's usually accurate civic judgement was awry on this point, and the electric public transport system duly bit the dust.
Two to the Valley to you, Wilbur Smith!

Wilbur Smith also recommended that Brisbane's train network should be reduced - thank goodness that didn't eventuate! Can you imagine the state of Brisbane's traffic now if that had also occurred? Below is a collection of photos of the various styles of trams seen in Brisbane over the years. Click any photo to see a larger image.

(Photos: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; from top #6030 , #picqld-2006-03-16-13-40, #10341, #183358, #104198)

The last Brisbane trams ran on 13 April, 1969. The trams were crowded - over 70,000 people travelled on trams on that day. There were reminiscences, sadness, parties, placards and near riots at various points of the tramway network. Here is the official last tram, No 554, on that last journey. Car 554 is what is known as a Phoenix Tram, and the Phoenix symbol can be seen on the side of the front cabin just below the motorman.
(Photo: Courtesy Brisbane City Council; BCC B120-30522)

It is possible to ride in a tram once more, as I discovered recently. A visit to the Brisbane Tramway Museum at Ferny Grove will allow you to take your seat on several versions of Brisbane's trams for a brief journey up a hill, round a couple of bends, and back again while the museum's volunteers patiently explain the evolution of the tramway system. The motorman and conductor wear their traditional livery, including the Foreign Legion caps; and you even get your ticket punched by the conductor, just like the old days! This fresh, open-air method of transport is sorely missed, and the clanking of the tram along the track, together with the ringing of the bell that signalled the driver (once to stop, twice to restart) was a real nostalgia rush for me. It is good fun and quite educational, and I recommend it, particularly for boys of all ages. Here are some of the trams on display there - click for a larger image. The tram in the middle image of the top row is No 554, that official last tram, preserved at the museum for future generations.
(Photos: © 2009 the foto fanatic)
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A Windsor castle


  1. tramway musem, excellent! must visit when i return to brisbane

    "Two to the Valley to you, Wilbur Smith!" here, here!

  2. It is so sad that we don't have our trams in the heart of Brisbane. Just came back from a little holiday in Melbourne and we lived on the trams as it was our only way of transport. I wished that we had them back again :(

  3. I certainly always loved trams. The only piece of visible line left in Brisbane is still on Old Cleveland Rd Belmont. I have never seen any mention of the old trams that were used on the " Ekka" run from Queen street in the early days. As obviously more trams were needed during those times. It always fascinated me as a child to see these old trams back in service for the 10 day show. The trams let you off at the "Ekka" gate, then they would pass thru. You could regard them inside the gate back to the city. For my family we went to the show on the tram and returned home on the trolley bus. Good memories.


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