Who knew so many Victorians have dreamed of spending weekends ensconced in their own W-class tram nestled quietly in the countryside?
That’s the big takeaway from the initial response on social media to the state government’s plan to gift 134 of these historic wonders to community groups and – if you’re lucky – bush-block dreamers.
Until you read the fine print.
While the trams for community use will be given away free, and others to private applicants sold for a peppercorn $1000, there’s a hefty price – potentially running to six figures – to pay for cranes, transport, concrete foundations and suitable roofing to ‘preserve’ the tram at its new home.
Then there’s the asbestos danger.
The VicTrack website explaining sale conditions for the state government giveaway makes it clear that asbestos in the flooring and electrical control systems of each tram will need to be dealt with by the eventual owner of the tram.
Removal of asbestos in the tram’s controller will cost up to $800, while ridding your tram of the contaminant in the flooring could be up to $8000.
All of which is unlikely to deter those keen on preserving the heritage features that is inherent in these Melbourne classics.
But if your are a true tram enthusiast, it’s also fair to question whether dispersing Melbourne’s most recognisable asset is really the most appropriate way of ensuring our transport history is maintained.
Most Victorians could point you to a bush block or a ‘community project’ where a tram or rail car has been ‘preserved’ for public and, unfortunately, many do not bear close scrutiny.
Out of context, gutted and often neglected, many of these past projects offer a sad echo of the original vehicles’ glory days ferrying drunken American GIs, 1950s suburban football crowds and grim-faced, depression-era Collins Street workers.
And while Melbourne’s handwringing tourist chiefs continue to grasp for iconic spaces and events to define us, here the state government appears to be giving away a golden opportunity to create something truly unique.
The dream of green and gold trams rumbling along St Kilda Road unencumbered by garish advertising may well be gone. But should they now be scattered and damaged to solve a storage problem?
Given the ongoing woes related to the redevelopment of the equally historic Victoria Market – and more particularly the carpark that covers an old cemetery – could we not solve two problems at once and in the process create a world-class tourist attraction?
Imagine 100 or more of our most historic trams, restored professionally and utilised as small shops, cafés and performance spaces at the Vic Market.
They could be covered by an architecturally unique solar-collecting roof to light, heat and cool the whole shebang – even Apple might want to abandon ugly Federation Square and rent space there.
Consider also that the last remaining W-class rolling stock operating on the tourist circle line could also be diverted along Franklin Street via Queen and William streets to deposit tourists in the heart of our new tram precinct.
For sure it’s a bigger dream for our trams, but one that concentrates their history and stories in the place where they were made.
Australian poet Banjo Patterson’s lament on city life Clancy of the Overflow featured these famous words on the daily commute: “In place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle; Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street”.
Banjo made clear in these lines that his drover Clancy did not suit the city, equally, our fine old trams don’t belong in the bush.