“Every Melburnian and every visitor to Melbourne will have memories of travelling on trams,” says exhibition curator Kate Luciano. “They’re such an iconic part of the city."
In a new exhibition at the Old Treasury Building, Luciano has delved into the fascinating history of Melbourne’s trams. Drawing on the epic collection of tramway images held at the Public Record Office Victoria, Trams: Moving Pictures offers a rich, illustrative history of Melbourne’s most memorable mode of transport. Visitors will be taken on a journey from the horse-drawn and cable-car eras to the contemporary period, with a few unlikely stops along the way.
Also on display will be a recreation W-class tram, rarely seen footage of cable trams, and other memorabilia, such as a WW1-era female conductor’s uniform. It’s not commonly known, says Luciano, but “the tramways are really interesting when it comes to issues of equal opportunity for women. Because of the labour shortages created by WWI, they hired many female conductors.”
For Luciano, the highlight of the show is a room dedicated to photographs of Melbourne’s ‘art trams’. Between 1978 and 1993, some of our most well-known artists were commissioned by the Victorian Ministry for the Arts to paint a total of 36 trams. “It’s really the who’s who of Melbourne artists, like Howard Arkley, Mirka Mora, Michael Leunig and Reg Mombassa.”
The ‘art trams’ project “took fantastic contemporary Australian art and made it public and accessible to everyone.” No longer was it in a small, unknown gallery tucked away down some laneway, says Luciano, “but you could be sitting at a tram stop and suddenly a huge painted canvas would come rumbling past you on the street.”
At the end of the program, the 36 art trams were auctioned off. Some have found their way into museums, but many others are in private hands. “We do know that a guy bought about 15 or 20 of these painted trams, which I assume must be sitting in a backyard somewhere,” Luciano laughs “…but it would be wonderful to restore them to their former glory and get them back on the streets again.”