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Few people in Adelaide would be aware that the city has had a public transport network for around 130 years. The first trams in South Australia were horse drawn, and were a popular way of getting around in the mid 1800's. At its peak in the 1950's there were around 24 tram lines in Adelaide, radiating in every direction to service major suburbs. (See here for details). Unfortunately the arrival of cheap motor cars dealt a devastating blow to Adelaide trams, and they were to rapidly lose popularity until recently.
The St Kilda Tramway Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of Adelaide's electric public transport history, and operated by the Australian Electric Traction Association. Since the 1950's the museum has been acquiring South Australian trams and trolley buses for its collection, and restoring them for public display. The Tramway Museum is run by a group of dedicated volunteers and displays a magnificent historical collection of Adelaide trams, trolley buses and other mementos. I visited on a weekday while the museum was closed, but there were still several people busily cleaning and restoring the exhibits.
Adelaide and Suburban Tramway Co Operated Horse Drawn Trams (Image: State Library of Victoria)
The first horse drawn trams to North Adelaide began service in 1878, with new tram lines opening to other suburbs progressively over the years. By the early 1900's the public was becoming disenchanted with the slow horse drawn network, not to mention the 5kg of manure that each horse deposited daily. To make matters worse the tramways operated on unsealed roads to improve traction and better absorb the horse urine. The roads were muddy in winter and created a dust problem in summer.
In 1906 the government bought all existing tram lines and assets from private operators and created the Municipal Tramways Trust to operate the entire network. The network was progressively electrified between 1909 and 1914 and converter stations were built around Adelaide to convert mains AC power to 600V DC to power the trams.
One of the converter stations at Reedie St, Henley Beach still exists and is used by the Scouts as an archive centre. Another was Converter Station No.14 on Derwent Ave Magill, built in 1948 and now converted into a Tuscan style residence.
During the 1930's the high cost of laying tracks prevented the MTT from expanding tram services, but trolley buses were trialled successfully instead on some lines. Buses were also used on some routes to supplement the trams and to reduce competition from private bus services.
One of MTT Adelaide Trolley Buses in 1937 (Image: State Library SA B9905)
Despite this trams remained popular until 1951 when wartime petrol rationing finally ended. Coupled with the falling cost of motor cars, this resulted in a steady loss of patronage on public transport. The last Adelaide tram to be produced in the 20th Century was the Type H1 Streamliner tram which was completed in 1952 and used on the Kensington and Henley North Lines.
While many who visit the St Kilda Tramway Museum are passionate about Adelaide trams, for me a highlight were the old photos showing glimpses of how trams impacted on people's lives in the past. It's also fascinating to see how familiar places around Adelaide like Semaphore and Largs Bay have changed over the years.
Old Photos of Adelaide Tram Lines at St Kilda Tramway Museum
Apart from the multitude of trams and trolley buses you can see, there are many informative displays about Adelaide trams and their historical context. They include lots of old photos of trams in familiar locations around Adelaide from days gone by.
For children who visit the tram museum, the best fun for kids is riding one of the fully restored trams to the St Kilda Adventure Playground. There are so many fun things to do for kids at the adventure playground that children go wild - the slides, maze and other play equipment must rate as the best in South Australia.
Ride Inside an Old Adelaide Tram to St Kilda Playground
After visiting the Tramway Museum and the Adventure Playground, why not visit the St Kilda Beach Hotel for lunch? It serves counter meals, and looks to have been nicely renovated. Another option is fresh fish and chips, or home made pies from the bait shop.
If you are still feeling energetic after lunch, take a walk through the Mangrove Trail and Interpretive Centre a short distance away. It's a fun way to get up close to native birds and learn more about the marine wildlife and ecosystem.
When you catch the tram back to the museum, pick up a memento of your visit, perhaps a DVD of trams around Adelaide in the 1950's. It makes fascinating viewing. For more information about the St Kilda Tramway Museum head over to their website where there are many photos to browse. You can also find the Tramway Museum - St Kilda on Facebook.