Few people in Adelaide would be aware that Adelaide has had a public transport network for around 130 years, and that at its peak in the 1950's there were around 24 tram lines radiating from Adelaide in every direction to service major suburbs.
The Adelaide Tramway Museum at St Kilda is run by a group of dedicated volunteers and brings you an incredibly detailed historical collection of Adelaide trams, trolley buses and other mementoes. I visited on a weekday while the museum was closed, but there were still several people busily cleaning and restoring the exhibits.
The first horse drawn tram line to North Adelaide began service in 1878, with new 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.
Former Converter Station Used as Scout Archive Centre
One of the converter stations at 19 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.
Type F Drop Centre Tram on Goodwood Road, Courtesy Peter Gutteridge
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 tram which was completed in 1952 and used on the Kensington and Henley North Lines.
Until 1939 the River Torrens did not have a direct outlet to the sea, as the coastal dune system caused the river to disperse into swamplands. Travelling to Henley Beach on the tram involved passing through an area known as the Reed Beds at HMAS Australia Rd on a viaduct until the late 1950's.
Trolley Bus Outside Largs Pier Hotel (Courtesy Tramway Museum)
While many who visit the Tram Museum are passionate about the trams themselves, for me the highlight was getting glimpses of how the 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.
Trolley Bus and Red Hen Train at Semaphore (Courtesy Tramway Museum)
Apart from the multitude of trams and trolley buses you can see, there are many informative displays about the trams and their historical context. They include lots of photos of trams in familiar locations around Adelaide from days gone by.
From the point of view of the children who visit the museum, the highlight must be the chance to ride on one of the fully restored trams to the St Kilda Adventure Playground. If your children like the Dunstan Adventure Playground in St Peters, they will go wild at St Kilda's. The slippery dips, maze and other play equipment must rate as the best in South Australia.
After visiting the Tramway Museum and the Adventure Playground, why not visit the St Kilda Beach Hotel for lunch? It's really the only option around unless you want to settle for pies from the Bait Shop, and looks to have been nicely renovated.
For those with an interest in the subject, there is a wealth of knowledge and pictures at Johnny's Pages, and this forum also has plenty of historical information. This forum is also worth a look for more images.