I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published April 14th 2021
Trip on the tram fantastic
One of the first things you'll notice about Bendigo in central Victoria is the tram tracks running up the centre of the main thoroughfare and the brightly painted little trams of Bendigo Tramways scuttling through the traffic, their bells ringing, as they carry visitors to stops at a number of historic sites around the city.
Bendigo has had trams since 1890. Today they are a major tourist attraction in this heritage rich goldrush city. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Bendigo has had tram services since June 1890, when the Sandhurst and Eaglehawk Electric Tramway Company Ltd commenced operation on 4 miles (6.5 Kilometres) of track between Bendigo railway station and Eaglehawk. Using battery-powered trams, the service frequently had to resort to horse-drawn vehicles when the batteries went flat.
After just 13 months of operation, Sandhurst and Eagle hawk Tramway Company went into liquidation with all its assets purchased by the newly formed Bendigo Tramway Company Limited.
Visitors are afforded great views as the trams make their way through town and to a number of historic sites. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The new operator introduced steam-powered trams to Bendigo in 1892. Although they offered a safe and reliable service, Bendigo Tramway Company was hit hard by the 1890s depression, which resulted in very significant reductions in passenger numbers.
The company was eventually sold in 1899 to the British Insulated Wire Company, who set about developing the necessary infrastructure to run an electric network running between the town centre, Eaglehawk, White Hills, Quarry Hill, Kangaroo Flat and Golden Square.
Stops along the Talking Tram Tour include the Central Deborah Mine. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The electric service was officially opened on April 21st 1903 and proved an outstanding success from day one. Commercial tramway services continued to operate in and around Bendigo under a variety of corporate entities, the last the State Electricity Commission of Victoria.
The SEC had compulsorily acquired the tramway as part of its charter to take over all privately owned power generating companies after World War 1. But over many years, the SEC made it clear that they weren't keen to run the tramway and eventually, after many lean years, post World War 2, eventually convinced the State Government that the system was not viable and should be abandoned. State parliament voted to close the service in July 1970 and operations were ultimately ended on Sunday, April 16th 1972.
The decision was not a popular one with the people of Bendigo and in fact, the Bendigo Trust, aware that closure appeared inevitable, had set up a working party almost a year earlier to explore the feasibility of retaining at least some of the network as a tourist attraction.
Their efforts came to fruition on September 11th 1972, when the Victorian Government approved a two year trial of the tourist tramway, running four trams over eight kilometres of track between the Central Deborah Mine and the Emu Point Joss House Temple.
Electric trams have been running in Bendigo for almost 120-years. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
State Premier Sir Rupert Hamer officially launched the service, breaking a bottle of locally produced red wine over the front of the historic #30 Birnie tram, on December 9th 1972.
Today, Bendigo Tramways Vintage Talking Tram Tour operates a fleet of 17 trams and during the current (April 2021) COVID restrictions is running 54 return services to some of Bendigo's premier attractions including the Central Deborah Mine, Alexandra Fountain & Pall Mall, Lake Weeroona, Tyson's Reef Hotel and the Bendigo Joss House Temple.
The first service of the day departs Charing Cross at 9.50 AM and the last departs Central Deborah for Charing Cross at 4 PM, terminating at Charing Cross.
Repairs and restoration of rolling stock is undertaken at Bendigo Tramway Heritage Rail Workshops located within the Bendigo Tram Depot, Australia's oldest operating tram depot. Unfortunately, trams are not stopping at The Depot and it is closed to visitors during the current (April 2021) COVID restrictions.
Throughout April 2021 Bendigo Tramways will operate 54 return services daily with big discounts on all tickets. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Throughout April 2021 there is a special offer 1-day Talking Tram Tour ticket available costing Adults $10 (normally $18) Concession $10 (normally $17) Children 3 – 15 years $5 (normally $11). Infants 0 – 2 years FREE.
Bendigo's Vintage Talking Tram Tour is a step back in transport history and offers visitors a great opportunity to see all that modern Bendigo has to offer while highlighting the cities gold rush heritage.
Getting There …..
Bendigo is 154-Kilometres northwest of Melbourne, just under a 2-hour drive via the M79/Calder Highway.
Cost:Throughout April 2021 there is a special offer 1-day Talking Tram Tour ticket available costing Adults $10 (normally $18) Concession $10 (normally $17) Children 3 - 15 years $5 (normally $11). Infants 0 - 2 years are FREE.