I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published June 16th 2013
Talk of the Town - Bendigo's Vintage Trams
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.
A drivers eye view approaching Pall Mall in central Bendigo. Image by Ian Gill.
After just 13 month of operation Sandhurst and Eagle hawk Tramway Company went into liquidation with all its assets purchased by the newly formed Bendigo Tramway Company Limited.
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 1890's 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. The electric service was officially opened on April 21st 1903 and proved an outstanding success from day one.
Bendigo's trams add a whole new dimension to traffic in country Victoria. Image by Ian Gill.
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.
Talking Trams stop right at the entrance to Central Deborah Gold Mine. Image by Ian Gill.
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 kilometers of track between the Central Deborah Mine and the Emu Point Joss House Temple. 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.
Trams provide easy access to Bendigo's premier tourist attractions. Image by Ian Gill.
Today Bendigo Tramways Vintage Talking Tram Tour operates a fleet of 17 trams on hourly services daily (except Xmas Day), between 10am and 5pm. The six stops on the network provide access to some of Bendigo's premier attractions including the Central Deborah Mine, Alexandra Fountain & Pall Mall, the Tramways depot, Lake Weeroona, Tyson's Reef Hotel and the Bendigo Joss House Temple.
Repairs and restoration of rolling stock are undertaken at Bendigo Tramway Heritage Rail Workshops located within the Bendigo Tram Depot, Australia's oldest operating tram depot. Hourly tours run daily (except Xmas Day) from 10.20am to 3.20pm.
The 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 city's gold rush heritage.
Ready to depart Central Deborah Mine for the Chinese Joss House. Image by Ian Gill.