Completed escalators at the York Street entrance of Wynyard Station, 17 August 1931, courtesy State Archives & Records NSW (12685_a007_a00704_8735000024r)

Completed escalators at the York Street entrance of Wynyard Station, 17 August 1931, courtesy State Archives & Records NSW (12685_a007_a00704_8735000024r)

Last week on 2SER Breakfast Nicole talked about the development of the City Circle line, and over the weekend an amazing new work made up of the old timber treads from the original escalators by artist Chris Fox was installed at Wynyard station.

The escalators were such an important part of the Modernist design of the station in the 1930s when it opened, and its great to see them celebrated in this way rather than lost. The work uses 244 of the original treads and is called ‘Interloop’. The photos look spectacular and there’s also a fascinating video of the work being installed by Sydney Trains available online here.

Another bit of Sydney’s transport infrastructure was also revealed to the public over the weekend when pedestrians were finally given access  to a couple of blocks of the light rail tracks on George Street, so I thought it would be timely to review the history of Sydney’s trams. 

Listen now 

 

Boarding a tram at the intersection of King and George Streets c1905 by Frederick Danvers Power, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (a422003 / ON 225, 160

Boarding a tram at the intersection of King and George Streets c1905 by Frederick Danvers Power, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (a422003 / ON 225, 160

Sydney’s first trams were drawn by horses when they were introduced in 1861, but this service only lasted until 1866.

A steam tram was introduced in 1879 – as is so often the case, the impetus for the new infrastructure was a big public event. Enormous crowds were expected for the International Exhibition in the Botanic Gardens in 1879 and the tram service was proposed to bring people from the railway terminus, close to the current location of Redfern station, into the city almost to the gates of the Garden Palace.

Despite some initial scepticism from the public, the line was an immediate success and the original plans to demolish it once the Exhibition had closed were abandoned.  In 1880 the government decided to build on its success and committed to building more tramways in the city and further into the suburbs.

Sydney’s extensive tram network was at its peak in 1922, but the Depression, followed by WWII, saw the geographical spread of the network halt. By the 1950s a number of factors including the decentralisation of industry and the rise in ownership of private automobiles meant that government priorities had changed and in the early 1960s we pulled up the tracks.

Removal of tram tracks George Street 1960 Courtesy City of Sydney Archives (NSCA CRS 48/1190)

Removal of tram tracks George Street 1960 Courtesy City of Sydney Archives (NSCA CRS 48/1190)

But now they’re back! Trams won’t be running on the new tracks  until 2019 so it will be a while yet until we know what its like to catch a tram down George Street.

In the meantime, you can walk on some of the tracks, visit the Tramway Museum in Loftus,  go down to the revamped  Tramsheds at the Harold Park development and eat in a restored tram, or admire one of the many tram waiting shed that are dotted around the city and currently serve as old bus shelters, like the stand at the intersection of Park and Elizabeth Streets.

You can also check out everything the Dictionary has on trams here, including a very informative article here about the history of Sydney’s trams written by Dictionary stalwart Garry Wotherspoon.  

 

Birds Eye View 1906, courtesy National Film and Sound Archive

We had trams running down George Street previously of course – watch this extraordinary film footage from the National Film and Sound Archive made by someone sitting on the top of a tram filming as the tram went up George Street towards the QVB, and imagine what it will be like. Pedestrians, bicycles, carts all weaving their way around the trams. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again!

Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and the former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity.

Listen to the podcast with Lisa & Nic here, and tune in to 2SER Breakfast with Nic Healey on 107.3 every Wednesday morning at 8:15-8:20 am to hear more from the Dictionary of Sydney.

 

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