FLOOD, FIRE AND FEVER
A History of Elwood
Trams to the Rescue
BENT BY NATURE
Shops and services in Elwood received a huge boost on 5 May 1906 when Thomas Bent, Premier, Treasurer and Minister for Railways, opened Victoria’s first suburban electric tramway after years of lobbying by the Elwood Railway League. Bent used a loophole in the law to force a railway bill through Parliament to improve his land values in Brighton. The new ‘electric street railway’ ran from St Kilda Station via Grey, Barkly, Mitford, Broadway, Ormond and St Kilda Streets to Park Street near the Brighton Baths. The trams bore the VR livery of the Victorian Railways and operated on a wide 5 ft. 3 in. track for potential connection to the St Kilda railway line. The trial runs terrified horses that were seen ‘pawing the air with wildly agitated feet’. Tram sheds, with a powerhouse and smokestack, were built on St Kilda Street opposite Ormond Esplanade (today Brighton Gate apartments). They were rebuilt after a disastrous fire destroyed the depot and seventeen trams. On 4 June 1915, Elwood residents were delighted when the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board ran a one-mile extension to Point Ormond, Elwood along Glenhuntly Road. ‘Route 11’ finally connected Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs to the beach via Elsternwick station. Between 1934 and 1955 the service operated mostly as a ‘one-man’ shuttle using two smaller four-wheeled trams that rocked when they gathered speed. Local trams were dubbed ‘Leaping Lena’.
The Ormond Road extension closed on 4th November 1956. Residents protested vigorously at large public meetings but closure of the St Kilda to Brighton line followed in 1959 as a result of cost cutting. This line pioneered the electric tramway system we enjoy today and successfully opened up an isolated suburb. It carried tens of millions of passengers over half a century. A local courteous crew welcomed aboard children, workers and shopping trolleys and prams. The trams were a powerful symbol for the Elwood community and their loss was a severe blow to morale. The Elwood Village went into relative decline until the late 1990s when affluence and universal motorcars created a new boom.
Elwood Tram Depot, today Brighton Gate apartments
(Courtesy Don Taggart)
Plaque featuring Elwood Junction, 1920s, tram stop and pole
The 1906 pole still bears the imprint 'Cars stop here'. It marked the original tram shelter and stop
FAREWELL TO RICKETY KATE
Elwood’s two lost tramlines are mourned by a plaque on the corner of Broadway and Glenhuntly Road beside a 1906 tram pole that still bears the faded imprint ‘Cars stop here’. This same pole also secured the wires for the second line to the beach and marked the tram stop and shelter at ‘Elwood Junction’. The nature divides in the centre of Broadway and Ormond Road are the former pathways of the track.
The last of the railway trams, known as ‘Rickety Kates’, was given an explosive send-off by thousands of locals on the 1 March, 1959, when the 53 year old tram, number 28, made its final trip at 12.16 am. From St Kilda Station to the Elwood depot. Two hundred people crowded aboard followed by five hundred people in cars. Hundreds more gathered on the footpaths, many in nightdress, as Rickety rumbled past. Every few yards detonators exploded on the tracks and passengers threw streamers and crackers from the windows. One thousand people waited at the depot for arrival at 12.35 a.m. to remove the bell cords and other fittings for souvenirs and sing Auld Lang Syne. Guests of honour at the farewell party at the depot included Arthur Pickney aged 72, who worked on Rickety when the service began in 1906, and Mr Comptom who worked on Rickety from 1907 to 1931.
Development along Brighton Road was also encouraged after the cable tramway, which has opened in 1888 with a depot and terminus near the Grosvenor Hotel at Chapel Street, was electrified in 1926 and extended all the way to Glenhuntly Road. This ended 38 years of waiting by residents who had sufficed with the metal ‘plateway’ tracks used by the carts of the market gardeners bringing produce from the south eastern suburbs.
Ricketty Kate on its final run 12.16am on 1st March, 1959
(From the Herald/Sun, courtesy Don Taggart)