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MoB Sunday Stories: Brisbane Trams

On a crisp, winter’s morning in June 1897, Brisbane’s first electric tram trundled along tracks from Woolloongabba to the southern end of Victoria Bridge. Replacing the horse-drawn trams of the mid 1880s, the 20-strong fleet was an exciting feat of motoring for the growing metropolis of Brisbane.

North Quay and Milton Reach of the Brisbane River. Courtesy State Library of Queensland. 
North Quay and Milton Reach of the Brisbane River. Courtesy State Library of Queensland. 

The tram tracks stretched across the city streets like long steel threads, stitching together the lives of Brisbane’s residents. The trams took city workers to offices, children to school and families on brand new adventures with speed and comfort.

However idyllic, this new-fangled mode of transport was not without its complications. In 1912, a serious tramway strike disrupted the service for three long weeks. The major topic for debate? Whether tram drivers had the right to wear their union badge whilst on duty. Only a fraction of the daily services kept running, manned by a select group of non-unionists; however, the service was so greatly disrupted, it left parts of Brisbane without public transport. At the crescendo of the strike, the tram drivers and a few sympathetic railway men marched into town to Trades Hall and later protested with 10,000 people on the site of modern day King George Square.

In January 1923, Brisbane Tramways Trust gained control of the then privatised network and, by December 1925, the tramways fell under the leadership and control of Brisbane City Council. The growing demand for faster, more frequent services saw the fleet grow quickly to 200 modern tram cars – requiring the construction of a large powerhouse in New Farm to help support it. By 1962, the network boasted an impressive 106km of track that stretched across the city of Brisbane. Alas, a combination of a devastating fire that engulfed the New Farm depot and the growing demand for private motorcars by Australian families saw the use of the Brisbane tram decline. As a result, the very last tram trundled along the line between Balmoral and Ascot on 13 April 1969, and the tracks that once crisscrossed the city fell dormant beneath our modern roads.

Want to take a ride through other great memories of Brisbane? Take a wander through history by visiting our exhibition Making Place: 100 Views of Brisbane. Click here to find out more.

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