'On the Line of Duty'
by Paul Norris
This feature article was published in 'The Age' - 9.12.1999 - Page 1 Cont'd on Page 2>

Cable Tram Images (c) The Estate of Neville Govett

It all started in 1885 when the first cable tram service was established in the heart of our city. Until then, apart from the steam train and ferry for longer trips, we still relied on the horse and bicycle to travel around town.

In those days Francis B. Clapp was the transport entrepreneur who got the Melbourne cable trams' steam turbines pumping. No doubt motivated by the pound, and fascinated by the latest technology, Clapp travelled to California. He was obviously impressed with what he saw and decided to build an improved version of San Francisco's steam-driven cable car system in Melbourne.

So robust was Clapp's cable tram service that parts of it were still alive until 1940. One might say Clapp, as a result of his motivation and passion, could be considered Australia's first ever official tram lover.

One hundred and fourteen years later the spirit of Clapp rides again. Melbourne's tram system is being privatised once more and today's tram lovers are reminiscing.

"Now it's gone full circle," says Norm Cross, a Melbourne tramway employee for forty years. Norm points out that after Clapp's system was established under a lease agreement with the Melbourne City Council, all the major councils wanted
to have their own electric tram services after the turn of the [20th] century.

But with a hotchpotch of steam-driven cable tram services around the city's main arteries, and electric trams in most major major inner municipalities, there was a decision to amalgamate them under one authority. This decision was precipitated by the fact that Clapp's cable tram lease expired in 1916. Thus the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (M&MTB) was born in 1919.

Eighty years later we now have the privately-backed Yarra Trams (east and west routes) and Swanston Trams (north and south routes).

Norm Cross is just one of many who have worked for a lifetime on the Melbourne system,starting as an apprentice fitter and turner at Preston tramway workshops in the 1950s. Whether or not he realised it the young Norm joined the M&MTB at a time when the majority of large cities around the world decided to scrap their ageing tram services in favour of buses.

Also contributing to the demise of the tram was the rising post-war popularity of the motor car. Norm admits after working at Preston for so many years he has witnessed a lot of changes.

The Melbourne tramway was also a welcome employer of many of the southern European immigrants who came to find a new life in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. Italian-born Mario Sirianni was one of these 'New Australians' who came to Melbourne forty-three years ago with negligible English language skills.

After a string of short-duration labouring jobs Mario, who'd been studying English after hours, obtained his first steady job as a tram conductor. Working on the trams was a great way to meet people and improve his English.

Following nine years of tram conducting Mario went on to be a bus driver and then a storeman for the Public Transport Corporation (PTC). Upon his retirement Mario had given thirty-four years of service to the PTC.

"After twenty-five years you got a silver tray. Working on the trams was a 'security job' and a lot of people got these trays as reward for long service," says Mario, proudly holding a shiny round memento inscribed with his name.Cont'd on Page 2>

Mario Siiranni(Left) Mario with his PTC 25Years Long Service Award(Centre) Personalised inscription on his award(Right)

This article (c) Paul Norris www.norrismediaproductions.com



This DVD Release for domestic(i.e Non-commercial) viewing only (c)1999 & 2009 Paul Norris/Norris Media Productions. All Rights Reserved.