How it all began

In January 1954, some Adelaide tram enthusiasts formed a local branch of the Australian Electric Traction Association - an advocacy group with an interest in the retention and expansion of electric transport systems and which still exists.

At the Association’s 1956 National Convention in Adelaide, it was learned that museum collections had been established in Sydney and Melbourne and that tramway museums were already established in the USA and Europe. Also at the convention, trams 111 and 381 (now in the Museum) were used to tour Adelaide’s tramways as a conference event.

To better distinguish between interests in advocacy and preservation, the fledgling Sydney tramway museum had been ‘spun out’ from the Australian Electric Traction Association to become the Australian Electric Transport Museum

Later in 1956 the Adelaide group approached Adelaide’s Municipal Tramways Trust on behalf of the Australian Electric Transport Museum, to set aside six Adelaide trams for preservation, viz 1, 111, 192, 264, 380 and 381. After checking with, and encouraged by positive responses from the Sydney and Melbourne tramway authorities about progress by museum groups there, the M.T.T. agreed to make the cars available to the newly formed group, reflecting faith in the young people behind the proposal for Adelaide.

By 1957, the Adelaide group became the SA branch of the Australian Electric Transport Museum. Later, the Adelaide group incorporated in its own right under SA legislation as the Australian Electric Transport Museum (SA) Inc.- now better known as the Tramway Museum at St. Kilda.

Where to go?

Trams 192, 111 and 1 in storage at Morphettville Racecourse sidings in 1958.

At first the group proposed to send the trams to the Association’s Sydney museum, but after finding the cost was prohibitive, started looking for a tramway museum site in Adelaide.

Meanwhile, much of Hackney tram depot was being knocked down to make space for parking for the new buses. There was no longer space in the depot to store the trams offered to the museum.

After some negotiations, it was agreed to store cars 1, 111 and 192 in the open on the tramway sidings at Morphettville Racecourse. They went there in January 1958. Vandals stoned them within a few weeks, breaking many windows.

After several false leads, a site was eventually secured on the grounds of the former St. Kilda primary school. In August 1958, only a few hours ahead of the contractors pulling up the Morphettville sidings, four trams including 42, were taken to St Kilda for further open storage. Car 282 (swapped with 264) arrived in January 1959 after being driven to and loaded at Glenelg.

Building shelter, starting restoration

Early in the build phase of the new tram shed at St Kilda with the main support beams in place, 1962.

A shed was designed that could be erected as cheaply as possible by the Museum members. It was built from wooden tramway poles and second-hand galvanised iron, using homemade ladders and simple hand-tools.

By 1964, the trams were securely housed inside the shed, preserved from the weather. Trees were planted around the museum. Other items including a signal box and poles were obtained for future use.

The trolleybus system had closed in 1963. Sunbeam 526 was added to the collection. Unlike the earlier trams, which were donated, this bus had to be purchased on “time-payment’. The first two restoration projects were begun in 1965. These were Adelaide’s first electric tram, A type no. 1, and Australia’s first trolleybus, the experimental “Green Goddess”, converted from a Garford motorbus to run from Payneham to Paradise from 1932 to 1934.

Opening the line

1974. Minister Frank Kneebone waves as the first official trip departs St. Kilda beach.

The Museum opened as a static display on 22 July 1967. In 1972 the Salisbury Council secured a grant under a then State Government Unemployment Relief Scheme and built the 2Km line to St Kilda beach. Museum members erected the overhead. The Museum tramway was formally opened by the then Minister for Lands, the Hon Frank Kneebone, assisted by the Mayor of Salisbury, Mr Harry Bowey, on March 23 1974.

Car no. 1 lead the procession, which was the same car that had been used to open the Adelaide tramway system on March 9 1909.

Five trams were available for operations from the opening day.

The museum has operated on the line continuously since then, except for a five month enforced shut down in 2003 when public liability insurance was unaffordable.

Over 50 years later

From an initial collection of 5 trams, stored on a vacant site at St.Kilda in 1957, the Museum now has 23 trams, a horse box, 4 trolley buses, two horse trams that preceded and a diesel bus that followed the street system electric trams stored in five buildings. In addition there are two workshops, a wheel lathe building, ancillary storage sheds, an entrance gallery, tearoom/bookshop, modern administration and archives rooms, a number of interpretative displays and authentic street furniture of the period.

Nineteen trams are operational. Two (A types 14/15) are under restoration as a coupled set.

The Museum is fully accredited by the History Trust of SA and the Safety and Regulation Division of Transport SA.

The Museum may be one of few in the world that can boast of holding at least one representative example of every principle tram type to have been in service on a city street system for the life of the system. Throughout its 50 years the Museum has been ‘staffed’ entirely by volunteers and has relied upon visitor admissions for funding. Major projects are often supported by special donations from Museum members.

Occasional grants from SA Government museum assistance programs and the Salisbury Council also help.

THEN: The initial collection of five trams stored in an open field at St Kilda, 1960.

NOW: Over 50 years later, some of the Museum tram fleet awaiting the next trip down the line to the St Kilda Adventure Playground. One of the trams in the BEFORE photo (111) is also featured.