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Melbourne's century-old love of trams

The oldest surviving documentary about Melbourne.trams is the centre-piece of a new exhibition.

PT2M47S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2bh8r 620 349

IF THERE'S one form of transport that Melburnians have a soft spot for, it's their trams.

''They're the everybody transport,'' says Kate Luciano, curator of a new exhibition that documents the early history of the city's well-loved vehicles. ''I think that's what was so brilliant about tram travel through the ages.''

Trams: Moving Pictures features century-old photos of the earliest horse-drawn and cable trams from the late 1800s, as well as the early W-class electric trams from the 1920s.

Recruitment tram float during World War I_.Record Office Victoria, for a piece on a tram exhibition from Tessa van der Riet [tvanderriet@theage.com.au]

Melbourne's trams: Recruiting during World War I. Photo: Public Record Office Victoria

Whereas trams are now often used for product advertising, many of the exhibited photographs show past trams decorated in military themes. One celebrates Britain's Boer War victory in the Siege of Mafeking; Another encourages soldier recruitment during the World War II: ''Don't you hear the call? Fall in!'' the tram's banner reads.

Trams were also often decorated when a new tram route began.

''They were such big moments,'' Ms Luciano said. ''Thousands of people would rejoice in the opening of a new line.''

Another special feature of the exhibit is a screening of the oldest surviving documentary about Melbourne, made in 1910. The film, Marvellous Melbourne: Queen City of the South, offers a rare glimpse into city life 100 years ago and includes the first recorded vision of trams.

Some of the film, produced by Londoner Cozens Spencer, is shot from the tram's point of view, giving viewers the sense they are moving through Melbourne streets.

''It's an amazing view of the early Melbourne streetscape,'' Ms Luciano said.

To travel on a tram in the early 1900s, a ticket would cost you two or three pence.

While fare evasion these days can land you a fine into the hundreds, ticket inspectors a century ago were not quite as strict.

''Boys used to jump on cable trams and then jump off at the next stop,'' Ms Luciano said. ''I think the penalty was often a slap on the wrist.''

Trams: Moving Pictures, a free exhibit at Old Treasury Building, opens on Monday.