Travel for mind, body and spirit: Bottom A tram ride in Melbourne

Bottom A tram ride in Melbourne

The driver coughed and climbed back into the cab. The air brakes wheezed, a bell clanged, then a motor whined as we set off. Melbourne's trams are not for seekers of tranquillity. Neither will they suit anyone who demands a cushy repose. The only enhancement since the seats were installed 60 years ago is a bit of plasticky beige padding, of the sort that masquerades as leather all over the world and does little to mitigate some awkward turns. But anyone keen on a sedentary circuit of a handsome city should stay on board.

Melbourne does trams better than anywhere else. The state capital of Victoria is the youngest city of its size in the world, which could explain why its lay out resembles a clumsy splodge at the top of Port Phillip Bay. The city's fleet of 750 trams binds the three million people into a community.

The tentacles of the network extend deep into far suburbs called Kew and Footscray and Moonee Ponds, but the core is the City Circle line. A handful of the handsome W-class trams are employed in a constant orbit round the heart of Melbourne and provide easy access to the city's prime attractions.

"The Duke of Wellington is the oldest continuously operating public house in Melbourne" ... "It was at St Peter's that Dame Nellie Melba practised the organ as a schoolgirl." This information came not from one of my fellow passengers, but from the digital audio system recently installed in the venerable vehicle.

Car number 888 was built by the Metropolitan Tram Board in the late Thirties at the tram works in the north Melbourne suburb of Preston. Its interior finish is not the sullen, dark woodwork favoured by European trams of the time, but a paler and friendlier veneer. Outside, the smart maroon and cream livery is topped by a destination board. Travellers unfamiliar with the Melbourne web of trams are reassured that this is the City Circle, following a fixed loop (more of a square than a circle) and stopping at every block. You can get on or off wherever you wish - at sights like the Old Melbourne Gaol, where Ned Kelly was hanged in 1870, or the Immigration Museum which opened in the elegant Customs House last year. But you may prefer just to shift a little in your seat to get a better view of the absurd Forum, a Moorish fantasy of a theatre with twirling columns, half a dozen minarets and assorted dragons chasing across the facade.

You will have plenty of time to look. In the Thirties, Melbourne boasted the fastest trams in the world, touching 29mph on level stretches and averaging 11mph. In the Nineties, the only time the tram works up a bit of speed is at the western end of the back straight, Flinders Street. It canters past an advertising hoarding on the street inviting you to "rent-a-bomb" all day for A$15 [pounds 6]. This is no terrorist enterprise, but a car rental company specialising in old crocks. And, with absurdly cheap petrol (around 25p a litre), motoring is now the main mode of travel around Melbourne. But the city still takes pride in its public transport.

Topographically, Melbourne is no San Francisco. The closest you can get to anything like the Bullitt image of switchback hills is on Williams Street, the highest point in the city centre. A couple of blocks later, look for the cottage cowering amid the skyscrapers, on the corner of King and La Trobe Streets.

The tram pauses outside the State Parliament for the driver's smoking break; inside, if you time your visit to coincide with Premier's question time, you will witness some hilarious fuming on the part of the state government and the opposition.

Allowing for the odd "smoko", the entire rumbling, rattling rotation takes 40 minutes. You could walk it almost as quickly. A short circuit, but a fine trip. If you really want to give your rear a ride to remember, stay on all day long: circling for up to 13 hours for the same cost. Which happily, in this civilised repository of fine public transport, is zero. Simon Calder

The City Circle tram runs every 10 minutes between 8am and 6pm daily, with service extended on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to 9pm. Simon Calder paid pounds 856 to travel to Melbourne as part of a round-the-world itinerary on British Airways and Qantas.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

    Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

    £17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

    Recruitment Genius: Ad Ops Manager - Up to £55K + great benefits

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a digital speci...

    The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

    £40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent