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Roberto's line

The #15 Moreland tram route connects the north and south of the city. While there were tram conductors, it was possible to make a human connection between these discrete parts of Melbourne. Ex-connie Roberto D'Andrea follows the line:

# 757

Grab your table, car out 757, jump into 759 tram, had a lovely wooden archway, and you’d just be popping all your tickets in and everything’s right and you take off out of the depot, car out, up King’s Way, go through the city and land eventually down in Moreland tram terminus, ready to come back down as a #15 to St Kilda beach.

The description of the tram ride is a fascinating look at the nature of the city and the people—all the characters and what-not. So you’d go in the back of Brunswick depot and you’d meet your other tram crews which you don’t do any more ‘cos we don’t cross-city link and we’re divided into two tram companies so we don’t have as much contact with the rest of our trammie mates around the system, which is a bit of a pity and damned shame. In those days at the back of Brunswick depot, talk to the starter in a little shed that’s out there, and off we’d go.


And you’d come around and first you’d pick up a whole heap of people at the corner of Sydney Road and Moreland Road—people that might have done shopping that would go down to Lygon Street and you’d take a lot of local people. Italians that wouldn’t call Moreland Road “Moreland Road”, they’d call it “Morelando” or “Siddiney” road. Or you’d pick up the young Lebanese blokes off to football training that would play down at the Merri Creek down at the East Coburg tram terminus. And you’d get this lovely eccentric mob of people that immigrated in a little bit later on in the bit—post ‘50s immigration—and we’d deal with those people all the way through Lygon Street.



Pick up a family from the Mosque, Kosovars from Mitroviça, on their way back to South Melbourne. It was lovely… the Yakka factory… around the bend at Albion street, put your hand out to stop the traffic so the passengers can get off safely. Wave g’day to the workers sitting outside and having a look at the world—strikes a chord in the Sicilian experience that. Then there’s Sam’s Barber shop where as a Connie you could lean out the door—‘cos Sam had his door open—and say ‘Sam how are you going there mate?’ ‘Beautiful’ he’d give you the thumbs up. And off we’d go through the various pubs picking up some of the people that might have had a beer or whatnot.

And it was the north of the city. Brunswick and Coburg is distinctively a lovely characteristic ‘working’ place. When the last #15 ran, and we decorated the tram and came from Moreland to St Kilda beach, the north sang. The south didn’t sing. St Kilda, which you think is quite an eccentric joint, some of the people still stayed inside their books, and read. St Kilda’s eccentric, no drama, lot’s of interesting people. But the north sang. The curly-haired Italian girls, going off and out sang. People sort of sang, it was wild, it was beautiful—the north. So a connie would meet the people of the north, and we’d ring bells down Lygon Street, pick up people.


Carlton was interesting. There was a bloke down there all the time, he’d still be around, bowler hat, used to go to the theatre all the time, Liberal Party fellow, picked him up opposite the cemetery. Always interested in what was going on, we’d have a natter. All these characters that would have a natter with you. You’d bring the community together often because if one person was having a natter with you, and you had a natter with another person, very quickly you could see that talking inside the tram was an alright thing to do, and other people would be talking inside the tram.

Big difference where personalities are kept in pockets these days a lot more. We’ve got tram blood in our system, but there’s a big shift between having an arbitrator in there dressed in a costume or uniform moving through using voice as a tool and bringing people into play and then allowing other people to come into play. It was something that the visitors, whether they were bushies or interstate-overseas people, dearly loved about this joint. They thought it was actually quite sane, and did things quite intelligently.


You’d come around to Lygon Street, the flats there, and you’d pick up the Somalian, Eritrean and Ethiopian community as they were emigrating and fresh into the city, so lots of questions, passports or whatever people need to know about, license—well that was next door to them at that stage, Vicroads. Whatever institution they needed, there was a lot of assistance in getting people to the right place to do the right thing and organise themselves for a new life here.

I just wonder there must have been tons of connies and tons of stories over the generations like my dad coming through in ’51 and jumping on a tram out to Wattle Park, and whatever, and getting the same form of assistance. This cultural trait had continued right down the line—an absolute blinder as far as we were concerned. I was lucky enough to see the Eritrean and Somalian community come in, but that story goes way back to the 1980s, I would imagine, with everyone else coming through.


Around the corner to the top end of Lygon Street, lots of people that wanted a bite to eat and a bit of tucker—assist there with a lot of tourism. And so you drop people to do whatever recreational things they wanted to do around there. Come up Elgin Street and curve around and do all the university traffic. At that stage there weren’t a lot of trams coming up to the new terminus at the university, so all of a sudden you’d be hit with tons of people all in go, and everything squeezed up, and we were tight.

We were told in those days, just ring bells for safely, make sure everyone’s in and out, without any drama, don’t worry about the tickets too much, the thing is that everyone’s got to get from A to B in a safe manner. Another lovely ethic that is probably down the tube I think these days.


So we’d do that and you’d have to call streets and what-not, and I know not everyone did it, but I think what happened in the mid ‘90s we had quite a few doing it, and we came through Lygon Street, down into Swanston Street, you’d drop people off, you’d pick people up, and you’d start to pick up some of the travellers that stay in the backpackers down St Kilda beach, you’d pick up eccentrics like Scoop that wears his hard hat all the time, and tells all sorts of gags. And you’d pick up the locals from St Kilda and what-not, and you’d travel down St Kilda Road. You’d have the beautiful gardens to rest your eyes on, tell stories to people as they’d come through down to the Botanical Gardens. Get them off at the Travelodge. Get them off at the Alfred Hospital. Help them out at the Blind Institute. Move through past High Street. Transfer them on to a #64 at the junction and then head to the right, and announce that you were coming down to Grey and Fitzroy street and that if anyone wanted to go the coffee palace, it was there. Or this was there and that was there. Head down past Leo’s and around the curve on the Esplanade—that must be one of the loveliest stretches of tram track on the planet—and down to the Palais theatre and you’d drop off people.

Actually Friday night used to be interesting because you’d fill up with the young crew that must have known instinctively not to get on the #96 or the #12 but traditionally get the #16 and they’d come from the outer suburbs ‘cause you’d Zone 1-2-3 tickets and Zone 1-2 tickets cast in from of you. Or if they’d got on a railway station without a ticket you’d get a story have to flog ‘em a ticket, ‘cause the stations were a bit unpersoned at that stage, and drop them off at the Palais where they have the Cat Club, so you were invaded by black t-shirts with all them images of rough crew, images where people are looking dangerous on the front of the t-shirts, and you’d drop them off on mass. So there was this enormous flow in and out of people, and it was a wonderful existence.