PERFECT TRAM STOP: A retired W-Class tram was recently hoisted into the air from the back of a transport, and carefully lowered into place in the front garden of Sunraysia Residential Services’ (SRS) Benetook Farm. After spending the previous 30 years in a dusty workshop, the old tram made its final journey from the Newport Railway Workshops in Melbourne, to arrive at its new home in Mildura to be welcomed by SRS chief executive officer, Marian Luehman (PICTURED). The tram will spend the rest of its life as part of the SRS social enterprise farm.

Photos: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

IN what was a carefully planned logistical exercise last Friday morning, a retired W-Class tram was lifted into the air from the back of a transport, and carefully lowered into place in the front garden of Sunraysia Residential Services’ (SRS) Benetook Farm.

After spending the previous 30 years in a dusty workshop, the old tram had made its final journey from the Newport Railway Workshops in Melbourne, to arrive at its new home in Mildura, where it will spend the rest of its life as part of the SRS social enterprise farm. 

SRS Benetook Farm gives people with disability the opportunity to learn and socialise, while carrying out activities including horticulture, woodwork, singing, dancing, cooking and entertaining.

The tram will undertake some small refurbishments ahead of it being used for public tours, education, and social events at the farm, and it will no doubt become a tourist attraction for the local area and a spot where visitors will be able to enjoy a coffee.

SRS, along with other communities, was given the opportunity to provide a new home to a number of predominantly W-Class trams that had been retired from the network many years ago.

The SRS tram is the sixth to leave the Newport Workshops, following an expression of interest process last year to give Victoria’s retired trams a new home, where more than 1500 applications were received, which saw SRS being one of the successful applicants.

SRS chief executive officer, Marian Luehman, said the arrival of the tram was a wonderful occasion. 

“It’s so exciting, it just looks amazing, and to see it sitting there is lovely – it’s made such a difference to the entrance to our farm,” she said.

The tram has taken pride of place in front of the farm’s old homestead, which has a cafe, arts and crafts shop, and at the rear their fresh-egg processing enterprise.

Ms Luehman said the transporting of the tram and its craning into position had gone smoothly.

“We had a fantastic truck driver, named Bob, who delivered the tram on the back of a truck to Benetook Farm on Thursday afternoon,” she said.

“Then first thing on Friday morning, local crane operator, Peter Saunders and his team from Mildura Cranes, were on site to lift the crane off the truck and into position in our front yard.

“It was incredible watching it being lowered into position, and all of this was paid for by the Victorian Government, and a big thanks to them for making this happen.

“For the people of Sunraysia and Mildura to have a tram up here is pretty incredible, and we are delighted that they accepted our tender, which has given us the responsibility to look after it from now on.”

Ms Luehman said that SRS will be doing some minor rectification works to the tram.

“It’s in good condition, and we’re very happy with how it is, although there are a few parts that were removed and used to restore some heritage trams, and so we will be buying up some spare parts and we’ve identified where we can source those,” she said.

“We will keep it in its original condition, and so any parts that we replace will be authentic, and we don’t want it painted, it’s to remain as it is – an iconic Victorian tram.”

Ms Luehman said that as a social enterprise, SRS always aims to engage all their people.

“It’s about providing employment and positive outcomes for people with disabilities and so we will give them every opportunity to be involved in this project,” she said. “I’d like to think that the project will be completed by December. I am hoping that we can have our first coffee on board by then!” 

In advance of the tram arriving, a concrete foundation slab was laid, together with some tracks which sit either side of the tram’s wheels.

“Once we had finished the foundation, we let the government department know it was complete, and then it was organised for the tram to be shipped to Mildura,” Ms Luehman said.

“They only gave us one week’s notice that it was coming. I’d actually visited the Newport Railway Workshops where the trams are being stored, and there were what looked like hundreds of trams in there. 

“It was amazing. They were in different states of disrepair and ours was at the front, and so they were keen for us to take delivery as soon as possible.”

SRS projects and farm manager, Michael Marks, said that the tram represented a really good community project.

“We look forward to people coming out for a free ‘ride’ on the tram when it’s all up and running,” he said. “Already people have been stopping as they drive past to see what’s happening, so it will become a focal point and destination for locals and visitors alike.” 

The government allocated each of the trams to the respective organisations, and SRS ended up with the number ‘88’ tram.

According to the records, the 88 was the ‘City to East Preston’ route, which was first operated on June 26, 1955, until May 17, 1983.

Whether this was the actual route this tram travelled isn’t known for sure.