When North Perth was officially named as a suburb in 1901, it was positioned on the outskirts of Perth and surrounded by bushland north of the city. Many of the roads outside the established Woodville and Toorak estates were still bush tracks. Walking, bicycles and horse and buggy were the most common forms of transport for early local residents of North Perth and other local areas.
The railway line that opened in 1881 between Fremantle and Perth, and extended onwards to the settlement of Guildford, was located some distance away. By 1891, nine trains per day travelled between Perth and Fremantle and was the main catalyst for suburban growth in suburbs such as Subiaco and Claremont. Encouraging the developments of suburbs such as North Perth that were some distance from the railway, would require an alternative form of public transport that could affordably carry the residents to work and leisure activities.
Perth’s Electric Trams
Trams in Perth predated the railway line by two years, with Perth Electric Tramways Ltd, a British company, commencing operations in 1899. The first tram route in Perth ran 4.8km through the city from near where the WACA is now located, along Hay Street, finishing at Thomas Street in West Perth. 17.25 miles (27.8km) of tramway tracks were planned to be laid within the boundaries of the City, radiating out from Perth city. The main purpose of the tram routes was to transport people from their homes in the suburbs to work in the city.
North Perth’s population boom
Between 1895-1935, North Perth saw substantial growth in population, who needed dependable public transport to take them between the suburb and the city. The West Australian reported in 1906 that
During the past twelve months 137 new buildings have been erected. Most of them are neat, substantial residences, which have cost between £300 and £500; but the most notable addition to the architecture of the municipality is a row of three two storey.shops in Fitzgerald street, which cost about £3,000…The present year will also be marked by an extension of the tramway service. A start with this work is to be made in April, and by December the trams should be running as far as the intersection of Fitzgerald Street and Forrest Street.
The extension of the tram line can be viewed as one of the factors leading to rapid growth in North Perth. While only 12 per cent of the suburb had been built on in 1904, by 1911 36 per cent was developed.
Trams for work and play
After the main city tram route was established, the North Perth route via Bulwer and Fitzgerald Streets was opened in 1900.
Trams were not only used to get the residents of North Perth to work, they were also popular for shopping trips to the big Perth stores such as Bon Marche, Aherns and Boans. Passengers could travel into the city then catch other tram routes onwards to leisure locations such as Perth Zoo, Crawley Baths and Nedlands Baths on the Swan River, the Cricket at the WACA, football at Subiaco oval and Leederville oval and the ‘trots’ – harness racing at today’s Gloucester Park.
Campaigning for extension
Around 1909, North Perth residents around Angove St began campaigning Council for an extension to the tram routes along Fitzgerald and Angove Street. Their work came to fruition when the Fitzgerald Street line was extended to the corner of Angove and Albert streets. When the extension was officially opened in March 1910, it was done so with some fanfare. Around 700 local children were given tram rides from the North Perth to Nedlands and back throughout the day. At the end of the ride, they were treated with confectionery pastries and other treats and given a souvenir card commemorating the opening day of the tram line extensions.
The West Australian Newspaper reported on Page 3 of its March 24 1910 edition:
Whilst the young folk were away a number of ladies and gentlemen assembled in the State school grounds when the Mayor (Mr. R. A. Gamble) said that he was very pleased that the extensions had been completed. He recognised that the service would be of distinct advantage to North Perth, and, like the Government, the Council were looking out for settlers. He would have liked to see the extension … carried more westward…but they had to be satisfied at present with what they had. He hoped that in the near future the service would be extended to Charles street.
There was a strong opinion among officials attending the opening that the population of the district would increase as a result of this extended public transport access, and this certainly seemed to come true. By 1921, North Perth Primary School had become the state’s largest primary school. By 1927, the final extension of the tram line to Charles St was completed.
Decline of the tramlines
The Great Depression that started in 1929 had similar effects in Perth as in many other places. Due to high unemployment, fewer people could afford a tram fare and passenger number
declined. After years of steadily increasing use of the trams, there was a sudden and steep decrease after 1930.
With World War II swiftly following on the heels of the depression, several more factors came together to bring Perth’s tramways into decline. An aging fleet and infrastructure, and years of deferred maintenance to save money, were all compounded by heavy use during the war years. The late Geoffrey Bolton, eminent local historian, commented on the state of the trams in the City of Vincent publication Our Town (2007).
The tram service was about every eight minutes and it was supposed to be a bit more frequent at rush hours. As no doubt everyone tells you, people on the 22 line felt discriminated against because we got the little cars – the rattlers – and the ‘silver tails’ up in Mount Lawley and Inglewood on the 18 and 19 routes, they got the big trams. One or two of the big trams even had leather seats. The trouble with the little trams was that during the War because of the danger of flying glass, they took the windows out of them. So they were draughty as well as a bit noisy. You could pull the blind down but it was still quite a bit exciting.
Disruptive technology – flexible diesel buses
Around the end of World War II, diesel buses became more widely available. With their flexibility of routes and the fact that they only needed a driver to operate, they were a cheaper alternative to rehabilitating the trams and lines. With the formation of the Metropolitan Transport Trust in 1957, it was determined that all tram services would cease operation by mid-1958.
North Perth’s route 22 was officially closed on 1 February 1958. Marching girls marked the occasion, with a performance on Fitzgerald street. The tram route was immediately replaced by the number 22 bus running along the same route. Just a few months later in July, Perth’s final tram ran to Barrack Street. The story below from the State Library of WA giving an idea of the sense of occasion on the day.
Will North Perth’s trams ever run again?
In recent years, the concept of trams as an affordable form of public transport has again been introduced. Since the start of 2007, there have been four proposals for the reintroduction of trams or light rail, to the Perth metropolitan area. While the Barnett government’s Metro Area Express plan of 2010 has been shelved, new technology such a trackless train being explored by Curtin University could see a tram network reintroduced in the future. It’s yet to be seen if North Perth’s route 22 rattlers will have a new life!
Resources and Credits:
A Brief History of the Suburb of North Perth
City of Vincent Local History Centre
Perth Electric Tramway Society
State Library of Western Australia
Subiaco Thematic History Framework