The Art of Trams

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We live in Melbourne, which is a town of trams.

And trams are their own special space.

The thing about trams is they are eccentric to look at. They are train-like, but they are shorter, they run in the middle of roads, they are connected to the tracks they run on, they make squealing, grinding noises as they make their way around the city.

They are dangerous. Individuals who have been hit by them have come off second best. The government has an advertising campaign that involves a rhino on a skateboard to illustrate the weight and danger of a moving tram.

Trams are both historic and future oriented. They are emblematic of the city and much cursed by those who live in the city.

And that’s just their appearance.

Like all public transport, the tram is a democratic space. All kinds of individuals travel by tram, and we are all seated – side by side – on this odd, skateboard-riding rhino that rampages through our city streets.

This is where the true art happens.

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On any given tram ride, the following can (and has) happened:

  • the sudden movement of the tram (often unpredictable) catapults an elderly man into the side of the tram. The tram is held up and waits for an ambulance while fellow passengers – strangers to the elderly man and each other – remove parts of their clothing to bind his head, to make him comfortable
  • a passenger – possibly high on something – sits at the back of the tram and shout-whispers variously: ‘I hate myself’, ‘you’re all going to die’, ‘the world’s about to end’. Three seats down, a mother is teaching her child to spell using the billboard the tram slides past
  • a local singing teacher asks all fellow passengers within earshot to join her choir. Many join
  • a young girl is openly sexually harassed by an older man. No one does anything to stop it
  • the football crowd, wearing their teams’ colours, find instant friendships on the journey to the game, and equally grief and joy on the way back
  • a man in a cowboy hat and thongs entertains fellow passengers with ‘Copperhead Road’

I love trams. I have been inspired on them, and I have felt genuine fear too.
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It’s like a whole life every forty minutes.


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