Bendigo Tramways

Peter Abbott

Chief Executive Officer, Bendigo Heritage Attractions

Bendigo Heritage Attractions

76 Violet Street Bendigo Victoria Australia 3550

Bendigo, Australia

Museums Australia (Victoria) Award for Medium Museums 2017


Bringing The Community Along For The Ride


Bendigo's earliest communities were the Dja Dja Wurrung peoples who, for thousands of years, used the Bendigo region to develop a strong link to the land that continues today through their continued and renewed roles in being custodians of the region's landscape.
With European settlement in the mid-19th Century, Bendigo soon become one of the world's greatest goldfields, yielding around 700,000 kilograms between 1851 and 1954.

Tramways Part of the Community
The Bendigo Tramways first operated in 1890 as a battery-powered service. They were quickly replaced by horse-drawn, then steam-powered trams until 1903, when an electric service was introduced. They proved to be a great success until the 1960s and 70s when trams services in most cities of Australia and regional Victoria were progressively being closed as cars/buses were seen as the future. In 1972 it was announced that after many years of being run down, the final tram service in Bendigo would operate.

This did not sit well with the Bendigo community and an active campaign began to save the Bendigo Trams. This included a form of civil disobedience by the founders of BHA that included some members sneaking into the Bendigo tram depot to weld the trams to the tracks, parking vehicles in front of the tram depot doorways to ensure the government understood Bendigonians were serious about "Saving OUR Trams".


When the last government tram service operated, 20,000 people (out of a city population of 40,000) lined the streets, demanding that the trams be retained. The government quickly agreed to a two-year trial of a "Talking Tram" to provide a commentary to tourists on a reduced, refocused tram service.

Now the Bendigo Tramways Depot is the oldest operating tram depot in Australia and is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. The "trial service" has operated now for 46 years and was awarded the 2016 Australian Tourism Award - Best Cultural Heritage Attraction, along with the 2016 Museums Australia Mid-Sized Museums Award for our Tram 7 project.

Bringing Back Tram 7
One of the trams that was operating in the last stages of the government service was Tram 7.
In the 1980's the tourist talking tram fleet ballooned to unsustainable levels and often the core Bendigo heritage tram fleet suffered as scarce resources were allocated to trams that were the easiest to keep running.

In 2015, a major review of BHA operations was instigated by the local government when cash flow issues arose due to unexpected costs associated with tram infrastructure.
The BHA Board re-established the Bendigo Tram Committee with the task of focusing on our future fleet investments aligned to ensuring our Bendigo heritage trams were the priority to restore and operate. We needed to ensure that our focus of operations was to operate "Bendigo's trams" rather than operating any tram that looked old.

Like all strong curatorial plans, much of the attraction of the museums is the core reason why the museum was established. BHA Board approved the updated Tram Fleet Plan which included plans that prioritised the tramsrs" restoration to operating condition.
Tram 7 emerged as the priority Bendigo heritage linked tram to completely rebuilt.

Community Engagement and Long Term Support
It was determined quite early that for a fundraising campaign to work we needed to re-capture the 1972 spirit and passion for our Bendigo trams.

The use of crowd-sourced funding was selected as the preferred method to capture the community's passion. The crowd-sourced funding method also supported the strong visual history we held in our archives that showed Tram 7 operating in the streets of Bendigo.
Most heritage bodies have staff/volunteers who are passionate about the custodian roles they play in operating heritage attractions. Our Tram 7 Crowd Sourced campaign would grasp this passion and deliver a quirky but informative pitch to seek partners with our restoration of Tram 7. The resulting Video was a great success.

Certainly, the commemorative Tramways Beer was a way to grab the attention of a new younger audience and ensure we had a wide range of supporting media coverage.
A three-month campaign operated with a range of media activity targeted to keep the momentum of the project going across this period. Through the campaign, the Tram 7 supporting video was viewed more than 60,000 times and was the basis of creating an engaged community that wanted the project to succeed.

With an initial target of $30,000, the final campaign outcome saw more than 200 supporters donating over $40,000 to our restoration campaign that reached a new, younger audience and renewed their appreciation for the history and significance of trams in Bendigo.
BHA now had a social contract with the 200 partners in this project plus the community - a launch had been locked in for November 2017, and we were reluctant to not live up to our promises by saying: "Sorry it is worse than what we thought" and have to cancel or postpone the project.

Through the restoration process a range of video updates were provided to the community as the tram began to take shape. We viewed this as a positive way for us to communicate the level of rare trade skills that our workshop maintains.


The Tram 7 project has provided us with many new and updated systems to better plan for future major rebuilds. The project timeline template is being used for other tram projects to ensure that we have a better estimate of labour and materials costs, plus build timelines that can be scheduled in amongst our other workshop projects.

Tram 7 was successfully launched in November 2017. By far the highlight of the day was to see families riding out of the depot on Tram 7's debut trip and experience this beautiful piece of Bendigo's living history.

Judges comments in winning the Museums Australia (Victoria) Award summed up the outcomes well: "How much fun is this? The crowdfunding video says it all, and most importantly shows just how much fun the team at Bendigo Tramways had doing it. Proactive, brave and inclusive - they took a risk with crowd funding, embraced the technology and utilised social media to get the community on board. It all works, demonstrating that a strong vision, good planning and great storytelling is a winning formula."

Particular thanks should go to BHA Marketing and Product Development Team plus all the Tramways crew for getting on board.

More Projects On the Way
Our business model for the workshop is to continue to provide strong curatorial decisions based on the management of our own world-significant Bendigo tram fleet.

Our workshop skills are known and well regarded on a world stage. While Tram 7 was being reborn, Bendigo Tramways Workshop signed its largest ever tram restoration contract ($7m) with the Victorian State Government.

With the current $7million contract, plus a further $6.5m of prospective contracts on our contract register, the expected surpluses from external contracts are directed back into our own heritage tram fleet and network, bringing more of Bendigors"s heritage trams back in service.




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