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How a historic Australian tram found its way to the South Island’s largest city

Christchurch’s iconic trams trundle along the inner-city streets each day to the tune of knowledgeable conductors, who point out local sights and landmarks. The newest addition to Christchurch Attractions’ eye-catching fleet is Tram 1888 – an R-class tram from Sydney.

Built in 1934 and leased from the Sydney Tramway Museum, the tram started its life at the Fort Macquarie Depot – now the location of the Sydney Opera House. It was used on the city’s Watson’s Bay line until the Fort Macquarie Depot closed in 1955. It even received air raid precaution modifications (to minimise damage to window glass) during World War II.

From 1955 to 1960, the tram was shuffled around other depots in Sydney until the body was written off and sold to a tobacco farmer in New South Wales. Tram 1888 accommodated seasonal farm hands for 24 years until 1984, when the farmer donated the battered tram body to a local council that was interested in preserving and displaying a tram in its district.

The restoration effort involved removing hundreds of nails that had been hammered into the inside of the body for coat hooks, lantern holders and clotheslines. The tram was furnished with original R-class seats before being put on display in Bondi Junction for five years. In 1993, it entered storage for several years before the Sydney Tramway Museum took responsibility for it in 2000.

The museum shipped Tram 1888 to Bendigo, where it was restored to an operational level using electrical and mechanical equipment from Melbourne. A bottle of premium Bendigo red wine was sacrificed against the bumper during its relaunch.

In subsequent years, Tram 1888 was put on display in Melbourne, repainted and used on a tour around Melbourne’s tram system. In 2009, the Sydney Tramway Museum offered to lease Tram 1888 to Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology. It is now leased to Christchurch Attractions, after being shipped to the South Island in August 2017.

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