A donation of 434 black and white negatives was received by the library in 1983 from Mr A. E. Smith, Deputy Librarian of the National Library of New Zealand and a keen tram and train enthusiast.

Trams travelling through the Camberwell Junction, Camberwell; H83.156/32

Smith visited Victoria between December 1966 and February 1967 to join tours organised by the Association of Railway Enthusiasts and the Australian Railway Historical Society. He travelled with these enthusiast groups through Melbourne and some suburbs, as well as regional Victoria, taking photographs of trams and trains.

Along with the images, Mr Smith provided notes about the date and location of each photograph and some information about the models of trams and trains. These were a great help when Library staff went about cataloguing the collection.

Scanning negatives

The sequence of negatives began with images of the city streets and an impressive shot of Flinders Street Station.

Views of the entrance to Flinders Street railway station, Melbourne; H83.156/16

With the help of our photographers, the negatives were scanned to reveal beautiful black and white images of trams and trains travelling on suburban and regional routes in Victoria during the mid-1960s. 

Staff member selecting negative for digitsation

The negatives were received as separate squares rather than in strips. The negatives were individually housed in archival plastic pockets and labelled with unique accession numbers by the Preservation team. 

Placing the negative in the scanner holder

Each negative was individually scanned with the ‘Flextight’ scanner which has a specific holder to scan negatives.

The scanned image is adjusted for maximum detail in highlights and shadows using the scanning software to produce the best possible photographic reproduction of the original negative. The final scan is then saved as a high-resolution file (TIFF) ready for linking to the catalogue record as shown in the example below.

W-class trams travelling through junction at Elizabeth Street and Flemington Road, Melbourne.
W-class trams travelling through junction at Elizabeth Street and Flemington Road, Melbourne. H83.156/4

Cataloguing images

The high-resolution scans enabled detailed viewing of each image to assist with the identification of tram and train models, street names, building names and churches. A total of 158 catalogue records were created to cover the 434 images. Catalogue records included creator, title, date, description, research information, copyright status and subject headings.

In viewing the collection, it was obvious that the images captured many different classes and models of trams and trains, including:

  • ‘W-class’ trams travelling through the city and suburb
  • special ‘scrubber’ maintenance trams used to clean the tram lines
  • second-hand trams running on the Ballarat and Bendigo lines
  • old ‘red rattler’ Tait trains with separate ‘Smoking and ‘Non-Smoking’ compartments
  • upgraded blue ‘Harris’ trains travelling on suburban lines
  • steam and electric locomotives
  • parcel and freight trains
  • ‘Walker’ diesel railmotors used for longer train journeys
  • ‘Puffing Billy’ steam locomotives and various passenger carriages
Researching and cataloguing the image

It was important to add this information to the catalogue records for quick and easy identification when searching. In addition to the notes and dates supplied by the donor, considerable detective work was required to identify and confirm the specific classes of trams and trains shown. Staff referred to many websites including the Melbourne Tram Museum, Bendigo Tramways, Ballarat Tramway Museum and Victorian Railways for past train models and years of operation.

Electric locomotive at Flinders Street railway station Melbourne; H83.156/143

Staff used street view on Google Maps to track and identify tram and train routes, specific locations and the location of significant buildings seen in the background.

Location and street research

By matching the same ‘Street View’ orientation of the tram/train in the image, it was possible to identify the location, prominent buildings and street names as shown below.

Trams travelling through the intersection at Sturt Street and Lydiard Street, Ballarat, Victoria; H83.156/222

To utilise the full potential of the images for other types of reference/research work, specific information was also recorded for streets and intersections, railway stations, churches, cemeteries, heritage buildings, vintage adverting signs and even early model cars – not just trams and trains!

D class steam locomotive with Tait carriages at the Spencer Street railway station, Melbourne; H83.156/156

This was an enjoyable collection to work on as the images not only portrayed the different classes of trams and trains travelling through Melbourne and country Victoria, but also captured a time when life was simpler. 

What was seen behind and around the trams and trains was equally interesting and revealing.  Old buildings no longer standing, the tram stop at the corner milk bar, neon advertising signs in Camberwell and St Kilda, policeman directing traffic at intersections such as Flinders and Swanston streets and Camberwell Junction and kids hanging out the sides of the ‘Puffing Billy’ railway carriages.

You can view the complete collection of Smith’s trams and trains online

Written by Liz Balogh, former Image Access Library Technician, Collection Digitisation.

This article has 4 comments

  1. A great collection, with much documentation of streetscapes and architecture as a bonus.

  2. Congratulations, magnificent work.

  3. Absolutely wonderful Love it

  4. Great to see means of Transport from yesteryear.

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