Tailor made: uniform production at Hawthorn Depot

The Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board ran our trams from 1919 to 1983. Despite being a government authority, it had a strong corporate identity and image. Even today, there are many reminders of its existence – the initials M.M.T.B. still appear on buildings, manhole covers and roadside furniture.

An essential element of its corporate image was the appearance of its employees. From its founding, the drivers, conductors and inspectors of the M&MTB were outfitted in uniforms of a quasi-military style. The wearing of uniforms underlined the authority of its staff over the travelling public, with the aim of a sense of respect and obedience derived directly from the Board’s role as a State Government body. Quality uniforms also added to employee morale, engendering a deep sense of ownership and commitment of the staff to the Board.

However, in the early days of World War II the M&MTB was facing a minor crisis. In 1938 its previous supplier – the Commonwealth Clothing Factory – had ceased making its uniforms. Alternate commercial suppliers were unsatisfactory, both with respect to clothing quality and promptness of supply. The scarcity inherent in a wartime economy only made the uniform situation worse, as most clothing manufacturers were focused on military contracts rather than meeting the relatively small volumes required by the M&MTB.

Driver Alan Dacey, Conductress Dot Rango and Depot Starter 

            Ben Opie at Preston Depot in 1964, all in M&MTB uniform. M&MTB official photographL to R Driver Alan Dacey, Conductress Dot Rango and Depot Starter Ben Opie at Preston Depot in 1964, all in M&MTB uniform.
M&MTB official photograph.

In addition, the consolidation of staff into the new head office building in September 1937 [1] left the M&MTB with a number of vacant buildings. Many of these properties were sold, but this was not an option for the former Hawthorn Tramways Trust offices, as they were incorporated into the fabric of the Hawthorn Depot building which was still used as a running tram depot.

Subsequently, the M&MTB decided to establish its own clothing factory, operating out of the unoccupied offices at Hawthorn Depot, opening on 20 May 1940. Only a little over a year later it made the uniforms for the first Melbourne conductresses. Many favourable comments were made by the contemporary press regarding the stylish appearance of the uniforms.

In its early years, the uniform factory also produced uniforms for the police, Victorian Railways and the Federal Attorney-General’s department. Shirts, overcoats, trousers and skirts were all produced at Hawthorn Depot, ensuring that the traffic staff of the Board had a neat and impressive appearance.

For more than four decades the Tailoring Section fulfilled the uniform requirements of Melbourne’s tramway system, making thousands of garments each year. One of the enduring traditions for new recruits was the trip out to Hawthorn Depot to be fitted with a brand new tailored uniform.

The 

            Tailoring Section workroom at Hawthorn Depot in 1965. M&MTB official photographThe Tailoring Section workroom at Hawthorn Depot in 1965. The unmistakeable arched windows of the upper story of the Depot building face onto Wallen Road. Foreman E. Neville is standing between two of the machinists.
M&MTB official photograph.

It was only with the corporatisation of Melbourne’s public transport system that the Tailoring Section became uncompetitive. Like many other parts of the formerly vertically integrated tramway operator, uniform manufacture was contracted out, and the Tailoring Section was closed, ending a small part of Melbourne’s tram history.

The clothing factory is now occupied by up-market residential apartments, converted during the redevelopment of Hawthorn Depot in 2002.

Bibliography

Kikkert, S. (2005), “Military Uniforms: The Psychological Dimension”, Australian Army Journal Autumn 2005 Vol II Number 2
M&MTB Annual Reports (1938-82)

Footnote

[1] The M&MTB Head Office Building at 616 Little Collins Street was designed by Alan G. Monsborough, architect of the Board. Although no longer occupied by the current Melbourne tramway operator, Yarra Trams, the name of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board still adorns the front of this under-appreciated building.