A sporting past (alias a fishy story)

The former Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board (MMTB) once had a very strong network of social clubs, like so many other large government and industrial organisations. In the 1960s tramway employees could participate in clubs dedicated to table tennis, golf, cricket, bowls, angling and Australian Rules football, most of the clubs associated with one or another of the traffic depots. For those more inclined to play music, there was always the Melbourne Tramways Band, which is still operating today. Without fail, the activities of these clubs were reported in each issue of the Board’s in-house magazine, MMTB News [1].

There were at least three tramways angling clubs active during this period, associated with Port Melbourne [2], Malvern and North Fitzroy [3] depots respectively. The activities of the last club were first reported in the January 1967 issue of the MMTB News. This was no doubt the result of the bus drivers moving to North Fitzroy depot after the closure of Port Melbourne depot; an outcome of a long industrial battle. Unfortunately, the environment in which the social clubs operated was not insulated from the industrial tensions of the time.

Annual social and presentation night. Source: MMTB News, May-June 1965. Annual social and presentation night. Back row, left to right: J. McCartney, J. Booth, Hawkins, R. Dalglish, J. Sunberg, C. Young, J. Ciantar. Front row: N. Gordon, A.Roberts, Mr Brennan, G. Shipworth, A. Russell.
Source MMTB News, May-June 1965.

The principle reports on the angling clubs centred on the most active of the three, the Port Melbourne Tramways Social Angling Club. The July-August 1966 edition of MMTB News notes:

“Despite the closure of the Port Melbourne Depot, our Club is still going to function and permission has been given to retain our name.”

The dispute over the replacement of two man crews with single man operation on the Bulleen-Garden City and Fisherman’s Bend bus routes operated by Port Melbourne depot took place for over a year during 1965 and 1966. Although the Australian High Court upheld the MMTB’s right to operate the buses with one-man crews in December 1965, the union (Australian Tramway & Motor Omnibus Employees’ Association) banned bus operation on the Port Melbourne routes. To break the log-jam of industrial action, in March 1966 the State Minister of Transport directed the MMTB to reinstate the two-man bus roster, caving-in to the union blackmail. A reduced level of services resulted for a while until the closure of Port Melbourne depot some four months later [4]. Responsibility for operation of the Port Melbourne routes was then transferred to the much larger North Fitzroy depot.

The 1965 Nambucca Heads catch. Source: MMTB News, August-September 1965. The 1965 Nambucca Heads catch. From left to right: N. Gordon, G. Shipworth, C.Young, R. Dalglish, J. McCartney, F. Foster.
Source MMTB News, August-September 1965. Photograph A. Roberts.

The Port Melbourne-based club frequently travelled to various fishing hotspots, such as Phillip Island, only to be thwarted by the weather on occasions. The major event of each year was the interstate trip to Nambucca Heads. The August / September 1965 issue of MMTB News reported on the trip where some 200kg of fish, mainly snapper, were caught. The previous year’s trip was even better when a large 60lb black cod was caught by the President, Arthur Roberts. The writer of the item noted:

“It’s not absolutely necessary but it does help his authority and prestige when the President catches the biggest fish!”
The 60lb black cod caught during the 1964 Nambucca Heads trip. Source: MMTB News, September 1964. The 60lb (27kg) black cod caught during the 1964 Nambucca Heads trip of the Port Melbourne Angling Club.
Source MMTB News, September 1964.

Amongst the regular activities was an annual social and presentation night where trophies for such awards as the aggregate catch, the heaviest fish, heaviest individual catch and a booby prize. Unfortunately they don’t tell us why the booby prize was awarded. Other activities showing the family / social nature of the tramways at the time was the club’s annual picnic. The 1965 event was held at Heany Park, Rowville, (then in Melbourne’s far outer suburbia) where two buses were used to transport the 60 people who attended. The lake swimming pool was judged to be very popular with those attending.

The MMTB News took care to report these social sporting bodies, along with other clubs such as the Photo Club. This fostered the various clubs’ activities and made the tramway employees part of a cohesive group; a clear indication of the importance of organised employer-based social activities of the time, and a feature of life that has virtually disappeared from the Australian milieu.


[1] MMTB News was published from August 1964 to August 1967.

[2] After the closure of the Port Melbourne cable tram line, Port Melbourne depot operated and maintained buses from December 1937 until it was closed in July 1966.

[3] North Fitzroy bus depot was sold as part of the Kennett government privatisations of government public transport to National Bus, now a subsidiary of Ventura Bus Lines.

[4] pp93 & 94, Time-line History of Melbourne’s Government Cable and Electric Trams and Buses, George et al, 1997, Association of Railway Enthusiasts, Melbourne.


  • Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (1964-67), MMTB News
  • George et al (1997) Time-line History of Melbourne’s Government Cable and Electric Trams and Buses, Association of Railway Enthusiasts, Melbourne