26 September 2009

Shooting Through--

Given Craig's recent excellent post about the Sydney Metro, wherein he discusses the city's need for some decent light rail, we decided to visit the Museum of Sydney. We haven't been yet, and they've got an exhibition all about Sydney's past glory: the Sydney tram system. The museum is in a beautiful building, with cool signage, and it's built on the site of the First Government House of Sydney. In fact, excavations have been done under the museum, and under sections of glass floor, Sydney's earliest surviving hand-hewn sandstone bricks, charcoal from a fire burnt centuries ago, broken dishes, early drains.

The museum, like every museum I've seen in Australia thus far, is excellent. They have a cool panoramic photograph of Sydney, sort of before and after. You can see how boring harbour looked before the Harbour Bridge, before the Opera House. They have an excellent little room dedicated to the conflict between MacArthur (a filthy scoundrel of a capitalist who wanted to make money his way and wasn't about to let any rule of law and order get in his way) and Bligh (a government man who wanted to create some freaking law and order to keep scoundrels like MacArthur from using prisoners as his personal slave labour-force). The Museum also has Jorn Utzon's Opera House proposal on display. From the front cover, you can see that Utzon already knew this building would be an icon; it's prophetic and amazing and eerie.

An exhibit about Glenn Murcutt's architecture had one of the coolest museum devices I've ever seen. The model is inside a glass box, and all of Murcutt's architectural drawing/notes, etc. are printed on the glass.

And Craig pretended he was a tram driver--

Later in the exhibit, we learned that Craig was really not wearing the appropriate tram driver uniform. A board showed the appropriate colours for all the trams during different periods.

And he wouldn't be allowed to just undress anywhere he wanted, which in Craig's book, is a dealbreaker for any job.

And, he'd have a speed limit. Now, we all know Craig zips faster than that on his bicycle, no electric power needed. I'm beginning to think tram-driving just isn't the right career for him.

A beautiful display of a tram mechanic's toolboard. I love how every slot is perfectly shaped to hold one specific tool. Someone sat down and figured out how to make all these bits fit into a square. It's lovely.

Sydney once had the second-largest tram system in the British empire, second only to London. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the trams died a slow death, victims of their own success and competition from the private car industry. Interestingly, MARTA is dying a similarly slow death, but, um, certainly not due to its success. At their peak, the Sydney trams were carrying a million people a day. By the end, there was a lot of bad PR about the trams; they were considered dangerous and loud; people thought they congested the city, though no one foresaw the hell of single-passenger traffic. On the last trip of a tramroute, people would walk behind the tram, filling the tracks with tar, to ensure the trams could never come back. These days that tar is wearing a bit thin, and you can see the old tracks peeking through the asphalt on the roads. And once the trams were finished, they were inexplicably burned. A few remain, a few were sold to private collectors, but the vast majority were burned to the ground.

Melbourne never got rid of its tram lines and they are clearly better than Sydney's noisy, smelly, always-late, always-busy, always-not-in-service bus system. Melbourne's trams are cheaper, faster, but they're not perfect. There aren't any dedicated tram lanes, so the trams often get stuck behind cars in traffic. Some people are working very hard to bring light rail back to Sydney, but to me, it feels like such a big idea, I can't see when or how it will ever happen. Then again, I have very bad vision; I'm extremely near-sighted. I blame my parents for my bad eyes; I hear when you get older, though, your eyes change and you become far-sighted. Maybe by then, Sydney will have solved this problem, and I'll be able to see solutions for everything else this city has to face.

After the museum, we stopped in to the old Customs House, and found a delightful miniature model of Sydney built under –wait for it– another glass floor! What's with that?

It made me wish we'd taken the family when they were here. Watching this little chicken scootch around pointing out random bits to her family, I felt a little homesick for my favourite scootchers.

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