Arts Flashback

To celebrate Arts Victoria's 40th anniversary we've hit the archives
and uncovered some choice moments in the development of
Victoria's arts sector.

Click on the images below to view the stories and photo galleries, share them with others, and find out how Victoria grew to be the arts and cultural powerhouse it is today.

Painted tram by Mike Brown
Painted tram by Mike Brown


Transporting Art

Over lunch in January 1978 the then Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Irvin Rockman, and artist Clifton Pugh hatched an idea to paint Melbourne's trams for a public art project – and to brighten up the city. The scheme was backed by the Premier and Minister for the Arts, Rupert Hamer, and Transporting Art was introduced by the Ministry that year.


Six artists were initially commissioned – Clifton Pugh, Mike Brown, Andrew Southall, Les Kossatz, Sandra Leveson and Mirka Mora. Each was given a W Class tram and materials, and they more or less had free reign.

A base coat was painted by Tramways workmen at the Preston Depot and each tram took about a month to complete. Mirka Mora's was the first to hit the tracks. Erica McGilchrist chose to work the same hours as the men at the Preston Tramways workshop, starting with the 7.30am whistle and working a 12-hour day. Les Kossatz preferred to work alone and mostly at night.

The public reaction was so positive that another 10 artists were commissioned, and the scheme continued in various forms until 1993. Melburnians were soon requesting the trams to travel through their own suburbs, and the moving masterpieces garnered world-wide attention.

"Melbourne's trams painted by our leading artists is a scheme that can't be faulted. Waiting for trams from now on will become a chance to watch out for the latest art trends," commented The Age in 1978.

Columnist and critic (and chair of the Victorian Council for the Arts from December 1982 until October 1986) Phillip Adams wrote: "Melbourne has invented the mobile mural, the electric fresco. To fully grasp the originality of the notion, imagine waiting at a bus stop in Rome to take a ride on the Sistine ceiling".

In total 36 trams were painted by artists including Peter Corrigan, Craig Gough, Don Laycock, Gareth Sansom, Howard Arkley, John Nixon, Trevor Nicholls, Rosemary Ryan, Paul Mason, designer Stewart Merrett with painter Dennis Dunkinson, Lin Onus, Michael Leunig and Reg Mombassa, along with members from his band Mental as Anything.

The Transporting Art Project is currently featured in an exhibition, Trams: Moving Pictures, at the Old Treasury Building.

Share this milestone: