The Flying Tram

The flying tram was the centrepiece of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony.

The Flying Tram at the MCG

The Flying Tram at the MCG, dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, 13 March 2006.
Copyright: M2006/Museum Victoria

Flying a W-class tram with big feathery wings into the MCG was one of the earliest and most enduring ideas for the Opening Ceremony. Organisers worked hard to keep it a secret, calling it the ‘Spring Roll’ to conceal its identity.

The idea of a flying tram came from Fremantle-based designer and artist Andrew Carter. Andrew designed the stage and bridge that provided the set for the Opening Ceremony, as well as this key prop for the second segment of the Opening Ceremony, Welcome to the MCG.

Building the Flying Tram

The Ceremonies Design Team used original W-Class tram plans to develop the body shape, and photographs taken on the street to set the colours and details such as the style for the destination indicator above the windscreen. When seen close-up the colours of the Flying Tram appear lighter than those of a real tram, but on television under the lights of the Ceremony, they appeared to match the real colours.

The tram is 12 metres long, three metres wide and weighs 1.8 tonnes, making it roughly three metres shorter than a real tram and several tons lighter. The weight of the tram had to be kept down so that it could be ‘flown’ into the MCG on a steel cable. The maximum safe working load of the cable was two tons. The chassis is constructed from aluminium tubing and clad with plywood. The finish is made from materials such as foam, painted to look solid. The wheels are sections cut from sheets of rubber. The running boards on the sides of the tram are just as solid as they look – steel, so that performers could step safely out of the tram and on to the stage.

The tram body was made in Perth, by Plumb Engineering, in late 2005 and early 2006. It arrived in Melbourne by truck just three weeks before the Opening Ceremony, and was taken to Laverton for testing, where the rehearsals for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies were being held. 

The tram’s wings were made in Melbourne by puppet-maker and head of the Melbourne 2006 Ceremonies workshop, Al Martinez, and his team. They constructed steel wing frames to which they attached 34 feathers. The feathers are made from centimetre-thick sheets of polyethylene foam attached to fibreglass rods. The wings have a wing span of 18 metres when fully extended.

During the Opening Ceremony, the tram landed over two trapdoors in the stage. Cloth-covered openings in the floor of the tram were pulled back so that 120 ‘citizens of Melbourne’ could secretly enter the tram then spill from its doors like passengers.

Installing the Tram in the Melbourne Museum

As soon as the tram left the stage during the Opening Ceremony, its wings were removed and it was placed on a specially-made trailer and taken out of the MCG. The trailer was connected to a low-loading tow truck – the same sort often used to move real trams when they break down. The tram then began its journey to the Melbourne Museum.

Ironically, the tram was delayed en route for about two hours when one of the trailer’s wheels became caught in tram tracks on Victoria Street, north of the MCG. Victoria Police and Vic Roads staff arrived quickly, and had their photos taken with the newly-famous prop, while they awaited tools to get the tram moving again.

The tram came up Nicholson Street, and arrived at the Melbourne Museum about midnight. Museum staff attached the tram and its trailer to an all-terrain forklift to move it across the gardens and through the playground area on the Eastern side of the building.

The tram then had to be removed from its trailer to be moved into the Museum. Three forklifts were used in combination to lift the tram. The tram is fitted with lifting points so that it could be flown into the MCG, and these were used in combination with slings on the base of the tram to keep it steady while the tram was lifted off its trailer and placed on low, wheeled platforms (known as dollies) to move it through the building.

The most difficult part of the process was moving the tram through a set of large glass doors on the ground floor of the Museum. The doors had not been used since the building was opened in 2000. The doors had to be taken off their hinges before the tram could squeeze through the opening, with barely centimetres to spare.

Once the tram was in the foyer it was lifted again and the dollies were removed. Then the wings were refitted and it was wired to get electrical power to the flashing lights on the sides.

And all this was done well before 10am on Thursday 16 March, when the Museum opened to the public.

The Flying Tram in the foyer of the Melbourne Museum

The Flying Tram in the foyer of the Melbourne Museum.
Copyright: M2006/Museum Victoria

The Flying Tram was displayed in the foyer of the Melbourne Museum from 16 March to 23 July 2006. During this time other icons from the Opening Ceremony were displayed in the Touring Hall of the Melbourne Museum as part of the Spirit of the Games exhibition. This exhibition captured the excitement of the Ceremony and revealed many of the secrets behind the spectacle.

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