Shepparton journalist’s wild ride to Mansfield zoo

By Shepparton News

Here’s a little something you might not know about me: I grew up in Melbourne and have just marked my one-year anniversary as a Nine News Border North East reporter in Shepparton.

Aside from the more modest building heights and generally milder weather conditions, one of the main differences I notice between the Goulburn Valley and Melbourne CBD is the soundscape; chiefly, the lack of rattling trams.

While I can’t say I miss driving behind those street-hogging beasts all that much, I do occasionally long for that brassy ‘ding’ of a tram rolling past; for me, it’s the sound of childhood and rushing to get to school on time.

So, you can only imagine the rush of nostalgia I felt when I headed up to Mansfield Zoo to cover the arrival of its newest ‘resident’, a W5 Class tram.

The zoo applied for the retired tram five years ago, with the intention of converting it into a unique cafe.

A couple of weeks ago, the number 732 finally departed its home of three decades, the Newport Rail Depot, and was carefully towed up Maroondah Hwy on the back of a truck.

It was quite something to see the tram hauled into the zoo, hoisted into the air by heavy lifting equipment before it landed on a purpose-built concrete platform where it will undergo a transformation.

Mansfield Zoo owner Bronwen Wilson said she couldn't wait to see visitors sip on a coffee and take in the sights of the nearby meerkat enclosure and stunning High Country vistas.

“People can sit in a seat and think, ‘You know, I used to go to school on one of these many decades ago’,” Ms Wilson said, quickly adding with a laugh: “They can watch the meerkats, and of course the meerkats can watch them too.”

She described the tram as a “perfect distraction” from this year’s challenging summer of bushfires and the current pandemic, which has shut down the zoo to the public.

“We’re really thrilled, we’re really looking forward to it.”

After finishing filming this story for the television report, I got to have a bit of fun exploring the interior of the tram. A portal to the past, retro posters for Minties and “Sun, Sea and Sport” shampoo are plastered above row upon row of mahogany-brown leather seats. At the head of the tram car is the operator’s cab, fitted out with a little stool and gong that’s still working.

And you can bet I relished the opportunity to ring that bell, at least twice.

● Lexie Jeuniewic is a Nine News Border North East reporter.