In search of ‘Snowy on the tram’

Years ago, not long after I started my first full-time job as a journalist, my boss dropped an expression into the conversation that I’d never heard before: “Snowy on the tram”.

He used it in the sense of “even Snowy on the tram” has heard that, or knows that. I imagined Snowy as a not particularly well informed individual, spending most of his time, as he did, in transit. He’s kind of an average fella, and not especially bright or curious.

In this sense he’s a bit like Blind Freddy, Fred Nerk, Joe Blow, Joe Bloggs, Joe Average, or John Citizen. He doesn’t ask many questions. So for Snowy on the Tram to know something, it must be pretty damn obvious, or have been widely promulgated.

Recently I asked the Macquarie Dictionary whether there was any reference to Snowy in their records.

The answer was affirmative: researcher Susan Butler found some evidence that Snowy on the Tram is (or was) a Melbourne term for “the average bloke”.

There was this reference from the Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922–1954) Wednesday May 4, 1949 p.12 article:

“Those who won the distance events at Stawell this year, also had to survive the fight. Everyone, except ‘Snowy’ on the Ballarat tram, saw one runner deliberately punch another man and effectively ruin the victim’s chances of winning a Stawell mile. The crudity of the act must have blinded officials. There was a time when scientific elbowing in packed distance fields was an accepted fact. It was cleverly done and …”

And this from the Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922–1954) Saturday, January 6, 1951 p.10 article:

“But when the Austral comes around even ‘Snowy’ on the trams knows there’s something big going on. Public interest responds to that magical name – Austral. There’s a wealth of tradition behind the race. Inaugurated in 1886 as an amateur event it become a professional event in 1890.”

In 1984 there was a horse called Snowy on the Tram that enjoyed a measure of success.

But since then, nothing.

On this most Australian of days I’m calling on my fellow Melburnians to bring back into use this charming expression. Next time the conversation takes a turn where you feel the need to reference Blind Freddy or Joe Blow, name-check old Snowy on the tram instead.

Thanks to Macquarie Dictionary for the generous help in researching the term, and to Andrew Johnstone for introducing me to it in 1994.

8 thoughts on “In search of ‘Snowy on the tram’

  1. Melinda April 25, 2016 / 3:53 am

    Snowy is not a term I recall from my Melbourne days. I was more of a train traveller than a tram person. My first thought of Snowy wad perhaps he was a friend of Scott Neville (Scot no friends Never will) So I thought Snowy was another loner. Got Snow friends ie Snowy. Anyhow that’s my thoughts.. Lol 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matthew S. Dillon April 25, 2016 / 7:05 am

      That’s very clever Melinda! I imagine Snowy as a bit of a loner too, but perhaps by choice. I also think of him as an older chap, whereas my partner Lucy thinks he’s definitely a younger man.


      • Graham Matheson June 16, 2019 / 10:56 pm

        I came up with,you’ll be in more shit than Werribee the ninties.Ive Herd several people use the phrase.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Darren sweetnam April 25, 2016 / 7:30 am

    Mmm I have another take, remember the old Paul hogan character the wino , who used to toddle around the streets to the theme of the sting? Well there used to be an old bloke just like that who would get around the streets of my home town many years ago, we used to affectionately know him as “snowy”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matthew S. Dillon April 26, 2016 / 7:10 am

      I wonder if he was the same Snowy Darren?
      You know, I noticed one of the characters from Gallipoli was called Snowy, and I think that it was a popular nickname for very blond or white-haired Aussie men early last century, a bit like “Bluey” was for ginger-haired fellows.


      • Darren sweetnam April 26, 2016 / 1:30 pm

        Yes Matthew it was a popular name when I was growing up. Enjoying your Articles ,keep it up cheers!


  3. Andrew Johnstone April 25, 2016 / 10:49 am

    Should I see him in my travels MSD, I’ll be sure to send him your way.

    Liked by 1 person

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