By MICK ROBERTS ©
PUBLIC transport has moved forward in leaps and bounds since the late Lance Brown drove the Bulli railway bus in 1927.
Lance was one of the region’s first bus drivers and was prompted to reveal some of his memories in 2003, after my story in the Northern Leader newspaper on Joy Curran’s history book .
The book records the amazing life of her father, Ivo Bunker – Bulli’s first motor garage proprietor and his engineering wizardry.
Lance was 93 at the time of this interview, and went on to celebrate his 109th birthday in February 2019 before his death. He told me back in 2003 that he was given his first job driving a bus for the legendary Ivo Bunker at the age of 17.
“Ivo built an aluminium bus body on a T model Ford chassis and I drove it for him,” Lance said.
Nothing unusual about that, even though buses were as rare as hen’s teeth. But what really was unusual, was the fact Lance never had a driving license.
“At the time I didn’t have a license and one day I was at the (Bulli Railway) Station and a policeman named Terry Lyons said if you come here with the bus tomorrow without a license I will boot you up the backside,” he said.
The newly employed bus driver, in his regulation long white trench coat and cap, went back to tell his boss.
Ivo Bunker immediately wrote a letter to a “certain” high ranking Wollongong police officer, Lance recalled.
“I got on the Austinmer to Wollongong bus and handed the letter to this policeman and he wrote my license out and I caught the bus back home – Never had a driving test,” he said.
Describing the old bus, Lance said timber bench seats with cushions hugged the outside walls and when the weather was cold or wet, canvas blinds were pulled down to protect passengers from the elements.
Lance would either ferry the miners’ home after a shift from the station, or, in most cases, drop them off at either the Woonona Royal or Bulli Family Hotels so they could squeeze in a few middies before the pub closed at 6pm.
“The bus operated from Bulli Railway Station to anywhere in Bulli and Woonona, meeting all the trains and picking people up, as well as taking them to the train,” he said.
“I was driving the bus one day taking a passenger to Russell Street Woonona and the motor was ‘missing’. Often that was caused by a bit of copper wire coming off the bands and getting on the king plug.
“Sometimes by reviving the motor it would get rid of it, so I pulled the hand throttle down hard and the motor roared and blew up.
“I was sitting there covered in oil and the bus had to be towed home.”
Lance spent 18 months as Bulli’s railway bus driver before working at a variety of jobs, including a steelworker and coal miner, finally retiring as store manager of Bob Pollards Electrical Store in Wollongong in 1975.
Better known as “Bomber” in the sporting world where he excelled, Lance won several South Coast Championships in tennis, snooker, and in later years lawn and indoor bowls.
“They called me Bomber in the 1940s because of my powerful tennis serve, and the name stuck,” he said.
When interviewed in 2003, Lance said he rarely catches buses; he preferred the convenience of his car.
“These days I have to sit for a test for my license,” he said jokingly. “I was tested last week, and passed with flying colours.”
In his final years, Lance called the Illawarra Retirement Trust at Tarrawanna home. He died aged 109 on July 1 2019.
Prior to his death he was reportedly Australia’s second oldest living man.
© Copyright, Mick Roberts 2020
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