Ivo Bunker: Bulli’s engineering wizard

Ivo Bunker's Bulli Pass motor garage built in 1930 and demolished in 2010 to make way for an over-pass.
Ivo Bunker’s Bulli Pass motor garage built in 1930 and demolished in 2010 to make way for an over-pass.


a young Ivo Bunker
a young Ivo Bunker

PUT simply Ivo Bunker was an engineering genius.

From his workshop at the foot of Bulli Pass he made everything imaginable, from a kettle for his wife, to car parts, and even false teeth.

Born in 1888, Cecil Caleb Bunker became the legendary Bulli service station proprietor whose antics have become entrenched in local folklore.

The Bunker family shifted from Crookwell to Woonona in about 1905 in search of work. Industries such as coal mines, coke ovens, brick factories and railway yards dominated the landscape in the Bulli district and work was plentiful early last century.

Ivo, nicknamed after the famous English cricketer Ivo Bligh, developed an interest for engines, and did odd jobs in a large shed behind their Liddle Street home at Woonona.

After his marriage, he and his wife Alma opened a motor garage and mixed business near the corner of Railway St and the highway at Bulli in 1918. The garage was the first in the district and within two years, when his business expanded, he relocated to larger premises opposite the Bulli Hotel.

Ivo Bunker’s first garage was located on the highway, near the corner of Railway Street, before moving a little to the north in 1920. Picture: National Library of Australia
Ivo Bunker’s second garage was located a little north of his first, opposite the Bulli Family Hotel. Picture: Sydney Daily Telegraph 1927

Those premises remain, and continue to operate as a retail business today [2014].

Ivo in his Woonona workshop.
Ivo in his Woonona workshop.

Another first for Ivo was establishing of a bus run for the district. He fitted an open lorry in 1920 with wooden stools and later a steel frame with a canvas cover exclusively for South Bulli miners, but later expanded the service for the public. The bus’ horn became a familiar sound Between Bellambi and Bulli. By putting a ‘butterfly’ into the exhaust pipe he blew the horn with a wire hooked up to the cabin.

Ivo’s skills, manufacturing purpose built vehicles resulted in a Bulli Shire Council contract to replace their horse drawn sanitary vehicles with two motorised vans in 1926. Ivo can be credited with building the region’s first ‘dunny-trucks’.

The enterprising engineer also pioneered the local tourism industry when he started motorised tours to the famous Loddon Falls and Bulli lookouts. Bulli Pass was becoming increasingly popular with touring vehicles in the mid 1920s and as popularity grew, and more, and more cars visited the mountain, so did the amount of break-downs.

Ivo was already repairing vehicles that had over-heated on the steep mountain pass, and in a shrewd move he purchased a block on the Thirroul side of the foot of Bulli Pass in 1926. He built a shed, repairing vehicles on weekends and holidays. Mounting debt as a result of the main road detouring around Bulli shopping centre for six months while asphalt paving work, forced Ivo to move his business to Bulli Pass shed in 1929. He replaced the shed with a brick garage – demolished at the foot of Bulli Pass in 2010 – constructed from clay dug and fired from the site in 1935.

Before installing three electric petrol pumps he decided to make one himself as a novelty. People came for miles to see the pumps operate as did they a large landmark clock he built at the front of the garage.

Ivo Bunker
Ivo Bunker at his Bulli Pass service station.

Stranded motorists could wait days for parts from Sydney, so Ivo began making car parts himself. Constructing a cast from the old parts with Plaster of Paris he poured melted metal into a mould, and finished the replica off with a lathe. Customers would be on their way within a few hours.

When Ivo wanted new teeth during the depression he made an impression of his upper and lower teeth from wax and made a cast. He poured aluminium into the cast and the teeth and plate were all one piece. It was said he could bite a horse-shoe nail in half!

Possibly Ivo’s most notable feat was in answer to a challenge to make a two shilling coin. As a result he fronted Bulli Court House in 1930 on a counterfeiting charge, which was dismissed by the Magistrate after Ivo explained how the coins were not to be circulated and they contained more silver than the real thing. The story goes the entire Bulli Court House (including the Magistrate, police and solicitors) later met at Ivo’s garage for a celebration party.

Ivo was said to be the first to set up a sounding hose across his driveway to signal when cars entered his garage. He never patented the invention and it was soon copied.

In June 1964 Ivo and Alma planed their first holiday together in Queensland. Tragically it was not to be and on a drive back from Bargo a few days before they were scheduled to leave for Queensland the pair was involved in a collision. Alma was in hospital for six months before she died of her injuries on December 21 1964. Ivo died aged 79 on the exact date of his wife’s death, three years later in 1967.

Ivo Bunker's Bulli motor garage, opposite Bulli Family Hotel, prior to him relocating to Bulli Pass. This building continues to trade.
Ivo Bunker’s Bulli motor garage, opposite Bulli Family Hotel, prior to him relocating to Bulli Pass. This building continues to trade as a shop in Bulli shopping centre.
First published 2014
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2020


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2 thoughts on “Ivo Bunker: Bulli’s engineering wizard

  1. I have just found this article doing a search on some family history, Ivo Bunker was my Grandmothers father, thank you for this insight into my families history

    Liked by 1 person

    • An interesting man , an inventor . My grandmother ‘s brother .
      My mother , told me about Ivo ‘s inventions. Seemingly , Ivo , adopted the name after the famous cricket player . I believe .

      Liked by 1 person

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