All stops to Austinmer: Northern Illawarra’s first public transport buses

A Hills double decker, travelling north along the Princes Highway at Old Bulli

A Hills double decker, travelling north along the Princes Highway at Old Bulli


PUBLIC transport to and from Wollongong by bus has been accessible to residents of Illawarra’s northern suburbs since early last century.

Jumping on a bus for a bit of shopping in Wollongong, to pay a few bills, or for entertainment, has developed considerably from the rough and tumble years of the 1920s when buses first appeared on the roads of northern Illawarra.

One of the first operators was William “Billy” Murphy in 1920. He drove a T-Model Ford with seats around the sides and back, with no windows except the windscreen and a small opening at the back. In wet weather canvas blinds were rolled down leaving passengers in total darkness. There was no timetable and the bus travelled between Austinmer and Wollongong on the basis of how long it took.

The Bulli Railway bus

The Bulli Railway bus

Hyacinth and Jim Hill.

Hyacinth and Jim Hill.

Roads were unpaved and buses, with their solid rubber tyres, often were bogged during wet weather on notorious black spots like Bulli Hill and Corrimal’s Black Cutting Hill.

The legendary Dion family purchased Murphy’s bus in 1923 beginning a public transport dynasty that has continued to the present day.

As the industry developed in the 1930s at least seven bus companies serviced the Austinmer/Wollongong route and competition became fierce. Joining the swag of northern buses was the Hill family of Thirroul in about 1935. Hill’s Bus Service was established by Hyacinth Hill, whose husband Jim operated the Thirroul Garage on the bend in Lawrence Hargrave Drive at the intersection of Phillip Street.

Jim opened the brick garage in the early 1930s which traded from the site until the mid 1990s when it was demolished to make way for a string of shops. Hyacinth was already an experienced business woman running a Thirroul shop prior to turning her hand to public transport. She put her son Jim Jnr in charge of the company and the business prospered eventually buying out competitors.

Hill's new

Hill’s new “double decker” pictured in Sydney before it was commissioned in 1947

Jim Hill Jnr, who managed the bus company up until it was bought-out by Dions.

Hill’s Bus Company manager Jim Hill Jnr,.

Hyacinths daughter, 76-year-old Daphne Hicks of Woonona told me in the late 1990s her mum and brother operated the bus company in unison with her father at the Thirroul garage.
The buses were kept and serviced in a large garage in the family home on Lawrence Hargrave Drive opposite Woodward Park. Their home and garage remain today in the shadow of a large fig tree, next to Thirroul Library (The house and garage were demolished to make way for residential units in 2016).

Daphne’s husband Ted started with the cream and orange Hill’s Buses as a conductor in 1947 and recalled some of the family companies operating the Austinmer/Wollongong bus section at the time. In addition to Hill’s buses, the Dion, Price, Rowles, Henson and Agnew families managed bus companies, which ran on a common timetable.
”The timetable was divided into eight sections with operators doing a fortnight on each section.

”By doing so every operator had a share of busy and slack periods,” Ted said.

Drivers for Hill’s Bus Service over the years included Ted Hicks, Stan Howell, Keith Wheatley, Marshall Bates, Russ Harris, Sam Harris, Bob Berry, Keith Jenkins, Col Frost, George Brown, Bill Narbeth, Neville Spinks, Eric Lee, Ernie Wright, Des Ayliff, Reg Downie and Joe Green.

Hill’s Bus Service had a fleet of single and double decker buses comprising of Leylands, Albions and Macs and by the 1960s they and the Dion Company had bought out all competitors, leaving just the two servicing the Austinmer/Wollongong run.

The Hill’s Bus Service, still under the management of Jim Hill Jnr, had over 60 buses in the fleet by this time and operated from a depot in Fairy Meadow.

Ted Hicks, who eventually became a manager at the company, said driving the buses demanded long hours and unusual jobs.

The Hill’s bus company was eventually bought-out by the Dion’s family.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2014

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3 thoughts on “All stops to Austinmer: Northern Illawarra’s first public transport buses

  1. Wow, your article took me back in time, memories from the 1950 onwards. memory go’s back even further to Fernbagh’s buses when I caught the school bus (the butterbox was what we called one bus, box on wheels) from Darkes Forest to Helensburgh. We moved to Bellambi in 1950 and the busses were our main transport. Rothery Road .had a very good bus service.We went to church often in those days, so we walked up Rothery Road to the highway and caught a bus to Woonona. Dion’s busses were always very slow and the drivers were always so nice. We used to joke, they ran late hoping to pick up the early arrivals for the next timetable.
    Ian Bradshaw

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I drove for Hills Fairy Meadow started with them on the day we changed to decimal currency in 1966 that was a big learning curve for all the customers. I was the youngest bus driver in Wollongong at that time only 21.
    Stan Horrell took me for the driving test up Mt Ousley Rd..

    Liked by 1 person

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