The first Austinmer bus run

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Billy Murphy’s 1923 T-Model Ford, which became Tom Dion’s first bus.

 

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Down Memory Lane with Jack Devitt*

WHEN we first came to the coast in 1921, William (Billy) Murphy had the only bus run from Austinmer to Wollongong.

The bus was a Model-T Ford, with seats around the sides and back. There were no windows, except the windscreen and a tiny one at the back. In wet weather, rolled-up blinds were let down, making it as dark as the inside of a cow. There was no regular timetable; it just went from Austinmer to Wollongong, in as long as it took.

Bill lived with his brother, opposite the Woonona Royal Hotel and would pull up at lunchtime, leaving the passengers to cool their heels until his other driver, Russ Woollett, ambled out to take over.

There were no paved roads, and the southern side of Bulli Hill (north of Bulli Public School) and the northern end of Black Cutting Hill (north of Bellambi Lane) were notorious spots in wet weather, as both were very clayey and the bus, with solid rear rubber tyres had a lot of difficulty getting traction.

In 1923, the Dion family (who up until that time had been market gardeners) bought out Murphy’s run and bus, which they used until they purchased a small Chevrolet, with seats situated as of today.

People thought that they were in Heaven. Not long after, several others just bought a bus and began business in competition with Dions, who had paid for the run.

There then began a crusade against the Dions, in that their buses were not up to standard of those who had come in on the “grouter”.

In 1928, Dions purchased the Fageol coaches, the last word in buses at the time, which stopped the criticism in its tracks. They have seen the others come and go and are still giving yeoman service with a fleet of modern coaches.

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The 1929 Fageol Flyer Coach, with Les Dion Senior standing alongside in 1938. The coach saw out its final days on the Wollongong Austinmer route.

* The late Jack Devitt was born in The Oaks, via Camden on December 12 1917. He arrived in the Illawarra with his family as a boy in 1921 settling in Bulli. He attended St Josephs Catholic School, where he won a bursary to attend Stanislaus College in Bathurst gaining a leaving certificate. He obtained work as a steelworks tally clerk after leaving school on a wage of 32 shillings and six pence a week before being employed as a clerk in the merhcant mill. Jack bought his parents’ home in Hospital Road in 1925 and he lived there until his death in 2006 at the age of 88. His local history column, Down Memory Lane, became much loved in the Bulli Times, Corrimal Post and Northern Leader newspapers during the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s. Down Memory Lane was enjoyed by northern Illawarra residents for many years, and has become an important record of life in Bulli during the 1920s and 30s.

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