Athol Hedges

Athol Hedges started his own enterprise in a small shed at Sandgate during December 1945. Prior to this, Athol had served time at a number of Sydney motor body builders, before relocating to Brisbane in September 1938 to work for Charles Hope Ltd. It was here that Athol led the team constructing the Brisbane City Council’s first forward-control buses during 1940. These became the first all-steel, electric arc welded bus bodies in Queensland. 

With the war coming to an end, Athol moved to the employ of the Hornibrook Highway Bus Service at Sandgate in 1945 to help build the first all-steel semi-trailer bus in Queensland. In December that year, Athol purchased a small shed in Eve Street (behind Hornibrook’s depot) to start his own enterprise specialising in the construction of steel-framed bodies.

Athol Hedges standing in the stepwell of the first of 12 Albion Valkyries built by Charles Hope for the Brisbane City Council in 1940. These were the first all-steel, electric arc welded bus bodies in Queensland.
In 1945, Athol Hedges joined the employ of the Hornibrook Highway Bus Service at Sandgate. It was here that he built Queensland’s first all-steel semi-trailer bus.
 The first bus built by Athol Hedges in his own right was on White WA20 chassis for Vic & Evelyn Lewis’ Black & White Safety Bus Line during May 1946. 

In the first year-and-a-half, Athol Hedges built eight buses at Sandgate, including two for the Brisbane City Council, which saw his staff grow to ten. With a growing order book, the company shifted to larger premises at 343 Melton Road, Northgate during June 1947. It was here at Northgate that Athol Hedges grew at rapid pace to become Queensland’s largest body builder. This was aided by consecutive orders from the Brisbane City Council. 

In May 1947, Athol Hedges built his first bus for the Brisbane City Council – the forerunner of successive Council orders. It was a 38-passenger body on Albion Valkyrie chassis.
In June 1947, Athol Hedges shifted his operation from Sandgate to 343 Melton Road, Northgate with the purchase of this factory used during World War II by the Department of the Interior for £4,500.

In October 1947, Athol was awarded a U.S. World Prize for his construction methods after submitting a paper entitled ‘Bus Building – The Simple Way’. Not only did Athol Hedges specialise in buses – but also ambulances, truck bodies, station wagons and hearses. In fact, the company received the largest order of ambulances ever from the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade during March 1949. In 1955, the company acquired Coachcraft Ford Bodyworks and became the largest manufacturer of ambulance bodies in Australia at the time. 

 On 20 December 1949, Western Toowoomba Bus Service took delivery of this Leyland Tiger OPS4/1 with 35-foot body. It was the longest rigid bus in Queensland at the time.
This one-of-a-kind semi-trailer coach was custom-built for Blue & Red Buses at a cost of £8000 during August 1950. It was powered by a White WC22 prime mover and had a stainless steel body frame with polished aluminium panelling.
In 1955, Greyhound Coaches purchased their first all-steel coach body. It was built on a Commer Avenger R7 chassis and was the company’s last petrol-engined coach.

The company further diversified in 1958 with a new division that produced Australia’s first fully fibreglass insulated van body. In 1960, Athol Hedges focused on producing the first dedicated school buses for Queensland. The company then purchased their fourth shed at Northgate during June 1961 – following the takeover of G-Well which heralded the production of Queensland’s first aluminium tipper bodies. 

 Redcliffe-Brisbane Motor Service, owned by the Elson family, took delivery of their first Leyland during November 1960. It was a Leopard L1 model with 43-passenger body. 

On 30 March 1967, the Brisbane City Council awarded Athol Hedges the lead body building contract to replace Brisbane’s trams with buses. Between March 1968 and March 1969, the company, with the support of subcontractors, delivered 204 Leyland Panther buses – the largest number of buses ever built in Australia in such a short period. As a result, staff numbers rose to 308 with approximately one-third of those working on the Council contract. After this, the company exported its first truck bodies overseas. 

The first of 204 tram replacement Leyland Panther buses for the Brisbane City Council was handed over by Athol Hedges (left) to Lord Mayor Clem Jones (right) during March 1968. 
In March 1973, Kirkland Bros Omnibus Services of Lismore purchased this 45-passenger Hino RC320 touring coach from Athol Hedges. 

After spending over 45 years in the industry and having built up Queensland’s largest body building company – Athol Hedges sold his business to Domino Equipment during March 1974.