Black & White Buses (Sandgate)

The McGrath family’s Black & White Buses plied between the bayside suburb of Sandgate and city of Brisbane for a period of 27 years. Before they got started in Sandgate on 18 August 1947, Leo and wife Kit McGrath had seven years’ experience running buses for the people of Armidale, in regional New South Wales. Originally an accountant by trade in a Brisbane real estate office, Leo McGrath took great interest in the advertisement of the small bus service in Armidale during the late 1930s. This thriving business operated by Mr E.M. Sloman, was concentrated on passenger services during a time when very few people had their own means of transportation. The prospect of running buses in Armidale interested Leo so much that he decided to take on the venture and move his wife and three young children to the town during 1940.

Armidale Bus Service

The fleet comprised two GMCs and an Oldsmobile which were based at a house and depot under lease from Mr Sloman. Upon arrival in Armidale, Leo found four taxi cabs for sale and swiftly purchased them as well. The buses and taxis thrived on the back of Armidale’s numerous educational institutions and booming sheep industry throughout the New England Tablelands.  Leo threw himself into the business one minute driving a bus run, next minute taking on a taxi job. This prosperity led to Leo purchasing his first brand new bus from Motor Body Assemblers (MBA) in Sydney during 1945, on an-American White chassis. On 1 July 1947, Leo and Kit sold the Armidale Bus Service business with five buses and four taxis, to Mr V.C. Edwards of Proserpine, Queensland.

This 1945 MBA bodied White was the McGrath’s first new vehicle purchased during their seven years in Armidale. Photo: McGrath Family Collection

Purchase of Sandgate Bus Service

It was during a day out at the Sandgate beaches with his family that Leo witnessed a booming bus operation with people literally hanging out of the front door. Within the next day or two, he observed a listing of Mr Ros Harrison’s (Leo’s friend and former employer at Town and Country Estates) for the sale of a bus business in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. Intrigued by the listing Leo rang up to discover that this advertisement was in fact a discrete listing for the very same business he had admired in Sandgate on the weekend. Wasting no time at all, Leo and Kit returned to the bus industry by purchasing the joint operations of the Black and White Buses and Blue and White Buses, from proprietor Mr John (Jack) Truven Ford on 17 August 1947 for £20,000.

This acquisition involved a fleet of ten vehicles, two depots, and a lucrative passenger service between Brisbane and Sandgate, with extensions to nearby Brighton and Shorncliffe. Despite the common ownership the two businesses each operated as separate identities with their own depot and differing colour schemes reflecting their trading name. Buses painted black and white serviced Brighton to the north of Sandgate and were stored at a depot along Southerden Street at Sandgate, while buses painted blue and white serviced Shorncliffe to east of Sandgate and were stored at a depot along Yundah Street at Shorncliffe. The fleet of ten vehicles had largely been in service for several years except for a Dodge and Reo which had been delivered new from Sydney body builder, Syd Wood, in the past 18 months. 

RegistrationSTCChassisBody BuilderSeats
Q288-946686Reo 2LMSyd Wood34
Q294-093685Leyland Tiger TS1Watt Bros (rebody)35
Q306-507688Reo Speed WagonQueensland Motors Ltd29
Q322-875683Bedford OBWatt Bros31
Q381-141998Leyland CubWatt Bros30
Q405-703684DodgeSyd Wood35
Q431-520918Reo 20CHSSyd Wood40

The ten-bus strong fleet acquired from Jack Ford were largely of forward-control design. Photo: Neville Taylor Collection
Operating in Jack Ford’s Blue & White fleet was this 1940 Watt Bros bodied Bedford OB seating 31-passengers. Photo: Barrie Watt Collection
The newest vehicle in Jack Ford’s Black & White fleet was this recently delivered Reo 20CHS with Syd Wood bodywork completed on 14 May 1947. Photo: Vic Hayes Collection

Purchase of IBIS Bus Service

The buses operated steadily until February 1948, when continued railway strikes halted most trains throughout the state over a three month period. The McGrath’s buses were required to step in to replace the train service between Shorncliffe and Brisbane, resulting in greatly overcrowded and overworked buses which were only kept operational through heavy maintenance. While the buses suffered the railway strikes were an absolute windfall for Leo, resulting in substantial financial rewards. After the trains returned to normal, Leo used these funds to purchase the IBIS Bus Service (which competed against the McGraths between Sandgate and Brisbane) from Mr Bill White on 1 July 1948.

Bill White was eager to do a deal after fearing he too would be subjected to the Brisbane City Council’s compulsory takeovers – which resulted in the acquisition of 20 metropolitan operators between 1947 and 1948. These fears were ultimately misplaced as the Sandgate buses remained a private affair. The IBIS fleet comprised nine petrol-fuelled buses mainly Bedfords with IBIS Garage bodies, along with two Internationals and a Reo. These vehicles had also endured the railway strikes which prompted Leo to source new equipment immediately.

RegistrationSTCChassisBody BuilderSeats
Q296-151733InternationalLucy’s Garage24
Q308-942735International C40Lucy’s Garage40
Q346-567945Reo Speed Wagon26
Q355-999963BedfordIBIS Garage (rebody)29
Q380-638996BedfordIBIS Garage33
Q393-945445G.M.C.IBIS Garage37
Q411-323378BedfordIBIS Garage37
Q442-548BedfordIBIS Garage37
One of the ten vehicles purchased with the IBIS Bus Service from Bill White was this Bedford fitted with an IBIS Garage body. It is pictured here at Sandgate Station on 1 April 1950 and was (16) Q355-999. Photo: Vic Hayes
(14) Q393-945 was an IBIS Garage bodied G.M.C. and is pictured in service at Sandgate Station on 1 April 1950. Photo: Vic Hayes

New diesel buses

An order was swiftly placed for a brand new Dennis Lancet III along with a Perkins-powered Dodge, with both bodies manufactured locally by Frank Shuttlewood of Toowong. Following this was an order for five new Leyland Tigers with MBA bodies from Sydney during 1949. It was clear in Leo’s mind that the whole fleet needed to be standardised and should be entirely diesel-powered. However, stock was not easy to come by and at that stage Leyland offered the best supplies. So the policy of gradually disposing of the old petrol buses and purchasing new Leyland diesel buses was firmly adopted. Consequently, three of the original Blue & White vehicles along with two IBIS buses were purged from the fleet. This investment began to pay dividends when patronage picked up on the city service, as the people of Sandgate realised it was much easier to bus it the whole way instead of interchanging at the railway station for the train service.

The first new vehicle purchased by the McGrath’s at Sandgate was this Dennis Lancet III with F.H. Shuttlewood body, delivered in December 1948. Photo: Vic Hayes

In December 1949, Leo and Kit disposed of the Shorncliffe depot and centralised their operations at the corner of Southerden and Wolsey Streets. Arrangements were made for suitable maintenance facilities at the corner of Pier Avenue and Yundah Street for buses terminating their trips at Shorncliffe. It then made sense to paint all the vehicles under one standardised livery of black and white, with the Black and White Buses trading name prevailing.

Wynnum bus venture

It was during 1950 that Leo and Kit McGrath formed a three-way partnership with Mr Vic Lewis and his wife (owners of Black and White Safety Bus Line at Wynnum), along with a silent partner, Senator Cooper and his wife. This partnership then formed ‘Blue & White Buses (Manly-Lota) Pty Ltd’ on 26 July 1950, to purchase the Blue and White Bus Service from Mr Bill Dunn at a cost of £24,000. The new venture later purchased the Pioneer Bus Service from Mrs Ethel Argaet in March 1952 for £15,000, which monopolised bus transportation from Wynnum to Brisbane. The plan was to amalgamate the three bayside operations (Black and White Sandgate, Black and White Wynnum, and Blue and White Wynnum) into one consolidated company which would then operate a ‘through’ service from Sandgate to Brisbane to Wynnum. Finance had been organised for the delivery of 13 brand new Leyland Royal Tigers, which would have given an overall fleet size of 70 to 80 buses. However, this was perceived negatively by the Brisbane City Council and its expansion plans, who objected to the Department of Transport which prevented any merger from occurring.

Five new Leyland Tigers with MBA bodies were delivered between 1949 and 1951. They are pictured here in fleet number order outside the Southerden Street depot. Photo: McGrath Family Collection

Meanwhile the fleet replacement program at Sandgate continued as more new diesel buses arrived from Sydney. By November 1951, Queensland’s first mid-mounted vehicle was delivered to the McGrath’s operation, in the form of a Shuttlewood bodied Leyland Royal Tiger. The Blue and White fleet at Wynnum also underwent the same improvements during March 1952 when two of the brand new Leyland Tigers at Sandgate were exchanged for three bonneted Macks formerly in the Pioneer fleet. Further developments in the fleet included the delivery of two new Leyland Comets with MBA bodies, which ensured the new company would prosper.

In November 1951, F.H. Shuttlewood produced Queensland’s first mid-mounted vehicle on Leyland Royal Tiger OPSU1/1 chassis. It had 44 seats which were fitted with Dunlopillo cushions and squabs, with Vinex plastic seat covering. Photo: Vic Hayes Collection
To improve the Blue & White Wynnum fleet, the three partners purchased two Leyland Comets with MBA bodies. Photo: McGrath Family Collection

New bus depot

It was also during this time that the Sandgate operation moved to a single depot located on an acre of land between Hoskins and Connaught Streets. Here a new home was built for depot manager, Bill Taylor, and his wife Grace. New buildings were erected for an in-house body building and repair shop, along with a diesel room to service fuel pumps and injectors. This diesel room was the domain of a Scotsman, Bill Needham. Bill O’Brien took charge of the body building, Joe Taylor, Bill’s brother, became the tyre man, Reg Morgan was the chief mechanic and Ken Rielly was in charge of the upholstery section.  The block of land had been the site of a bakery so the old bakery building was utilised as a spare parts room, a staff room and a lathe room for Les Bateman. With the new depot facility very little work had to be sent off site, thereby reducing costs and waiting times.

(25) Q583-697 was the third and final Leyland Royal Tiger OPSU1/1 bodied by F.H. Shuttlewood. It was delivered in 1952 and seated 39 passengers. Photo: Vic Hayes
In the early 1950s, the McGrath’s moved their business to new premises at Sandgate on an acre of land between Hoskins and Connaught Streets. Photo: McGrath Family Collection

Black & White body shop

The Black & White body shop received its first large scale job during December 1953, when the McGraths purchased seven Leyland Titan double deckers from the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board. These double deckers were then converted to single deckers by utilising the former upper deck, suitably lengthened, with the addition of a new front section. The body shop produced ten of these re-bodies between the years of 1954 and 1960, using additional chassis and running gear sourced from Sydney and Melbourne. On 30 June 1956, Leo and Kit disposed of their shareholding in Blue & White Buses (Manly-Lota) Pty Ltd, allowing them to concentrate solely on Sandgate. By 1957, the last of the IBIS vehicles had been disposed of meaning the fleet was entirely diesel-powered and for the most part Leyland.

Two of the Leyland Titan TD5 double deckers purchased in December 1953 from the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board. Photo: Robert Thomson Collection
(26) Q649-276 was the first of ten re-bodied Leyland Titan TD5 double deckers produced by the Black & White body shop. Photo: W. John Webster

During 1958, Black & White Buses purchased Queensland’s first Leyland Worldmaster chassis, on which they built a 51-seat body in their own workshop – later to be displayed at the 1958 Brisbane Exhibition. By January 1962, Black & White Buses had become one of the largest businesses in Sandgate by employing a staff of 55, consisting of 31 drivers, 20 men based out of the garage and workshop, and four clerical personnel. While the fleet had only marginally grown to 25 vehicles from the time they took over, the seating capacities had far increased to seat between 40 and 50 passengers each. It was not long after this time that the timetable service began to flounder – when it had prospered throughout the entirety of the 1950s. As finance companies made it easier and easier for people to own their own cars, patronage weakened which drove fare revenue down.

The McGrath’s purchased Queensland’s first Leyland Worldmaster chassis which their body shop fitted a 51-passenger body to during 1958. Photo: Selwyn Dornan
Another re-bodied Leyland Titan TD5 double decker was (38) NJL-755 which was out-shopped in February 1960. It seated 41-passengers. Photo: Selwyn Dornan
The Sandgate depot during early 1962 showing off-peak layover buses. and a ‘cannibalised’ ex-DGT Sydney double decker . The depot has street access front and rear, and a ‘one-way traffic’ rule. Photo: Truck & Bus Transportation
Pictured in early 1962 is Paul McGrath, Leo McGrath, and depot superintendent Bill Taylor. Bill had been involved with Sandgate buses for 20 years at the time, having started his employment with former owner Jack Ford. Photo: Truck & Bus Transportation

Expansion of charter and touring

Already enjoying a good reputation with several Brisbane schools, the charter side of the Black and White business grew very quickly. As the buses terminated in Brisbane after the morning peak, it was a good idea to do charter work until they were required for the evening peak. This was better than running them back to Sandgate empty and sending the drivers home until the evening peak. About 20 buses were required for the peak periods but only about eight for the in-between times. By 1963, Leo was finding charter and tours to be not only attractive but essential to supplement the ailing profits of the licenced service. However, Leo was reluctant to expand his charter operations by investing in new vehicles due to the uncertainty caused by the Brisbane City Council. To resolve the situation Leo made contact with then Lord Mayor Clem Jones who personally reassured him that the council had absolutely no wish to be involved with Sandgate buses, and even put it in writing. 

This certainty enabled Leo to immediately place an order with Alan Denning for four coach bodies to be built on Leyland Lion chassis during 1963. This was shortly followed by an additional order of four Royal Tiger Cubs and two Albion Nimbuses a few weeks later. The order for ten coaches at once propelled a budding Alan Denning whose company soon became a powerhouse manufacturer in Australia. This order for ten steel framed bodies of course marked the end of the bus building by the body shop, but they were to be kept busy with repairs and refurbishments.  Along with manufacturing bodies on new chassis, Denning was engaged between 1965 and 1967 to rebody four Leyland Royal Tigers which originally carried bodies by Shuttlewood and Webber. Meanwhile Leo had also purchased three distinctive looking Fodens which were formerly with Murray Valley Coaches. These were particularly suitable for camping trips to Ayers Rock and the Carnarvons in the top end. From this work came strong alliances from two of Australia’s largest operators, Greyhound Coaches and Ansett Pioneer. Whenever they required 15 to 20 vehicles for their cadet movements, or to service the luxury cruise ships, they called upon the Black and White Buses.

One of three Foden coaches purchased from Murray Valley Coaches in South Australia. Photo: Bob Nean
Between March and October 1963, Black & White took delivery of four new Leyland Lion coaches with Denning bodies. Photo: McGrath Family Collection
Between July and September 1964, Black & White took delivery of two new Albion Nimbus chassis fitted with Denning bodies. Photo: McGrath Family Collection

By this stage Leo and Kit’s eldest son Paul had begun taking on more of the managerial responsibilities, while his brother Terry, who had studied for six years with a Catholic order of priests, had returned to the family business mainly in an accountancy role and driving whenever necessary. Another supplement to the floundering licenced service was the launch of the McGrath’s first private school services during 1967. Buses soon began running from the northern suburbs to the four colleges at Clayfield, and also from the southern suburbs to Lourdes Hill College at Hawthorne. Additional school runs to other private colleges in Brisbane then followed.

Continental Coachlines

In 1968, Paul McGrath approached the White family (who owned Cribb Island Bus Service and Red and White Coaches) to combine their two family’s respective charter and tour operations into one operation. A new company ‘Continental Coachlines Pty Ltd’ was incorporated on 15 July 1968, with the McGraths receiving the majority shareholding. The new company acquired Bill Mitchell’s booming Charter Coaches business which added another nine vehicles to the fleet. These comprised three Bedfords, two Albions, two Ansair Flxible Clippers, a White and a Toyota Coaster. These vehicles were combined with the McGrath’s and White’s respective charter fleets to constitute about 20 vehicles. This new enterprise immediately threw itself into educational trips all over Australia during the August school holidays. Once the holidays were over, the entire fleet moved to a new depot site at Montpelier Road, Bowen Hills and were repainted into Continental colours. An order was then placed with Hino for the delivery of ten new luxury coaches with Freighter bodywork. Although Continental had no licensed passenger service, it did have some bread and butter income from a number of school runs to private colleges in Brisbane.

In July 1968, Bill Mitchell sold Charter Coaches to the McGrath and White family’s new Continental Coachlines operation. Part of the Charter Coaches fleet was NVC-633 a Redman & Mitchell bodied Bedford pictured at the Sandgate depot on 13 April 1969. Photo: Vic Hayes
In August 1969, Continental Coachlines took delivery of this new Hino BG13 under-floor coach from Denning. Photo: Selwyn Dornan

In the same year Leo also conceived the idea of providing door-to-door services for handicapped children whose fares were already being paid by the Education Department. These services began with six buses during January 1969. The Education Department was so impressed with this service that they requested that in the second school term another seven buses be utilised. This saw the birth of a completely new service for Brisbane. After a couple of years Continental ceased to operate the services because the Education Department would not agree to increase the rates. However, the taxi industry took it over and is now operated by over 150 taxis and mini buses. Between 1969 and 1970, every effort was made to promote educational tours, public tours and special weekend trips to Sydney. In August 1969, over 2000 students were transported all over Australia as operations ramped up. To keep up with the increased workload approximately ten additional Clippers were brought into the fleet, bringing to a peak of 44 vehicles.

While the business was prosperous during school times, it was quiet during the remaining months of the year. That combined with vehicle repayments on the ten new Hino coaches meant the two families were unable to keep the business afloat any longer. Accordingly, the company ceased trading in early 1971. Some of the coaches were retained by the White and McGrath’s respective operations, while the Charter Coaches fleet returned to Bill Mitchell, and the remainder sold at auction.

Reduction of urban services

The news was equally as bad at Sandgate for the McGraths whose timetable service kept declining in frequency year on year. The prosperity experienced in the early days had long worn off as new buses for the timetable service were a luxury the McGraths could no longer afford, forcing them to look at the second hand market. Amongst their purchases were two Leyland Panther Cub route buses originating from Manchester in the United Kingdom, as well as three Sunbeam MF2B trolleybuses from the Brisbane City Council. As the trolleybuses could not be operated in their original form, one was modified and repowered with a Leyland engine, while another had its Charles Hope body removed and amounted on a former Ansair-bodied Leyland Royal Tiger. These vehicles provided adequate transport for the people of Sandgate until a combination of factors forced the Black and White Buses off the road for good during 1974.

When new vehicles were a luxury the McGrath’s could no longer afford, they looked towards the second hand market which had two former UK Leyland Panther Cub route buses available. These were perfect vehicles for the licensed service, with (32) PZO-645 pictured on a trip to Brighton. Photo: Ian Lynas
(37) PDQ-631 was a Sunbeam MF2B trolleybus purchased from the Brisbane City Council and re-powered with a Leyland 680 engine to operate as a diesel bus. Photo: Ian Lynas

Surrender of passenger service licence

Rising costs of spare parts, increased taxes on fuel, wage increases and insistence by the Transport Department of the continued payment of permit fees, all attributed to the McGrath family’s decision to surrender their passenger licence and cease operations. On Friday 31 May 1974, the McGrath’s Black and White Buses operated the Sandgate to Brisbane service for the last time. The Brisbane City Council were then required to step in and take over the city service, while the Mitchell family’s Sandgate Lutwyche Bus Service won the tender for a licence for the local services from Sandgate Station to Brighton, Eventide and Shorncliffe.

All the vehicles and the depot were then sold off at auction and so ended almost 27 years of service. The surrender of their passenger licence was soon replicated by the Cribb Island and Sunnybank Bus Services who likewise could not afford to keep operating under current conditions experienced throughout the 1970s. These closures prompted the Department of Transport to introduce the subsidisation of private services rather than charging them licence fees, a proven system which continues today.