Duffy’s City Buses

Prior to entering the bus game, founder Tom Duffy worked for the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II before moving onto a job in the public service as a valuer within the Lands Department of the Queensland Government. Tom with wife Marie and their young family regularly moved as his job necessitated which included the western Queensland towns of Dalby, Cloncurry and finally Goondiwindi. It was during their time in Goondiwindi that the Duffys learned of a bus business for sale in Bundaberg. The proprietor, Earl Johnston, had now been looking to retire having built up a considerable business for three decades. So in December 1953, the Duffy family packed up and left Goondiwindi to set their sights on the bus business they intended to buy.

Purchase of Bundaberg Bus Service

Over the next three months Tom and Marie learned the inner workings of Johnston’s Bundaberg Bus Service before taking over in their own right on Thursday, 1 April 1954. It was certainly no April Fools’ Joke when the Duffy’s found themselves in possession of a fleet of 13 vehicles which operated around the clock in eight hour shifts conveying passengers to the Fairymead and Qunaba Mills to the north and east of town. Complementing these services were combined trips for general workers, school kids and shoppers to Bargara, Burnett Heads, West and East Bundaberg, Fairymead, North and South Bundaberg – which were augmented by ever-popular picture theatre trips at night.

An early model in the Johnston fleet was this Watt Bros bodied International D30 built in the late 1930s. Photo: Barrie Watt Collection
This forward-control Watt Bros bodied International was built for Earl Johnston during the early 1940s and is pictured on the William Jolly Bridge in Brisbane pre-delivery. Photo: Barrie Watt Collection
Another vehicle in the Johnston fleet was this International with a body believed to have been built in Rockhampton. Photo: Nohl Maurer Collection

The fleet inherited from Johnston was in one word diverse and even included what was then an archaic ‘toast rack’ style open-sided bus which was nicknamed ‘Rocky’, and is believed to have been a home-made body built on a Dodge chassis. The majority of the vehicles were elderly Internationals with Watt Bros bodies, with only a handful of new vehicles including a 1949 Bedford OB and 1950 Leyland Comet with Athol Hedges body. The Duffys set about immediately upgrading the elderly fleet with the purchase of a new SB Bedford with CAC body work. This new vehicle stood out from the rest as Johnston’s livery of dark green was enhanced by the addition of red on the front header.

Vehicles purchased from Earlston Robert Johnston trading as Bundaberg Bus Service with Licence 59
Nine of the thirteen buses purchased from Earl Johnston on 1 April 1954. Photo: Duffy Family Collection
The newest bus in Johnston’s fleet was this 1950 Athol Hedges bodied Leyland Comet registered Q524-151. Photo: Ian Lynas

Duffy’s City & Coast Buses

It was at this time that a new trading name of ‘City & Coast Buses’ was adopted signifying the Duffy’s service network which extended all the way from the city to the coastal township of Bargara. Before too long Tom and Marie decided to shift from their depot premises at the corner of Bourbong and Barolin Streets in the heart of town, to one that would be more accessible. As it turns out they would not have to look far and soon purchased a vacant block of land at 28 Barolin Street – a mere half a kilometre from their existing depot.

Over the next few years Tom constructed a house for his family to reside in and a garage to service the buses in. Outside of the bus operation the garage facility also provided the Duffys an extra source of income as Tom undertook general mechanical repairs and even sold tyres amongst other items. The fleet remained steady throughout this period until the delivery of another new bus in October 1957. This time the proven bodywork of the Watt Bros from Brisbane was chosen to be the perfect combination for the Leyland Tiger Cub chassis, at a total cost of £7,500. 

This 1955 CAC bodied Bedford SB with lengthened-wheelbase was registered Q675-015 and is pictured here on 29 September 1970. Photo: John Masterston
This Leyland Tiger Cub was built by Watt Bros during 1957. It has been restored back to original condition by owner Barrie Watt (son of Sheriff Watt). Photo: Ian Lynas

More new Watt Bros buses

A close friendship between Duffy’s mechanic and Sheriff Watt ultimately led to the Watts supplying all the Duffy’s new vehicles from 1957 until 1973, when Watt Bros sold to Custom Coaches.  The new decade heralded a massive threat to the Duffy’s business as the availability and affordability of cars directly diminished patronage on the bus services which had been relied upon by the sugar mill workers for so long. Fortunately for Tom and Marie when the workers services were dismantled in the early 1960s, the Queensland Government introduced conditional free transport for school students which helped keep their business viable. These reforms now provided free travel on the Duffy’s buses for primary students who lived more than two miles and secondary students who lived more than three miles from their nearest schools. The town runs comparatively felt the pinch of car transportation as frequencies across all services were reduced accordingly. The once-popular trips to the picture theatre of Saturday and Sunday nights also became obsolete in the mid-1960s when the advent of television swept through Australia. 

In May 1964, Duffy’s purchased this new Leyland Tiger Cub PSUC1/11 with Watt Bros 53-passenger body. Photo: Vic Hayes

The Duffy’s fleet also began a modernisation phase in the 1960s as more orders were placed with Watt Bros. These consisted of two Leyland Royal Tiger Cubs in 1962 and 1964, an AEC Reliance 470 in 1967 and finally a Leyland Leopard and Albion Viking VK43L in 1969. These new vehicles were complemented by the addition of three second hand Athol Hedges bodied AEC route buses from the Brisbane City Council leading up to 1972. After the Watt Bros sold out in 1973, the Duffys chose Athol Hedges for their next bus. This saw the delivery of an Albion Viking VK57L in October that year which carried a metallic-gold livery and was sign written for ‘Duffy’s Coaches’. The new livery and identity was a new initiative from Tom who wanted to increase charter services throughout town. The Viking would ultimately be the last vehicle purchased by Tom leading up to his sudden death in 1975. Upon Tom’s passing the business was bestowed upon his three sons Brian, John and Paul and daughter Geraldine. Given her experience alongside Tom over the years, Marie took over the day-to-day management of the business which now maintained a fleet of around 12 vehicles. 

Delivered in October 1967 from Watt Bros was this 49-seat AEC Reliance 470, seen performing a town run to North Bundaberg. Photo: Ian Lynas
PMR-746 was a 53-seat Leyland Leopard PSU3/2R with Watt Bros bodywork dating from July 1969. Photo: Ian Lynas
PNP-582 was a 49-seat Albion Viking VK43L with Watt Bros body dating from November 1969. Photo: Vic Hayes

Charter and touring

By this stage the Duffy’s eldest son Brian had left town while their younger sons John and Paul each owned their own trucks hauling sugar from local mills to the Bundaberg Port. The Duffy’s business was forced to absorb yet another knock during January 1976 with major transport reforms taking place under the Urban Passenger Service Proprietors Assistance Act 1975 (Qld). This new legislation now entitled pensioners to receive discounts on bus services throughout the state, which had a profound effect on many urban bus operators. The Duffys were one such operator that felt the pinch hard given that a large proportion of their town service revenue was derived from elderly residents wanting to patron the city’s shopping centres. To continue the family businesses’ viability the Duffys began pursuing more and more charter work given that the school services were now subsidising the town runs. In 1977, youngest son Paul decided to sell his trucking business to come join his mother Marie in a full time capacity, after helping run the business in the six month sugar off-season. By November 1978, another new vehicle had been added to the charter fleet, this time a 53-seat integral chassis and coach combination from Domino – who had taken over Athol Hedges four years earlier.

This Domino integral coach was purchased in November 1978. It is pictured here on a trip to the snow with Paul Duffy behind the wheel. Photo: Duffy Family Collection
Another new Domino coach for the charter fleet was purchased in February 1980. Photo: Vic Hayes

Just over a year later in February 1980, saw the delivery of yet another new coach from Domino, this time a 49-seater, as the Duffys began ramping up their charter operations. In 1981, Paul Duffy, with his wife Lyn, decided to take the business on in their own right and began the process of purchasing the shareholdings held by his two older brothers and sister. The transition of ownership was no easy feat for Paul and Lyn, given that they had to manage payments with the continued loss of income on their urban services. Consequently, over the next decade and a half Paul and Lyn favoured second hand buses and coaches in lieu of the luxury of newer and more expensive alternatives to keep their business viable. The first such purchase was a 1972 Denning Mono from the Fearnes of Wagga Wagga, for long distance charter in 1984. Another one of these iconic Australian-made Dennings was added to the fleet a year later in 1985; this time from Forest Coach Lines in Sydney. These two vehicles were swiftly repainted into the metallic-gold livery which Tom had prided himself on before his untimely passing. 

This 1978 Denning Mono was purchased second hand from Forest Coach Lines of Sydney during 1985. Photo: Vic Hayes

Focus on contracted services

In the 1990s three second hand Leyland Leopard school buses with Custom Coaches, Domino and Pressed Metal bodies were purchased from operators in New South Wales, as the older vehicles that were now over 20 years old were disposed of. The charter fleet also went through a transitional stage as vehicles were gradually re-seated with bench seats and repainted into a new livery which was predominately white with a dark red band around the waist. In July 1994, the Department of Transport restructured the Duffy’s urban services in Bundaberg to encompass greater areas of town, with new services servicing the areas of Avenell Heights, Avoca and Thabeban for the first time.

By the mid-1990s, long distance charter had become highly competitive with customers now favouring dollar driven prices over a quality service. As a result of this Paul and Lyn chose to gradually lessen the amount of long distance charters they were performing year on year, such as regular trips down south to the snow and numerous intercity and interstate charters.   It was at this point that Paul and Lyn decided to focus on the school and urban services that were the mainstay of the operation. Not all charter work was given away with the more conventional jobs such as school sports charters around Bundaberg still very much a large part of the business which continues to this day. By this stage a total of four Denning coaches were in the charter fleet alongside the two Domino coaches which had been bought brand new.  

Three of the four buses here (except for 664-NRX) are second hand Leyland Leopards that were purchased from New South Wales during the 1990s. Photo: Duffy Family Collection
The first vehicle to be painted into the metallic-gold livery for charter was this 1973 Athol Hedges bodied Albion Viking VK57L. It was later refurbished in the mid-1990s and fitted with bench seating for school services. Photo: Duffy Family Collection
Another former charter coach fitted with bench seating was 424-PBP, a 1972 Denning Mono new to Fearnes of Wagga Wagga, NSW. Photo: Duffy Family Collection

First wheelchair accessible buses

Faced with an ageing fleet the Duffys purchased their first new vehicles in 16 years during September 1996, with the delivery of two Northcoast bodied Scania L113CRL school buses. From this period onwards the Duffys chose to buy only new vehicles to meet their replacement and growth needs. Following on from the decision Paul and Lyn had made to phase out long distance charters in the forgoing years, the last such trip was made by Paul with a group of school children to the snow down south in 1998. The following year witnessed another milestone as the first wheelchair accessible vehicles were introduced to the streets of Bundaberg, with the delivery of two Volgren bodied Scania L94UBs. These low floor vehicles became an instant hit with the elderly passengers who continue to be the most prominent patrons on the Duffy’s town buses.

On 19 July 1999, a new contract system came into place alongside departmental reforms which resulted in additional frequency increases and service integration on the urban services, as well as the implementation of a modernised ticketing system. This restructuring also brought route numbers to Bundaberg for the first time, with a total of six routes now in operation. At this point the Duffy’s had one of the most modern fleets and most frequent service network in regional Queensland.

The first new vehicles purchased in 16 years were two of these Northcoast bodied Scania L113CRL school buses, delivered in September 1996. Photo: Nick Wilson
The first low floor buses purchased by the Duffy’s were two Volgren bodied Scania L94UBs during March 1999. Photo: Leon Sharpe
862-FNG is the only Custom Coaches bodied Scania L94UB in the Duffy’s possession, dating from June 2000. Photo: Leon Sharpe

New depot at Thabeban

The fleet total remained relatively stagnant until a total of seven Bustech and Custom Coaches low floors on Volvo B12BLE chassis were delivered as growth buses for the urban services between 2005 and 2008. In November 2007, the Duffys shifted depot premises from 28 Barolin Street to 43 Charles Trigg Crescent in the industrial suburb of Thabeban, south of Bundaberg. By this stage the Barolin Street depot in the heart of town had become too problematic with high volumes of traffic regularly delaying the entry and exit of vehicles. The new state-of-the-art depot features two large sheds to enable the majority of the fleet to be parked undercover, as well as 30,000 litre rainwater storage for sustainability. 

895-JEB is the only Custom Coaches bodied school bus in the fleet, built on Volvo B7R chassis during September 2005. Photo: Nick Wilson
One of six Bustech low floors on Volvo B12BLE chassis is 278-KMQ, delivered in October 2007. Photo: Leon Sharpe

The Duffys continued upgrading their fleet between the years of 2007 and 2009, as their second hand Leyland Leopards and former Domino coaches were replaced by seven P&D Coachworks bodied Hino RK260 and RK8J school buses. In November 2011, the Duffys purchased the Gin Gin to Bundaberg private school service from Russell Morgan after the Department of Transport and Main Roads put his elderly vehicle off the road. A new revolutionary ticketing system was introduced to Duffy’s City Buses in 2012, with the implementation of the ‘SWIPE N GO’ card.  In a first for Bundaberg, the system effectively acts as a credit card for travel on the Duffy’s buses, with similarities to the ‘go card’ system currently in place under TransLink throughout South East Queensland.  By 2014, Paul and Lyn’s son Chris had taken over the bulk of the managerial responsibilities as they began transitioning ownership of the family business to Chris and his partner Nella.

Delivered in November 2009 as a replacement school bus is 228-LFU a Hino RK8J with P&D Coachworks body. Photo: Nick Wilson
A total of seven school buses built by P&D Coachworks on Hino chassis were delivered between 2007 and 2009. Photo: Nick Wilson

60 years of service

To commemorate 60 years of operation, the Duffy’s held a gathering of family, friends and industry representatives at their Thabeban depot on Tuesday, 1 April 2014.

The Duffy family celebrated 60 years of service in Bundaberg during April 2014. Photo: Nick Wilson

Sale to Kinetic

Stalwart proprietor, Paul Duffy, sadly passed away on Sunday, 27 February 2022 at the age of 77. The long standing family business of 74 years and comprising 23 buses and 25 employees, was sold to Kinetic Group subsidiary, Transit Australia Pty Ltd, in June 2022.