Hornibrook Highway Bus Service

The story begins in 1932 with the start of construction of a privately funded toll bridge providing a direct link between Brisbane and the coastal city of Redcliffe. Conceived and built by the firm of M R Hornibrook Pty Ltd (founded by Sir Manuel Richard Hornibrook), the bridge construction lasted for three years and brought great opportunity to the residents of Redcliffe at a time of high unemployment with the economy suffering through the Great Depression.  Spanning 1.67 miles (2.68km) in length and at a cost of £120,000, the new bridge would provide direct road access to Redcliffe without the need to traverse Gympie Road through the flood prone areas of Strathpine and Petrie. With construction nearing the final stages during May 1935, the State Transport Board invited tenders for the inauguration of a co-ordinated bus service between Sandgate Station and Redcliffe across the new bridge. When tenders closed at 2.00pm on 23 July 1935, only three parties sought the new franchise:

  1. Redcliffe-Petrie Motor Service (owned by the Elson family who pioneered the first bus service from Redcliffe to Brisbane on 8 December 1924).
  2. IBIS Bus Co. (owned by the Douglas Bros who operated a service between Brisbane and Sandgate).
  3. Hornibrook Highway Ltd (a subsidiary of M R Hornibrook Pty Ltd). 

Hornibrook wins tender

In a somewhat surprising move for the industry, the Hornibrook Highway Company claimed that they should be given priority as it was their highway which made the bus service possible. The Company offered to provide a service with cheap fares, a frequent timetable, and with the most comfortable, modern type of buses available in order to cater for the growth of Redcliffe. Accordingly, the Railway Department considered this proposal to be the most satisfactory and formally announced the Company as the successful tenderer on 1 August 1935.

The Company immediately placed an order with the Watt Bros of Woolloongabba to build four brand new Reo 2LM buses with ‘streamlined’ forward-control bodies. Hornibrook Highway Bus Service Ltd was officially incorporated on 27 August 1935 with Sir Manuel Hornibrook as Managing Director, Jack Amies as Secretary, and a registered office of Parbury House, 127 Eagle Street, Brisbane.

The first vehicles crossing the bridge on the evening of Friday 4 October 1935. Photo: State Library of Queensland
The bridge was officially opened on Friday 4 October 1935 by Governor Sir Leslie Orme Wilson (left). Pictured alongside is Sir Manuel Hornibrook (right) whose company built the bridge. Photo: State Library of Queensland

First bus service

On the evening of Friday 4 October 1935, the Hornibrook Highway Bridge was opened to much fanfare and officially became the longest bridge in Australia. From this day the Company took on a 40-year franchise of toll operations over the bridge. The following morning saw the first Hornibrook Highway bus cross the bridge as the first of the brand new Watt Bros bodied Reos entered service alongside two second hand buses: a 33-passenger White, and a 22-passenger Reo. A stylish colour scheme of Hawthorne Green and cream was developed as a livery for the buses. The Company recruited experienced bus proprietor Mr Alexander ‘Sandy’ Herschel, then owner of the Yeronga Bus Service, to manage the new enterprise. A property adjacent to Sandgate Station on the corner of Rainbow Street and John Street (now Knox Street) was purchased on 6 November 1935 from Mrs Louisa Mayer for use as a depot.

The first of four ‘streamlined’ forward-control bodies built by Watt Bros on Reo 2LM chassis for the Hornibrook Highway Bus Service. This vehicle was first registered on Friday 4 October 1935 and operated its first trip the following day. Photo: Barrie Watt Collection
Watt Bros advertisement that featured on Page 18 of The Courier-Mail on Thursday 3 October 1935. Courtesy: National Library of Australia
The first Watt Bros bodied Reo about to cross the bridge to Sandgate on 24 August 1936. Photo: Kumbia & District Historical Society, courtesy Tony Winstone

More buses added

The fleet quickly expanded with the arrival of eight extra buses between 17 October 1935 and 25 January 1936, comprising: the remaining three new Watt Bros bodied Reo 2LMs, four second hand 31-passenger Whites believed to have originated from Sydney, and a second hand 25-passenger Reo. The second hand fleet of Whites and Reos proved indispensable to the Company which struggled at times to keep up with demand for the service. The popularity of the service rapidly increased during the warmer months in the first two years: growing from 30,000 passengers in 1935/6, to 42,000 passengers in 1936/7. The Redcliffe beaches were a very attractive proposition to those living in Brisbane who desired a seaside escape during summer time. In fact, the Company regularly dry hired buses from other private operators such as the Cribb Island Bus Service and Everton Park Bus Service. In November 1936, another two new Reo 2LM buses with Gold Crown engines were added to the fleet, this time with bodies manufactured by Syd Wood in Sydney.

The second new Watt Bros bodied Reo 2LM was registered on 21 November 1935 and is pictured enroute to Sandgate. Photo: Tony Winstone Collection
Another two extra Reo 2LM buses entered service during November 1936 in time for the Christmas holiday rush, with bodies manufactured by Syd Wood in Sydney. These were No. 10 and 11 and seated 36 passengers. Photo: Pat Moody, courtesy Tony Winstone

First diesel powered bus

In early December 1938, the Company purchased its first diesel-engined vehicle in the form of a Leyland Tiger TS8 chassis fitted with a 39-passenger half-cab body by Charles Hope. This vehicle instantly became the pride of the fleet and was operated by the Company for almost two decades. With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the fleet stagnated for two years until wartime necessity brought about the purchase of a further two second hand vehicles including a second-hand Fageol from Cribb Island Bus Service. Purchasing new equipment was well and truly out of the question as all resources were allocated to the war effort. 

Buses licensed to Hornibrook Highway Bus Service Ltd by the State Transport Commission on 20 March 1941
RegistrationSTC PlateMakeSeats

With vehicles in high demand during these war years, a second hand International D40 bus was purchased, but with a body in poor condition.  Out of necessity the Company decided to experiment and refurbish the body themselves at their Sandgate workshop during 1943. This proved successful and encouraged the Company to undertake further body building projects in-house. Not long after this the Company withdrew two of the original Whites from service and transferred their Smith & Waddington bodies onto newly acquired left-hand drive White WA18 chassis, which were released under the American lend-lease scheme. 

The pride of the fleet for two decades was No. 12 Q311-455, a 1938 Charles Hope bodied Leyland Tiger TS8. Pictured in front of the vehicle is driver Ray McVeigh. The Tiger first entered service on 12 December 1938 and had driven 196,300 miles at 31 July 1942. Photo: Truck & Bus Transportation Magazine

Semi-trailer buses

By December 1943, the State Transport Commission received numerous complaints from passengers about overcrowding on buses, particularly on weekends. It had become increasingly difficult to keep vehicles in roadworthy condition due to the shortage of manpower. In June 1944, the Company contacted the State Transport Commission with a view to purchasing two McGrath trailer buses for use on the service. The Company felt that with the present abnormal demand, trailer buses with the carrying capacity of up to three times the present buses would be of great benefit. While trailer buses had been operating successfully interstate for some time, no such vehicles had been approved for passenger service in Queensland.

The Commission initially expressed doubt as to whether the trailer buses would be suitable for the service but after a demonstration of a trailer bus from the Department of Aircraft during September 1944, the Commission approved of the request due to the extenuating circumstances. However, construction of the state’s first trailer bus would be delayed for another year. Concurrently, the Company was able to procure another four White WA18 and WA20 chassis under the lend-lease scheme. Three of these had new and reconditioned bodies manufactured in-house at Sandgate, while the fourth was contracted out to Thomas Gardiner & Sons at Newmarket. 

No. 22 Q393-406 was a White WA18 chassis procured from the American lend-lease scheme and fitted with a 35-passenger Hornibrook body. Photo: Vic Hayes

New Redcliffe depot

By January 1945, the Hornibrook Highway Bus Service operated 21 buses with most seating around 35 passengers. By this stage the Company had established a satellite depot on the Peninsula at Landsborough Avenue, Scarborough which eliminated ‘dead running’ back to Sandgate. In later years the Peninsula depot was relocated to Klinger Road near the Redcliffe High School. It was also during January 1945 that enterprising body builder, Mr. Athol Hedges, was employed by the Company to build Queensland’s first all-steel semi-trailer bus.

Following the end of World War II, the State Transport Commission handed the operation of the Redcliffe Peninsula local services to Elson’s Redcliffe-Petrie Bus Service from 25 February 1946. While these services from Scarborough to Clontarf and Woody Point had been a part of the Company’s co-ordinated service licence since inauguration in October 1935, the Commission determined that the Elson’s were better equipped to cater for local passengers because the Hornibrook vehicles were continually overloaded. This decision was not received favourably by the Company and indeed many local residents and visitors who continually petitioned and protested throughout the next seven years.

Meanwhile the year of 1946 was another busy period for the Company and its body workshop at Sandgate. The first of the trailer buses was finalised in-house by a workshop team led by an up-and-coming Athol Hedges, who had left Charles Hope to pursue his own venture. The body, which was fitted onto a dual-axle McGrath trailer and seated a total of 86 passengers, was hauled by a White WA22 prime mover. Concurrently, another three new conventional vehicles were added to the fleet comprising of an Athol Hedges bodied White WA20, and two Hornibrook bodies on International KS5 and Reo 20CHS chassis. These were augmented by a second hand Syd Wood bodied Reo 2LM from Lismore in northern New South Wales. These vehicles paved the way for the remaining two original White vehicles to be withdrawn from service. In 1947, a second trailer bus entered service with another body built in the Company’s Sandgate workshop on a former RAAF single-axle trailer.

In 1945, Athol Hedges was employed by Hornibrook Highway Bus Service to build Queensland’s first all-steel semi-trailer bus. The vehicle seated 86 passengers and entered service in July 1946. Photo: Truck & Bus Transportation Magazine
The Hornibrook Highway Bus Service depot on the corner of Rainbow and Knox Streets (adjacent to Sandgate Station). Photo: Phil White Collection
No. 8 Q376-721 was another product of the Hornibrook body shop and was fitted to a left-hand drive White WA18 chassis released from the US Army. Photo: Vic Hayes
In 1946, the Company built its first forward-control body at Sandgate. It became No. 6 Q423-313 and was a Reo 20CHS chassis with a 40 passenger body. Photo: Moreton Bay Regional Council

Further fleet development

The growth of the co-ordinated service in the past decade had seen annual passenger numbers rise from little more than 200,000 in the first year to over 1,500,000 by November 1947. At this time the fleet consisted of 24 vehicles which operated 23 trips each way daily from 5:00am until midnight. Continued development of the fleet continued into 1948 as another four new vehicles were added. These consisted of the Company’s first Bedford OBs with CAC bodies for use on feeder and express services, and another two Hornibrook bodies on Leyland Tiger OPS2/1 and White WB20R chassis. The Leyland Tiger was later re-bodied by Motor Body Specialists and operated in the Company’s fleet for almost 30 years. Between February 1948 and April 1948, the Company was granted permission to operate through to Brisbane during the Queensland railway strike.

In 1948, the Company purchased this 27-passenger Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) bodied Bedford OB. It was No. 18 Q441-395 and was the Company’s first Bedford bus. Photo: Peter Andersen Collection
No. 26 Q457-898 was a Leyland Tiger OPS2/1 fitted with a Hornibrook 39-passenger half-cab body. It was later re-bodied by Motor Body Specialists and ran in service for almost three decades. Photo: Ray Edser Collection

Battle for local Redcliffe services

In January 1949, the Company again lobbied the newly formed Transport Department to take back the operation of the local services from Elson’s Redcliffe-Petrie Bus Service. The Elson’s offered to allow Hornibrook to pick up local passengers along their co-ordinated service in consideration of £1,500, but the Company was not interested in only a partial takeover of the service when they had enjoyed full operation of the service for a decade. The protracted negotiations became the source of much agitation between Company Secretary Jack Amies, Hubert Elson, and his son Rex Elson. In 1950, the Hornibrook workshop produced its last bus body as the post-war rise of manufacturing costs and increased availability of new vehicles no longer made it a viable enterprise. However, the Company did persist with its spare parts business at Sandgate which became a logical extension to its bus operation.

In January 1950, the Company applied to the Transport Department to operate a daily bus service from Scarborough to Brisbane via the Hornibrook Highway. They had submitted this same application for nearly the past two years in response to recent financial losses on the service. However, the Transport Department rejected the application due to there already being a service between Redcliffe and Brisbane via Petrie (operated by Elson’s) and a train service into the city from Sandgate. In December 1951, the Company purchased a Charles Hope bodied Morris with Saurer Diesel engine. In January 1952, approval was granted for extension of the service to Scarborough Jetty. Between 1952 and 1954, the Company purchased six Bedford SB buses with CAC bodies.

Purchase of Elson’s local service

On 1 August 1953, the Company acquired the right to operate local services in the Redcliffe Peninsula with the purchase of licence number 71 (Scarborough to Clontarf) from Hubert Arthur Elson t/a Redcliffe Petrie Motor Service for the sum of £2,000. Additionally, a new condition was added to Elson’s licence number 1508 prohibiting the carriage of local passengers on the Redcliffe Peninsula. This acquisition followed five years of on-and-off negotiations and continued agitation in Redcliffe for Hornibrook buses to regain the right to transport local passengers.

After moving onto Bedfords six years earlier the Company returned to purchasing Leylands in November 1954, with delivery of the first Shuttlewood bodied Leyland Comet. Another six Comets with Shuttlewood bodies entered service between early 1955 and early 1956, as the original fleet were replaced with newer running stock. In 1959, another two new Leyland Comets joined the fleet this time fitted with Athol Hedges bodies. Between the years of 1959 and 1970, the Company continued its fleet standardisation program and purchased a total of 16 new vehicles with all but one on Leyland chassis and all fitted with Athol Hedges bodies. These vehicles mainly comprised Worldmasters, Tiger Cubs and Leopards and were the first full length traditional buses purchased by the Company with seating for up to 51 passengers.

The first of nine Leyland Comets delivered between 1954 and 1959 was No. 4 Q661-777, a 1954 model fitted with a F.H. Shuttlewood body built at Toowong. Photo: State Library of Queensland
No. 18 NKZ-359 was a 1960 Athol Hedges bodied Leyland Royal Tiger Worldmaster ERT1/1 pictured here at Sandgate Station during 1965. Photo: Bob Nean
Pictured at Sandgate Station awaiting its next trip across the bridge to Redcliffe is No. 31 NVM-132 a 1965 Athol Hedges bodied Leyland Tiger Cub PSUC1/11. Photo: Bob Nean

Death of Sir Manuel Hornibrook

On 30 May 1970, Sir Manuel Hornibrook passed away and up to this point in time had still held the office of Chairman from the inception of the bus business. In 1971, the Company experimented with the purchase of its first Hino vehicles by taking on two RC320P coaches with Freighter bodies after the collapse of Continental Coachlines. So impressed with the Japanese product the Company purchased a brand new unit for the co-ordinated service from Athol Hedges in that same year. Three extra coaches were then purchased from Black & White Buses of Sandgate in 1974, as the Company began to grow its charter and touring involvement. In July 1974, the Company took delivery of its last new vehicle in the form of an Athol Hedges bodied Hino RC320P.

No. 59 PMD-736 was one of two Freighter bodied Hino RC320P coaches purchased from the failed Continental Coachlines operation. Photo: Ian Lynas
The last new vehicle purchased by Hornibrook Highway Bus Service was this Athol Hedges bodied Hino RC320P coach during July 1974. Photo: Athol Hedges Pty Ltd

Sale of Hornibrook Highway Bus Service

With the 40-year toll franchise over the bridge about to expire the Hornibrook Highway Company intended to hand the structure over to the Queensland Government. When the toll finished there was no longer a reason for their existence as company and by extension, ownership of the bus service. An enterprising Victorian bus proprietor by the name of Geoff Mountjoy, then owner of US Bus Lines in Belgrave, expressed interest in taking on a new challenge after hearing of the Company’s desire to dispose of the buses. A syndicate consisting of Geoff Mountjoy and Noele Cook (owner of IJ Cook & Sons in Geelong) purchased the Hornibrook Highway Bus Service following the expiry of the toll franchise in October 1975. This business continues to trade today as Hornibrook Bus Lines.