Polley’s Coaches

The story begins back in 1954 when Roland Polley traded in his family farm at Wallumbilla near Roma in Western Queensland, for a move to the coastal town of Tin Can Bay for health reasons.  Upon arrival, Roland found the Tin Can Bay Bus Company up for sale which he purchased from Mr. Hugh Doherty on 5 November 1954 for £600.  This business operated a 25-passenger International KS5 bus between Tin Can Bay and Gympie three days a week for students, shoppers and workers. On these days Roland would set off in the bus from Tin Can Bay at 7:45am and then depart from Gympie at 3:00pm, passing through the towns of Coondoo and Goomboorian. At this time the road to the ‘bay’ was still all dirt with sparse settlement and few bridges. 

The Tin Can Bay Bus Service was purchased by Roland Polley on 5 November 1954 with this austerity-bodied KS5 International. Photo: Polley Family Collection

During February 1955, Roland replaced his elderly vehicle with a 1947 International KS5 with Watt Bros body, which was a vast upgrade with 33 padded seats and freight capacity. In May 1956, passenger licence 518 (Tin Can Bay-Gympie) was endorsed to read: Roland Robert Ralph Polley and Elizabeth Butler Polley, trading as Tin Can Bay Bus Company. With Roland still in poor health the decision was made to pass the bus run onto his son Duncan on 21 August 1956 for £2,000. In between operating the bus run Duncan plied his trade as a plumber when gross income was only around £60 per week. As Duncan became accustomed to operating buses in his own right he realised he could further supplement his income by conducting tours and charter work. 

In February 1955, Roland purchased this 1947 International KS5 with Watt Bros body work from Western Toowoomba Bus Service. Photo: Polley Family Collection

In 1959, a seven-passenger Volkswagen Kombi van was added to the fleet which saw Duncan set off in Easter that year with a group of seven widows to the Jacaranda Festival in Grafton, New South Wales. The trip was unfamiliar territory for Duncan who had never operated a tour in his life.  However, after a successful outing another trip soon departed for Springbrook Mountain later that year, spanning three days and two nights. The lifespan of the Kombi van was unfortunately short-lived and was replaced by a Tempo Matador during 1960.

After the mines opened in Tin Can Bay the town’s population increased significantly which warranted a frequency increase to six days a week to meet demand. This gave Duncan the confidence to replace the International with his first new bus during September 1962, in the form of an Athol Hedges bodied Albion Victor VT17AL.  At a cost of £5000 it was a huge financial risk for Duncan and his fledgling business but one which would ultimately pay off. The vehicle was delivered in a colour scheme of green and cream and was another welcomed improvement for the bus service. During 1964, another new Athol Hedges was added to the fleet, this time on an Albion Viking chassis and painted in a livery of red and cream. To meet repayments on these new vehicles Duncan began conducting regularly tours on the weekend starting with a trip to Alice Springs in the Viking during 1964.

The Polley’s first brand new bus was this Athol Hedges bodied Albion Victor VT17AL delivered in September 1962. Photo: Athol Hedges Pty Ltd
In 1964, another new bus was added to the fleet in the form of this Athol Hedges bodied Albion Viking. Photo: Athol Hedges Pty Ltd

As his fleet outgrew the former town hall turned depot in Tin Can Bay, Duncan rented a store in Mary Street in the heart of Gympie, where he stored the buses and took bookings for his next tours. On the back of this success Duncan purchased his first ever coach during April 1968, in the form of a 45-passenger Denning bodied Albion Viking VK43L which was named ‘Gympie Goldliner’. As this vehicle was purely bought for tours a new trading name of ‘Polley’s Coaches’ was adopted along with a revised colour scheme of cyan and white. With his first proper coach Duncan set out on his first ever tour around Australia during 1969 lasting 43 days at an all-inclusive cost of £660 per passenger.

During 1972, Duncan and wife Valda established their first depot in Gympie by purchasing the former motor premises of A.V. Lilley & Co on the corner of Mary and Channon Streets in the city. The new premises consisted of a large shed which could accommodate 10 vehicles in which Duncan established ‘Polley’s Service Division’ to cater for their own vehicle maintenance as well as outside work for other bus companies and the local fire brigade. In April 1973, the first Denning Mono ‘integral’ chassis and body coach was added to the fleet seating 49 passengers and powered by a Detroit 6V71 engine. It was named ‘Star’ and carried the title of ‘Cooloola’ before its name as recognition of the family’s Tin Can Bay heritage, a tradition which continues to this very day.

During April 1973, Polley’s bought their first Denning Mono coach which was named ‘Star’. Photo: Photo Family Collection

Throughout the 1970s a lot of camping trips were conducted throughout Australia, with tours originating out of Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra and travelling to tourist hot spots including Tasmania and Western Australia. The growth of the Polley’s touring work, which saw up to ten trips each year to ‘The Centre’ in the Northern Territory, allowed a new Denning coach to be added almost every year for the next decade. These tours grew the Polley’s reputation and forged strong relationships with nationwide operators such as McCafferty’s Coaches.

Pictured on tour in Hobart is Duncan Polley along with a group of happy passengers. Photo: Polley Family Collection

During March 1976, Duncan and Valda began consolidating ownership of Gympie town buses by purchasing the long established Lewis Bros business from Reg and Clarrie Lewis. This involved the takeover of four vehicles consisting of three iconic diesel Leyland Tigers with Athol Hedges bodies and a 1932 Bedford WTB, their depot in Louisa Street near the town centre, and the Red Hill to Stewart Terrace passenger service. These vehicles did not see much service under Polley ownership and were swiftly replaced with newer vehicles. Within two months Duncan had introduced a new MBS bodied Bedford BLP2 onto the town services which could seat 52 passengers. It was painted into a striking livery of gold and white with blue striping – and branded ‘Gympie Gold Service’. The Albion Victor was also repainted into this livery and shifted onto town services.

Two of three Athol Hedges bodied Leyland Tigers purchased with the Gympie town runs from brothers Reg and Clarrie Lewis in March 1976. Photo: Athol Hedges Pty Ltd
Bought new to replace the Lewis Bros buses on the town runs was this 1976 Bedford BLP2 with Motor Body Specialists body, known as ‘Gympie Gold’. Photo: Polley Family Collection

The expansion continued in November 1976 with the purchase of Youngs Bus Service who operated the Monkland town run, along with another two ageing vehicles consisting of an OB Bedford and International KB5.  From here Duncan and Valda then diversified their business interests by buying out Gympie Auto Painters on the corner of Monkland Street and the Bruce Highway, with these workers regularly doubling as spare drivers. By 1979, the fleet stood at 10 vehicles mainly comprising Denning tour coaches including the first three-axle variant which was named ‘Pride’. In the same year Duncan and Valda’s eldest son Mark joined as an apprentice mechanic in the workshop.

With their high preference for Denning vehicles the Polleys bought the first ever Denning Denflex during 1980 and assigned it to operate the Tin Can Bay service.  In 1983, Duncan and Valda continued to expand their presence in Gympie with the acquisition of the Mary Valley school run from Don Edwards. As the Polley’s touring business thrived another nine three-axle Denning vehicles were added to the fleet during the 1980s, eight of which were bought new. These included the Polley’s first Denning Jumbo during 1984 and their first Landseer during 1986. The year 1985 saw the establishment of a new transit centre at the Channon and Mary Street depot, which operated as a booking agency for all the express coach services operating through Gympie.

Duncan pictured on camelback with a hostess during one of his many tours to the Australian outback in Denning coach ‘Pride’. Photo: Polley Family Collection
Duncan pictured with ‘Queen 2’ a 1984 Denning Denair Jumbo purchased new. Photo: Paul Garred Collection

By August 1986, the Polley’s fleet stood at 17 buses and coaches overall with an equivalent number of staff. In November 1986, the Polley’s entered the express coach market themselves with the purchase of the Toowoomba to Gympie via Kingaroy service from Henry’s Coach Lines. Taken over with this service was a sole 1967 Denning Mono which was redeployed into the Polley’s fleet. The service operated from Gympie on Sunday to Friday afternoons and from Toowoomba on Monday to Thursday mornings plus Friday and Sunday afternoons. In 1987, the school service from Langshaw into Gympie was bought from Roy Mayfield along with his 1976 Domino Hedges bodied Bedford BLP2. As the touring industry experienced a rapid decline in demand by the end of the decade, the Polleys were forced to gradually downsize their operations.  A few of the Denning coaches that had been purchased in the past two decades found new owners while others were reinstituted as school buses.

Three of several Denning coaches the Polley’s owned over the years: ‘Wanderer’ 609-NSH a 1980 Denair, ‘Gem2’ 570-OEV a 1981 Denair, and ‘Rover’ 654-NZH a 1981 Denair. Photo: Polley Family Collection
Duncan was always a stickler for fleet presentation and is seen here washing ‘Cruiser’ in a creek on 10 July 1987 off the Wollogorang-Borroloola Road during a Bungle Bungle Safari Tour in the Northern Territory. Photo: Polley Family Collection
‘Princess’ DJP-02 was the last new Denning purchased and was a 48-passenger ‘Landseer Hi-Screen’ model. Photo: Paul Garred

On 16 February 1994, the Polley’s officially opened their new administration and service centre at Pinewood Avenue in Gympie. Amongst those in attendance at the event was Federal MP for Wide Bay Warren Truss, prominent industry figures including Jack McCafferty of McCafferty’s Coaches, and former town bus operators, Reg and Clarrie Lewis. In March 1994, Polleys received their first touring coach from Motorcoach Australia, after Denning’s parent company discontinued production of the ‘Landseer’ body. A few months later saw the purchase of a property in Duke Street where ‘Polley’s Transit Centre’ was established. The centre handled the passenger service to Toowoomba, the Gympie and Cooloola Coast urban services, freight, taxi and rail bookings, long distance coaches (such as McCafferty’s) and overseas tour bookings. At one stage there were 34 coaches moving through the transit centre every day, which has since been reduced to only a fraction of that.

Pictured at the opening of Polley’s new Pinewood Avenue premises is: Duncan Polley, Jack McCafferty, Reg Lewis, and Clarrie Lewis. Photo: Polley Family Collection
Valda and Duncan Polley with Federal MP for Wide Bay, Warren Truss, at the opening of their Pinewood Avenue premises on 16 February 1994. Photo: Polley Family Collection

By the end of 1994, the Polleys had purchased another Gympie school run, this time from Evan Jackson who ran to Kandanga with a 1977 Smithfield bodied Bedford BLP2. Another two new Motorcoach Classic III coaches were added to the fleet during 1997 to rejuvenate the charter fleet, as well as a second hand Denning Double Decker from Melbourne known as ‘King’. This was followed by another four Denning Denflexs purchased second hand for school buses, including two from Alastair Grant’s Sunshine Coast Coaches. During August 1999, the Polleys took delivery of Gympie’s first wheelchair accessible low floor city bus, in the form of a 39-passenger Custom Coaches bodied Mercedes Benz O405NH. The vehicle was a substantial upgrade on the town services and was an instant hit with passengers. As the area of Southside further developed, a new passenger service commenced operation from there to the centre of town.

(Explorer) 029 DUH was one of two, Motorcoach Classic III coaches purchased new in 1997 to rejuvenate the charter fleet. Photo: Paul Garred
‘City Bus’ 516-FDI was the Polley’s first wheelchair accessible vehicle and operated the town runs for two decades. Photo: Paul Garred

By the end of the year the Toowoomba passenger service was sold to French’s Coaches of Dalby, who ran the service for about a year and a half before giving it away. The service was then restarted by Polleys for the benefit of the public towards by October 2001, before it was closed down altogether 18 months later. In June 2001, the Polley’s tour division grew again with the purchase of the ‘Suntour Holidays’ business from Sunshine Coast Coaches proprietors Alastair and Beverley Grant, who continued to operate charter after losing their town and school contracts to Harry Blundred’s Sunbus 6 years earlier. Along with the business came Alastair’s last vehicle, a luxury three-axle 1998 Austral Pacific Classic III touring coach, which became the third vehicle to be known as ‘Wanderer’. After Duncan was diagnosed with prostate cancer during November 2002, his second eldest son Warren came back into the business to help run it with Mark. Another low floor was added to the fleet following the collapse of the King Bros Group during 2003, in the form of a Bustech bodied Mercedes Benz O405NH.

In June 2001, the ‘Suntour Holidays’ business was purchased from Alastair and Beverley Grant of Sunshine Coast Coaches with this 1998 Austral Pacific Classic III touring coach. Photo: Paul Garred

During June 2004, Polley’s Coaches further consolidated Gympie’s school services by purchasing Cooloola Coaches from Frank Hayes, which gave them four school runs to Curra and Tamaree, to the north of town. Four vehicles were included in the takeover consisting of two 2000 BCI-Gemilang bodied Mercedes Benz OH1627s, plus a 1985 Leyland Leopard and 1980 Bedford BLP2 with Pressed Metal bodies. In June 2006, a new satellite depot was established at Tin Can Bay in order to cater for increasing school student numbers and eliminate dead running of four buses into Gympie. Also in 2006, the North Deep Creek school run was acquired from Trevor Sauer, who was suffering from poor health. Along with Sauer’s run came his last vehicle, a 1990 P&D Coachworks bodied Hino RG197K, which was the first vehicle ever built by the Murwillumbah-based firm.

In June 2004, Polley’s acquired Cooloola Coaches from Frank Hayes with four school runs in Gympie to Curra and Tamaree. (Sylvester) 801 FXE was one of two 2000 BCI-Gemilang bodied Mercedes Benz OH1627 buses acquired with the business. Photo: Paul Garred
In June 2006, the Polley’s established a new satellite depot at Tin Can Bay. Photo: Paul Garred
Duncan Polley (left) and Mark Polley (right) pictured with Trevor Saurer (center) who sold the North Deep Creek school run to Polley’s during 2006. Photo: Polley Family Collection

In July 2008, the Queensland Government introduced ‘Qconnect’ which re-energised the urban passenger services in regional areas. This saw an increase of operating frequencies across the board for the Polley’s town services in Gympie. After a succession of second hand vehicles were added to the fleet during the first decade of the millennium, the Polleys took full advantage of the Queensland Government’s new school bus funding subsidy scheme to purchase their first Denning Manufacturing Phoenix during 2009. So pleased with the Denning product the Polley’s have been bought another 17 in the past decade to rejuvenate their fleet.

(Star) 293 KHQ is a three-axle 1995 Nambucca bodied Autobus that was acquired from Dorrigo Bus Service in 2007. Photo: Paul Garred
Part of the Polley’s Gympie school bus fleet prior to replacement with newer vehicles. Photo: Nick Wilson
In 2009, the Polley’s purchased their first Denning Manufacturing Phoenix school bus under the Queensland Government’s school bus subsidy scheme. Photo: Nick Wilson

With Duncan still in poor health the family business was passed down a generation to Warren during 2009. Under Warren’s leadership the business has focused on securing additional Queensland Government kilometric school bus services with the purchase of the Langshaw run from Len and Margaret Franz during 2010, and the Rocks Road run from Steve and Jackie Anderson during 2012. In January 2013, Polley’s commenced operating a shuttle for the University of Sunshine Coast between Gympie, Cooroy and the University’s Sippy Downs campus. This service started with a Rosa mini bus but is now operated by a Denning Phoenix low floor. In December 2013, Kilkivan school run was acquired from Caitash Pty Ltd, owned by Cameron Yarrow, with a 2009 Hino RB8.

Duncan Polley sadly passed away on 23 July 2015, aged 85. The following day saw the takeover of Tory’s Tours in Hervey Bay from proprietor Craig Tory. This business operated a public passenger service between Hervey Bay and Brisbane, along with providing local charter services. This added three Mitsubishi Rosas and one Mercedes Benz Sprinter to the Polley’s fleet. This was shortly followed by the purchase of four kilometric school runs in Maryborough from John and Sue Edwards on 31 July 2015. This acquisition added three late-model Hino school buses to the fleet, all fitted with Mills-Tui bodies. In March 2017, the Hervey Bay-Brisbane service was sold with four Mitsubishi Rosa buses to Con-X-ion Airport Transfers.

The majority of Polley’s contracted school runs are operated by Denning Phoenix buses. Photo: Nick Wilson
(Eeni) 847-RSW is one of three Mills-Tui bodied Hino school buses acquired from John and Sue Edwards of Maryborough on 31 July 2015. Photo: Nick Wilson

The Polley’s expanded their business in a westerly direction to the town of Gayndah in October 2018 with the purchase of Rob and Janette Newman’s Country Way Coaches business. This added another three kilometric school services along with two Daewoo BH117L buses and a Hino RB8. At the end of 2018, Polley’s signed a new QConnect contract for their Gympie urban services which are now operated by two new Denning Phoenix low floors. In July 2019, Polley’s acquired two separate school bus operators at Cooroy: Pinbareen Transport, owned by Gary and Karin Francis, and Cooroy Country Coaches, owned by Graeme and Kim Schlumpf. Four school runs and three buses were acquired comprising of two Daewoo BH117Ls and a Hyundai Cosmos, all with Chiron/UBC bodywork.

In September 2019, Polley’s acquired the Upper Widgee to Gympie school run from Lema Investments Pty Ltd, owned by Frank and Wendy Blom. Assigned to this school contract is a 2011 BCI JXK6127BRI painted all-over yellow. The Polley’s acquired their 25th kilometric school service in June 2020 with Alf Forsberg’s Glastonbury Creek run in Gympie, along with his 2012 Higer bodied Scania K270IB. In September 2020, the Polley’s sold their Gympie depot to a Tasmanian private equity firm but have remained in possession under lease.

As of January 2021, Polley’s Coaches operates 54 vehicles in four towns after starting with one small bus 66 years earlier.

In July 2019, Polley’s acquired two school runs at Cooroy from Graeme and Kim Schlumpf who traded as Cooroy Country Coaches. One of two buses acquired is (Journey) 585 RHD a 2010 Hyundai Cosmos Aero City with bodywork by Chiron/UBC. Photo: Nick Wilson
The Widgee to Gympie high school run was acquired from Lema Investments Pty Ltd, owned by Frank and Wendy Blom, in September 2019. Pictured with the ‘Widgee Bus’, a 2011 BCI JXK6127BRI, is Frank Blom (left) and Warren Polley (right). Photo: Warren Polley
Gympie’s town buses now and then: Polley’s 2016 Denning Phoenix low floor with the Lewis Bros 1932 Leyland Cub restored by the Gympie Gold Mining and Historical Museum. Photo: Warren Polley