Work underway on Queensland’s first bus museum

Volunteer members of the Queensland Omnibus and Coach Society have been working hard behind the scenes for several months to establish Queensland’s first bus museum.

A state government owned site at 600 Mains Road, Nathan (part of the QSAC complex) is being transformed into the Brisbane Transport Museum.

Two flagship QOCS buses are 1969 Leyland Panther bus number 722 and 1948 AEC Regal III bus 80. Both vehicles were passed onto us from the Brisbane Tramway Museum in 2000 when they disposed of their bus collection.

The long journey towards the Brisbane Transport Museum

The following story is courtesy of the Australasian Bus & Coach Magazine with all photos supplied by QOCS.

In September 2022, Nick Wilson received an eagerly anticipated call from Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) Rod Marsh.

Marsh told the QOCS President that he had an approval letter from Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick in his hands. The letter granted Wilson and QOCS the chance to finally move onto a site in the Brisbane suburb of Nathan that will become Queensland’s first bus museum.

“It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” Wilson recently told the Australasian Bus & Coach Magazine. “Especially given that QOCS has never had a home for our precious and vulnerable buses.”

That spontaneous call started a process that ended years of frustration for Wilson and QOCS. Since the society’s inception more than 26 years ago, it has been trying to establish a venue to showcase its buses.

Wilson, now in his 10th year as QOCS President, has spent the past three and a half years endlessly searching throughout south east Queensland for the ideal property to house QOCS’ fleet of 20 heritage buses.

Following several near misses on potential land, QOCS identified a suitable site in December 2021 and the dream came closer to being a reality. It started when former QOCS President Malcolm Knowles saw a for lease sign on a site at 600 Mains Road, Nathan.” After Malcolm drove past it, he told me to get in contact with Brisbane City Council,” Wilson says.

The land used to be Brisbane City Council’s cemetery office and workshop. As a property lawyer, Wilson soon discovered the land was owned by the State of Queensland and controlled by TMR. After contacting the electorate office of Queensland transport minister Mark Bailey, Wilson was handed the deflating news that a lease agreement had already been reached for the land. 

QOCS President Nick Wilson with Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Mark Bailey MP, in front of 1968 Leyland Panther bus number 498.

“Every time we searched, we would always get close. Just when we thought we would finally be able to secure a site, somebody else would beat us to it, or the land would be repurposed. Asking for a site to put buses on isn’t easy, so to miss golden opportunities hurt,” Wilson says.

Historically, QOCS’ collection of buses were stored in a variety of rural locations. When Wilson first joined QOCS, the bulk of its vehicles were stored in a paddock underneath trees at the semi-rural town of Logan Village. Wilson always knew this arrangement had to change.

He started seriously searching for vacant land QOCS may be able to afford in 2019. The tale of near misses began at a WWII aircraft hangar in Brisbane’s Eagle Farm.

Inside Hangar 7 owned by Brisbane City Council at Eagle Farm near Brisbane Airport.

“There’s been a major drive in me for the past three and a half years to push the museum and site agenda with politicians and other stakeholders,” Wilson says.

“The discussions started with Brisbane City Council about a site right at Eagle Farm near Brisbane Airport called Hangar 7. However, the council was still performing works on the site and there was no definitive timeframe on when it would be leased out.”

Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Mark Bailey MP, with QOCS President, Nick Wilson, and Brisbane City Council Transport Chair, Cr Ryan Murphy at the launch of the restoration of 1948 AEC Regal III bus number 80 in July 2020.

Desiring somewhere safe and secure to store QOCS’ restored council buses, Wilson was able to organise for buses to be kept within the Brisbane City Council bus depot in Sherwood for five years. Wilson says this arrangement was a huge benefit.

Using Sherwood as a temporary base was only short-lived. An increase in operational capacity and requirements for Sherwood meant QOCS had to vacate the depot in April 2021. More failed attempts to secure land meant the 20 heritage buses, and Wilson’s dream of a bus museum, were going nowhere in a hurry.

“We had numerous occasions where arrangements didn’t work out and we were left in the lurch,” Wilson says.

Part of our heritage fleet was stored at Brisbane City Council’s Sherwood bus depot between January 2016 and April 2021.

But it’s not all been bad news. Wilson and QOCS’ journey for a transport museum site has allowed the group to forge partnerships in the industry. Upon needing to find a temporary home for its buses at short notice, Wilson found support from Bus Stop Sales in Rocklea.

A quarter of the QOCS fleet were moved to Bus Stop’s depot in April 2021 and remained there until February 2022 – when tragedy struck the business. As heavy rain deluges fell on south east Queensland, Wilson’s senses pricked and he raised the alarm to save both Bus Stop’s fleet and QOCS’ vintage buses.

“When the floods happened, we were very close to losing all of the buses we’d restored over the past 10 years,” Wilson says. “Thankfully fate and instinct kicked in. I had a gut feel that allowed us to act swiftly, and we moved the buses out the day before it turned bad.”

In this way, Wilson helped repay the favour to Bus Stop. On that Saturday afternoon in early 2022, Wilson’s instincts saw the majority of Bus Stop’s buses taken out of its yard before five metres of water swept through and wreaked havoc. Following the flood, QOCS was left in limbo. Its fleet moved yet another time to Royans Coachworks at Acacia Ridge. The constant shifting of buses would soon change after Wilson received the first of two wonderful phone calls from Rod Marsh.

Marsh’s first call in April 2022 told Wilson that the Mains Road site had become available and the government was willing to consider leasing it to QOCS. With nine undercover parking bays and a total area of just under 2,500 square metres, Wilson was quick to begin negotiating for the site with the Department of TMR.

Part of the QOCS heritage fleet on display at the first Heritage Bus Expo held at Bus Stop Sales in October 2021.

Unlike other heartbreaks, the museum proposal was warmly received and formal documentation was signed in June. Wilson didn’t let himself believe the gruelling search had come to an end until he received that second call in September from Marsh, which confirmed the Brisbane Transport Museum would be going ahead at Nathan.

QOCS took possession of the land on 26 September 2022, moving quickly to clean, repair and fix buses before moving them onsite. Six buses are already undercover at the Mains Road site, with more vehicles arriving soon.

Wilson says QOCS has worked with Brisbane City Council to refurbish its buses to provide relics that are showroom quality for the official opening of the transport museum.

“Countless hours went into scouting for available areas. We’re very lucky that the search is complete,” Wilson says.

Former Brisbane City Council bus number 721 is the very last of the 340 Leyland Panther buses built to replace Brisbane’s tram and trolleybus network.
1983 MAN SL200 bus number 100 was one of two buses re-painted by Brisbane City Council into this commemorate livery to celebrate 100 years of public transport in Brisbane during August 1985.

Queensland’s first bus museum will be a terrific way to show what QOCS does. His group owns and maintains buses so they can still be around to be appreciated by bus lovers for centuries to come.

Wilson is relieved that the Mains Road site has no flooding issues and is situated within the public sporting complex that houses QEII Stadium and Nissan Arena. He says the opening of the museum, which will occur later this year, will revolutionise the state’s industry.

With office spaces and undercover storage, the new museum is in a central location that gives QOCS free publicity. Importantly, QOCS has also installed CCTV surveillance and other security items to protect its historical monuments.

QOCS’ plan is to first invite key industry members to see the site before officially opening the Brisbane Transport Museum to the general public in 2023.

It’s all a learning experience for Wilson and QOCS, but it’s one that he is happy to undergo after finally finding the perfect place for a historical Queensland bus site.

“It’s a very exciting development to soon open Queensland’s first bus museum,” Wilson says. “The impact will be massive – there’s always been a need for this and everyone we’ve spoken to is excited about its establishment.

“Everyone in the Queensland industry wants a bus museum. It’s long overdue and well deserved – we’re honoured to be able to deliver it.”

Three of QOCS’ oldest buses are now permanently stored undercover from the harsh elements for the very first time.