Imagine turning up to the same job you were doing since 1972? Can you? I reckon very few of us could.
As an eerie winter fog settles over the plains, John Millerd jumps in his bus to do exactly that, again – taking the same road from Gunnedah to Breeza via Curlewis that he has traversed for over 45 years. 1000 kilometres a week, 42 weeks a year.
John is a local man, born in Gunnedah in the rush of the post war boom. His father bought the bus run in the 1960s from the Goodman family who had established the run when Curlewis began to grow as Preston Coal mining came to the town. As the town grew, more children headed into the closest high school in Gunnedah.
Following the sudden death of his father in 1965 his mother Beryl Millerd continued to operate the bus run with the help of her brother Roy Moore until John was able to gain his bus license in 1972.
The first bus John purchased was a small second hand Austin 30 seater. Over the years he has had a Bedford 57 seater and Hino RG197. Today two Iveco, 58 and 62 seater, buses are common along the Kamilaroi Highway. The modern buses are little more comfy, close to double the horse power. The air conditioning and cloth seats provide a bit more comfort than the sweaty vinyl seats on a hot summer day, where the only air conditioning was from the open bus windows.
Millerds Bus Service departs the small village of Breeza at around 7.45am every school day. John arrives a little early and patiently waits while a few high school teenagers slowly make their way down the quiet streets to board, obviously delaying the inevitable trip to school. He banters with the parents that bring the younger children over, and always has a welcoming smile to put the nervous youngsters at ease.
He knows all his passengers and most of the parents by name, and has unique insight into their lives. As the sun rises over the patchwork paddocks of the Breeza plains the white bus with its distinctive black and red lines takes the familiar route into Curlewis, picking up more of the precious cargo on its way.
At one stop along the busy Kamilaroi Highway a dad helps his three onto the bus amid chirpy “Morning John” and a few quips about the sleep still in their eyes. He tells John that he will be picking the children up in the afternoon in town, they wont be catching the bus home. John notes this – he will probably need to remind the kids not to get on the bus when the time comes, its all part of the service of a country bus run.
A turn into Curlewis where some of the passengers alight to attend the local public school and others join to head into Gunnedah. The other bus also fills with Curlewis and district children all ‘keen’ to start their day. There are more bright good mornings and welcoming from John as they board, with little response from the sullen teenage students but after decades of doing this John doesn’t take offence – teenagers in the morning are not the most engaging of people!
Have children changed over the years? In some respects, yes. With most having a phone these days there is little chatter, most have their heads down. In other ways they are the same as the children that came aboard forty or thirty years ago. There are a few that think they are too cool for school, others that love the social interaction and banter across the bus aisle.
Once the precious cargos are safely delivered to most schools in Gunnedah John heads back out to Curlewis to take locals to town on Thursdays too. It’s a valuable service to those who cannot get into town on their own.
The traffic on the road has got faster that’s for sure, with much of the route now a 110 kph zone. John credits the local Shire Council with always being helpful and supportive to keep the run safe. “If I ask them to put up some signs to indicate it’s a school bus route they do. Where I need to pull over to pick up or drop off kids the Council helps to make it as safe as possible”
Government regulations and reporting requirements have changed over the years too. Seat belts and flashing lights are two big ones that he will need to implement soon. But its all about making things easier and safer.
There haven’t been too many near misses in the decades of service. The worst was when the old bus caught fire in the late 70s. A rock flew into the engine causing it to burst into flames. John was quick to haul the children out, sustaining bad burns himself. It took him about 3 months to recover, and a few operations over the years, but all the children in his care were safe.
In his spare time John was a member of the 12th/16th Hunter River Lancers an Armoured Corps Army Reserve Regiment located in Tamworth, Armidale and Muswellbrook for 44 years and 6 months. When he retired in 2015 he was the member of the regiment to have served as Officer In Command at Tamworth, Armidale and Muswellbrook.
You start to see John doesn’t do anything by half.
When I asked John does he still enjoy it, his reply was “Well I wouldn’t still be doing it if I didn’t!” I guess that is a yes.
He believes it is a honour to be entrusted with the lives of the children that use the service every day. And after so long, he is now being entrusted to the grandchildren of his first passengers.
How many children has he had in his care over the years? “Well, lets see” he says. “At least 100 kids, on 2 buses, 43 weeks a years, 5 days a week for 47 years” I will leave you to do the sums…it’s a few. All safely, happily delivered to their destination. With a smile and a wave.
John Millerd and Millerds Bus Service, a reliable sight along the Kamilaroi Highway for nearly 50 years. From all the parents and communities, thank you!