Pincini’s of Mirboo North & Rockleigh Tours

Early DaysThe Mirboo area was settled by timber getters in the late 1870s, attracted particularly by the Mountain Ash timber. A railway between Morwell and Mirboo North was approved by the Victorian parliament in November 1880 after agitation from local settlers concerned at the lack of local roads and the poor quality of the few that existed. Construction began in January 1883 by John S White. Following strikes and cost blowouts his contract was cancelled in June 1883.

A new contractor was not appointed until 17 January 1883. The planed terminus of the new railway was in open farmland, about 2kms from the existing town of Mirboo. A new town sprung up around the terminus and became known (eventually) as Mirboo North. Mirboo faded into insignificance and became known as Baromi while the name Mirboo now applies to a region 9kms to the south east. The rail line was completed in 1886 and operated for 88 years, the last train being run on 22 June 1974 as a special celebration event.

A bus service was provided to and from Morwell in lieu by Latrobe Valley Bus Lines. Today this service runs only on Thursdays, however Gippsland Bus Service operates through Mirboo North on its Wonthaggi – Traralgon service, which runs thrice daily on weekdays and twice daily on weekends.

Joseph Pincini was a pioneer of the Mirboo North District in the late 19th century. He was born in 1865 and died in October 1943. Joseph’s father Giacomo was born in northern Italy or Switzerland in about 1840 and had migrated to Australia from Italy

Joseph’s son Earl Pincini entered the road transport industry by virtue of doing the mail run between Morwell and Leongatha via Yinnar, Boolarra and Mirboo North with the license being noted as renewed on 21/7/37. An initial application to operate a weekend service from Mirboo North to Melbourne via Thorpdale was refused on 5/5/38. The existing license was renewed again in August 1943 and in 1944 the license was changed to become a commercial passenger vehicle to operate between Mirboo North and Leongatha which also allowed mail to be carried.

From July 1947 two separate routes were licensed, Mirboo North to Morwell and Mirboo North to Leongatha. By 1949 the Morwell service was running on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays departing Mirboo North at 2.00pm and from Morwell at 5.00pm with a single fare of 6 shillings and five pence, return fare ten shillings whilst the Leongatha service departed Mirboo North at 7.50am returning from Leongatha at 12.30pm weekdays and 10.00am Saturdays.

The Transport Regulation Board considered an application to vary the conditions of license A132 to operate additional trips between Mirboo North and Leongatha on Mondays to Saturdays at 7.00pm from Mirboo and 9.00pm from Leongatha (connecting to and from the Leongatha – Dandenong road service) plus additional trips between Mirboo North and Morwell on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays departing Mirboo North at 2.00pm and Morwell at 5.00pm. Applications by Latrobe Valley Bus Lines for additional services from Mirboo North and Boolarra to Morwell were also considered.

Unsurprisingly the Victorian Railways Commissioners objected to most of the applications (except for the Mirboo North – Morwell proposal) in order to protect their rail service, then operated by an ageing and rather dilapidated AEC rail motor. The Boolarra & District Progress Association expressed concern that the new bus services would result in the withdrawal of the rail service. The application was granted including some limited charter rights with 20 miles of Mirboo North.

A Business is Created.

Later on the opportunity arose to become involved in school bus transport on runs from the Mirboo North schools. In 1950 a service was started between Mirboo and Mirboo North School via Limonite.

A second school run came in 1952 from Thorpdale to the Mirboo North school. Also in 1952 a passenger/mail service round trip from Mirboo North to Berry’s Creek and Holmes Road was approved for operation on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The Mirboo North High School was opened in 1955 and additional runs were provided over time.

In 1952 the Transport Regulation Board wrote to the railways commissioners to advise that a passenger who had been inconvenienced by the non operation of a Pincini service due to mechanical breakdown on 5/1/52 had been reimbursed the cost of his resulting taxi fare and that Pincini had been requested to supply an up to date timetable to the Mirboo North station master.

Joe and Laurie Snr entered the business and began expansion into coach work and especially safari tours. The original company registered by the brothers on 29/6/1955 was E, J & L Pincini Ltd. It later became Pty Ltd before finally changing to E, J, & L Pincini Pty Ltd, Mirboo North. This company was deregistered on 18/6/2011 and was the operating company for the Mirboo North school contracts, buses and charter services.

An advertisement in a 1957 local newspaper advised of a special trial service on Friday nights commencing 15/2/57 departing Mirboo North at 8.45pm and from Leongatha at 10.00pm at fares of seven shillings and sixpence single and twelve shillings return. The advertisement was attached to a letter sent to the railways by an anonymous railway employee from Morwell complaining that it was impacting on the rail service (despite the fact that there was no night rail service to Mirboo North!).

G.E.T and Battles with the Railways

On 10/11/60 the Transport Regulation Board heard an application from E, J&L Pincini Pty Ltd for permit authority to pick up school children in Melbourne and convey them to Mirboo North where they would be based for a six day tour of the Latrobe Valley and South Gippsland regions. Tours included a visit to either General Motors Holdens or H.J. Heinz at Dandenong on the forward journey plus visits to the State Electricity Commission, Gas & Fuel Corporation and Australian Paper Mills in the Latrobe Valley and to Wilson’s Promontory.

This was the beginning of the Gippsland Educational Tours brand. The company name of Gippsland Education- al Tours Hostel Pty Ltd was originally registered on 17/6/59 under the name of Leongatha Drive In Theatre Pty Ltd, presumably indicating family ownership of this property, before changing its name to encompass ownership of the Mirboo North and Moondarra Hostels used as accommodation for the coach tours. This company was deregistered on 23/9/06.

The railway commissioners again objected proposing that the forward and return journeys be undertaken by train instead of coach but noted operational difficulties would not allow the Holden/ Heinz visits if using Morwell line trains, that a special rail car could not be made available due to industrial issues and that the return journey would have to be made on Friday instead of Saturdays – typical of the inflexibilities of the state run railways of the era. Metropolitan charter bus operators also objected believing that the to and from Melbourne work should be theirs. The TRB’s decision “subject to review” was to grant the permit where the parties come from places without a reasonable connection to the morning train from Melbourne on the basis that it was an experimental service and that the existing railway service was “hardly satisfactory”.

The Pincinis then wrote to the railways outing a series of questions as to how they would cater for groups not covered by the permit, pointing out that most such journeys would require first the use of a suburban train, then The Gippslander, followed by the railcar to Mirboo North then a bus to the camp. They also pointed to cost differentials in terms students, their free carriage of two teachers and queried how the GMH/ Heinz tours could be incorporated. The railways response ignored most of the salient points and the correspondence continued into 1961.

In March, they approached the TRB now seeking to have tours depart Melbourne on Sundays (noting that there was no rail service to Mirboo North on Sundays) and that since the original decision one school had cancelled its tour and another had procured a different charter bus. The approach was supported by Tottenham Technical School.

The TRB held a further hearing on 19/4/1961 to consider an application to license an additional vehicle to (a) carry school children between Berry’s Creek, Holmes estate and Mirboo North and (b) allow charter rights to Melbourne for operations under Gippsland Educational Tours Pty Ltd. Objectors were the railways, Pioneer Tourist Coaches and Parlorcars but the application was granted seemingly on the basis that individual school headmasters could determine whether road or rail travel was used. There was a subsequent directive from the Education department to headmasters to use co-ordinated rail services wherever possible and not to engage private buses without conferring with the railways.

A further application, heard on 15/5/1963 was to vary the conditions of seven TS (school bus) and one CO (country omnibus) license to include the ability to operate extended tours from Melbourne in conjunction with the Mirboo North hostel with the places of interest list now expended to include Tarra Valley and Walhalla. At that time the fleet comprised 8 buses. A similar application was heard on 18/9/1963 (possibly the same application deferred?). Again the railways presented their objections, now claiming that a favourable decision of the Board would be contrary to a clear Government direction.

However some school still wished to use road transport, the principal of Heywood High School advocating this to the TRB in 1964. At an unknown date a second hostel was established at Moondarra.

By the early 1960s their loyal school-based clientele were looking for more and the brothers started touring to the Snowy Mountains and beyond. In 1963 they decided the Red Centre was to be their new frontier. Pincini’s also operated a number of interstate tours co-ordinating with rail and air services where required and became a firmly established part of the touring coach scene.

During the early 1970s one of their part time driver’s was Ross Eldred from Leongatha then in the process of establishing his own school bus and charter business but at that time having only a single school run and bus.

By that time both operations included coach divisions which shared the name Gippsland Educational Tours with much of their work involving taking school groups on camping tours both within Victoria and as far as Central Australia – a daunting task in that era, when many outback roads (including up to Alice Springs and out to Ayers Rock) were unmade and were alternatively dust bowls in the dry and mud holes in the wet.

In those pioneering days, the coach operators all clubbed in to help each other along those roads – after all the bloke you towed out from dust or mud in the morning might well be the only one around to tow you out in the afternoon!

The Mirboo North depot was in Baths Road, just behind the centre of town comprising a large shed, suitable for both bus parking and maintenance with school buses parked in an open rear yard, accessible either through the depot or via an adjacent laneway. For many years Pincini’s operated all of the Mirboo North school runs except for two run by C & D Trembath.

Australian Road Transport Hall of Fame

The Pincini’s extract from the Australian Road Transport Hall of Fame reads as follows:

“When the first group boarded a coach in Melbourne passengers were handed their kit in a hessian sugar bag. Inside were an enamel plate, cutlery, steel grate, billy, and ground sheet. This, when combined with someone else’s, would double as a tent, and when it came to food everyone was left to fend for themselves. The bus did make regular shopping stops.

The following year GET’s outback tours began. Joe and Laurie introduced 12×12 auto tents and even provided the meals. Nhill High School was the first to venture northward to the centre of Australia.

In two buses, a Bedford and a small Hino, which were both roof-loaded with tents and cooking equipment, with Laurie and Joe at the wheels, set off on the adventure of a life-time. The word soon got around and schools were lining up to experience this amazing journey. In 1972 Funfari Tours was introduced to cater to the public market. A Moonraker and a Freighter Apollo dubbed the “Mud Runner”became the pride of the fleet. The name Mud Runner was given to Joe by Peter Severin of Curtin Springs.

With the introduction of Funfari Tours along came cooks, bottled gas and the beginning of the 9×9 pyramid tent. Soon after Funfari, Southern Cross Safaris was born with Australia’s first two MAN Coach Chassis. This business would go on to partner Pioneer, catering on their camping tours. On one occasion Laurie had eight coaches bogged along the old South Road near Pimba. The Pincini family is now in its fourth generation of serving the bus industry. Paul (Laurie’s son), and his wife, Liz, have been involved with Expo Tours, Eldreds Coaches and Swagman Tours over the years.”

Laurie Pincini Snr and Joseph Pincini were both inaugurated into the transport hall of fame in Alice springs in August 2009 for their pioneering and adventurous spirit in opening up the Australian outback to tourists.

Expansion into Melbourne

As the business expanded, the brothers decided that a presence was required in Melbourne in order to expand the basis for their charter and safari tours work. They applied to the TRB in 1967 for the transfer of two expiring Parlorcars Metropolitan Charter licenses but this was refused on the basis that the vehicles would be used for the hostel operations rather than for genuine metropolitan charter. A second application was made in November 1967 for two vehicles to operate camping tours to Gippsland (8 days and not using the Mirboo North hostel); Murray Valley and Grampians (8 days); Mount Buffalo and Kiewa (6 days) and western district (5 days) and as general charter buses. Only the Gippsland and Murray Valley tours were approved and also a six month permit was granted for tours between Melbourne and the Mirboo North and Moondarra Hostels.

Thus in 1968 the Melbourne arm of Pincini’s was established, based in McIntosh Street, Airport West. In July 1968, Pincini’s ventured into route service for the first and only time, taking over the Moonee Ponds – Glenroy route 48A from Baker’s Glenroy Bus Service. The route was numbered 500 in the 1971 metropolitan wide renumbering and, from March 1973, a branch route was tried as route 501 from Moonee Ponds to Niddrie via Strathmore. Pincini sold the route services to Deveson’s Bus Service from 26/4/1973.

1970 finally saw the granting of permission to operate transfers to the Mirboo North and Moondarra Hostels on any day of the week without restrictions. The company name E, J & L Pincini (Melbourne) Pty Ltd was regis- tered on 25/1/72 to hold the Melbourne based contracts, buses and charter. At some point this company would appear to have become solely owned by Laurie Pincini Snr.

To further boost the business, several school runs and buses were acquired from Western Consolidated Bus Lines in May 1971. In 1972 another trading name, Funfari Tours was introduced to cater for the adult market, and this was followed by Southern Cross Tours for which Pincini’s operated two MAN coaches in conjunction with Pioneer.

The business continued to thrive during the early 1970s with many new coaches being purchased, mainly on Bedford and Albion chassis with Freighter bodies. Older school buses were replaced and new touring coaches added. The school runs known to have been operated during this period (there may have been more) were:

  • Gisborne – Goonawarra via Riddle’s Creek
  • Gisborne – South Gisborne
  • Deer Park High School – Melton (run now ceased)
  • A run into Epping (now ceased)
  • St Albans Special School contracts (now ceased)
  • Sunbury- Diggers Rest (2 runs)
  • Sunbury—Monegeeta
  • Sunbury— Diggers Rest
  • South Sunshine North Technical School – Melton (now ceased)
  • Whittlesea – Wallan (three runs/ buses)

Mirboo Downsizing

The Mirboo North operation was downsized with the sale of several school runs. Prior to this the runs operated were Mirboo North to Berry’s Creek, Mirboo East, Boolarra/ Boolarra south (two runs), Prosper Valley/ Budgeree, Coalville/ Narracan, Dumbalk Road/ Mardan, Hallston and Turton’s Creek plus a run into Thorpdale Primary School from McDonald’s Track. There were also several private school runs into Mary McKillop Regional Catholic College in Leongatha until the end of 1992 when they passed to Eldred.

Firstly in 1979 local glaziers NF&JC Edney acquired the Turton’s Creek and Narracan runs with a 1970 Bed- ford VAM/ Ansair and a 1971 Bedford SB5/ Freighter. These were later replaced by a1987 Isuzu ECR570S/ Austral and a 1989 Isuzu LT1-11P/ Volgren and later again by two Mills Tui bodied Hinos. The business was incorporated as Jeneil Pty Ltd on 24/6/94 The Turton’s Creek run was sold to Sunette Pty Ltd, Leongatha during 2011.

Then in the early 1980s, GF&NP Hams acquired the Boolarra and Boolarra South runs with a 1971 Toyota Coaster and a 1972 Albion Viking/ Freighter. The Boolarra run ceased by 1988 and the Boolarra South run was sold to Eldred’s of Meeniyan (Eldorado Bus Lines) by June 2000 the bus by then being a 1988 Isuzu LT1-11P/ Centurion which had replaced the Viking.

In the five years between 1988 and 1993 the remainder of the school runs and the charter business were also sold. Interestingly most of the operators to whom Pincini sold runs and charter have themselves sold out again since.

In the late 1980s, NG&PJ Hanks took the Mardan run and one bus, the 1977 Albion Viking VK55/ PMC. Hanks adopted the trading name of Strzelecki Coaches and acquired a short Mercedes OH1316/ Howard Porter coach from Villa Carlotta of Busselton WA for charter. The Albion was replaced by a 1998 Mercedes OHL1630/ APG Starliner which was sold with the run to the Brewster family/ Holbrew Nominees by June 2005

By 1990 G, W, Raven (Grand Ridge Coaches) had purchased the Thorpdale Primary School-McDonald’s Track run with a 1980 Domino Starliner. This was replaced in 1994 by a Hino RK176K/ PMCSA and was sold to Sunette Pty Ltd with the run in 1995.

In late 1992 the Berry’s Creek run and some of the charter business was sold to JD&MI Mackie of Meeniyan with a 1973 Bedford SB5/ Freighter for the run (replaced immediately by a new Mercedes OH1418/ Volgren) and a pair of Domino Tourmaster coaches. Mackie’s subsequently got out of charter after replacing these coaches with newer Mercedes and sold the run and school bus to Sunette, Leongatha by April 2001.

The Mirboo East school run was sold to Raven in early 1993 with a 1973 Denning monocoach and a 1977 Domino Tourmaster. This run was sold to the Brewster family/ Holbrew Nominees with a 1994 Hino RK176K/ PMCSA around 1996.

These sales left the Pincini operation in Mirboo North with just the Budgeree run and a 1987 Isuzu ECR570/ Austral which had been acquired from Warragul Bus Lines. This run and bus were sold to Raven in 1999 thus ending an almost fifty year period of operation by the Pincini family in Mirboo North. Raven sold this run with a 2004 Volvo B7R/ Autobus to AM& R Gourley (Gippsland Charter Services) who had established themselves as the areas main charter operator.

Meanwhile in Melbourne

Laurie Junior became active with his father in the Melbourne operation; however in the 1980’s this was also considerably downsized. The first sale early on was the two Gisborne based runs to W & C Cozens of Keilor East with three buses. During this period much of the livery also disappeared with many of the school buses operating in base white or cream. Then on 4 May 1987 nine or more runs were sold to Moreland Bus Lines together with the charter services effectively ending this business.

Rockleigh Tours Pty Ltd, Diggers Rest

This company was established by Laurie Pincini Snr on 16/4/87 just prior to selling the bulk of the Melbourne school services. The company had three school services and five buses including the Daimler double decker, which had been imported for use on school charters. Operations were located to the family property at 190 Duncan’s Lane, Diggers Rest. In 1988 the Sunbury — Bulla and Sunbury — Monegeetta runs passed to Sunbury Bus Lines.

In 1992 Laurie Junior and his wife Joanne Pincini took over Rockleigh Tours from his father Laurie senior. When Laurie first started he had a Hino/ Freighter coach acquired from Cullen’s of Wangaratta for the Sunbury — Diggers Rest school run and the Daimler double Decker, which he bought off his father.

At this stage Laurie was the only driver. Rockleigh Coaches soon developed by conducting school tours to their Animal Land Farm for Children at the Duncan’s Road property, which has about 7000 visitors a year, combined with several school runs and general charter. Additional known school runs were Sunbury – Riddell’s Creek (gained in 1996); and Marian College Sunshine – Hoppers Crossing and Werribee. The charter business of Alex Kennedy t/a Kentour, Sunbury was purchased in 7/00 with NYN 587 a rather ancient Denning coach.

The business grew to employ 2 full time drivers, 7 casual drivers, 1 apprentice mechanic and 2 administration staff. Laurie Junior’s son Nathan, who naturally grew up around buses, has continued the family tradition and, after leaving school at 15 began an apprenticeship with Rockleigh. In 2009 he won the BusVic Apprentice of the Year Award.

A setback was experienced at the end of the 2012 school year with the loss of two school contracts as a result of a reorganisation of runs in the district. Despite this Rockleigh Tours vehicles can be regularly seen around town on charter and the company is a regular participant in the coach replacement movements for V/Line passenger rail services.

Merimbula Bus Lines (inc as PR&EA Pincini, Pty Ltd Pambula on 20/3/09)

Another of Laurie’s sons, Paul Pincini, has based himself at Pambula and has held various positions in the bus industry including Operations Manager for Deane’s at Pambula. From 2005 he was Manager of Tathra Bus Service at Bega until their sale to Deane’s in January 2013, a period which included the introduction of increased route services in 2006. Prior to that, Paul and wife Liz had served as coach crews on long distance tours for several operators. As part of the Deane’s takeover, Paul purchased BP51CR Mercedes LO912/ Northcoast with a permanent hire arrangement with Lumen Christie College, Pambula on 16/1/13.

They took over the Pambula-Milligandi run from B. Phillips in 2003, registering the business name of Merimbula Bus Lines on 26/2/03 and the Eden—Burragate run from B&J Jackson around 2007. A charter and tour business has also been built up buying three second hand coaches and selling two. They also operate local tours under the name Sapphire Explorer Day Tours. Paul has also been active in local government.