Murray Valley Coaches was a renowned coach company formed in the 1930’s, headquartered in Mildura, which by the early 50’s had an extensive network of service offerings, primarily centring around long distance (regular) coach services and tours. With advances in technology and manufacturing processes for heavy vehicles, decreased journey times and increased passenger comfort was suddenly achievable. All this meant many far places were now reachable and widely accessible within a day or two, resulting in a surge in demand for long distance passenger coach services. Murray Valley Coaches capitalised on these new opportunities in 1945 when they began operating regular coach services between Bendigo and Mildura.
By the late 40’s, the route was just a small portion of an expansive network, with frequent services from Mildura to Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney, amongst others. However, with the rise of popularity in the motor car in the early 50’s (due to increased affordability), the company began to experience financial hardship. This saw the sale of the Bendigo – Mildura route on July 1st, 1954 to three drivers; Colin Symes, W.A. Runnalls and Doug Bennetts.
Together these three formed Calder Highway Coaches, establishing a depot at 54 High Street/Chapel Street, Bendigo. Over the next 28 years, Calder Coaches built up a deeply established and reputable operation in the Bendigo region, comprising of extensive service offerings, and an equally impressive premier class, renowned fleet. At it’s peak, the company offered Urban, School, and Charter services, alongside an extensive interstate tours program.
Calder Coaches’ growth was kick started when they began operating the urban service from Huntly – Epsom – White Hills to Bendigo at some stage in the mid to late 50’s (the first new bus bought new for this service was a ‘57 build). With increased revenue, the company went on to purchase the Bendigo to Sea Lake stage service from Ansett’s Provincial Roadways in 1959, and the Bendigo to Ballarat stage service (also from Provincial Roadways) in 1966.
At some stage in the mid to late 60’s, the company was acquired, or came to be owned, by Ted and Florence Hamley. In 1968, the Hamley’s, their daughter Joyce and her husband Alan jointly purchased the bus services from Alf Bentley (Bentley’s Motors) in Castlemaine, renaming the business ‘Castlemaine Bus Lines’. Despite this, both companies remained entirely separate, both legally and operationally.
However by 1972 the bus rationalisation program was widely in place across the state, and following the withdrawal of SEC tramway services in Bendigo, a new network of bus services (and subsequently new bus contracts) were developed. This ultimately saw Calder Coaches loose operating rights of the Huntly service to Walkers Bus Service. To rub further salt in the wound, the formation of VicRail in 1974 oversaw the integration and rationalisation of remaining country coach services into a combined rail/bus network. This saw a number of changes to these services, but namely, the introduction of new bus contracts, which Calder Coaches (again) failed to retain, probably in order to consolidate their operations towards the largest and most profitable portion of the company – the tour market.
With the loss of the various services, and the intensive vehicle replacement program (for the tour coaches), numerous vehicles were cascaded down to the Castlemaine fleet, ending up as school vehicles.
By the mid 1970’s, the company had obtained four school runs, operated around 12 (known) vehicles, and was in the process of relocating to a purpose built depot facility in Wood Street, Bendigo (now Bendigo Coachlines’ premises). But by around the turn of the decade Calder were to again downsize, with the Hamley’s selling the Bendigo to Sedgwick school service was to Burtonclay, and the Bendigo to Strathfieldsaye service to Noel Storey. Not long thereafter the remaining Calder business including remaining coaches, along with the private Girton College to Castlemaine school run, were sold to Castlemaine Bus Lines, with the Hamley’s retaining the sole Goornong school run (and bus).
Between 1985 and 1987, the four ex Calder Denning Monocoaches were progressively painted into Castlemaine’s livery, with the extended charter and touring business incorporated into ‘CBL Tours’, under the Castlemaine banner.
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