Moorabbin Bus Lines (Elston’s)

Other than the story of Moorabbin Bus Lines, owned by George Elston, the below history also recounts Geoff Foster’s childhood memories growing up in Beaumaris and how he first became to be interested in buses.

The company story has been sourced primarily from Geoff’s own recollections with additional material from Graeme Cleak’s invaluable Melbourne bus route histories, BCSV fleet records, an article by Peter Hodgson on Freighter Lawton Monobuses (ABP 6/3) and extracts from The People Movers by Jack Maddock.

Local Area: Moorabbin, Clayton & Beaumaris

A little about the parts of Melbourne where story of Moorabbin Bus Lines (Elston’s) and Southland Bus Lines (Tom Jones) takes place – sourced from various local government and history websites.

The word Moorabbin is believed to have come from the Wurundjeri Aboriginal word for resting place. The Post Office opened on 1 September 1857 as South Brighton, was renamed Brighton South around 1886 and Moorabbin in 1909. The Moorabbin East Post Office near Chesterville Road opened in 1960. Most of the eastern side of Moorabbin has been an industrial area since the first development in the mid 1960s. Major industries with a presence in the area included Philip Morris and Coca-Cola. Moorabbin is also well known locally for its residential area built after World War II and for having been the home of the St Kilda Football Club during its period of residence at the Linton Road oval.

Cheltenham includes one of the early estates in the parish of Moorabbin developed by Josiah Holloway from 1852. Named Two Acre Village lots were sold between 1853 and 1854 and the township was renamed Cheltenham. Sufficient population had settled for Cheltenham Post Office to open on 1 August 1857, although the major growth of the township was in the 1880s. Much of the residential development was built in the 1940s and continued into the 1980s. Cheltenham also has a large industrial area on the eastern edge and a smaller area at the far western edge. Since the advent of Southland Shopping Centre in 1968 the area has become a major retail hub.

Beaumaris includes two early estates in the parish of Moorabbin developed by Josiah Holloway from 1852. Named Beaumaris Town and Beaumaris Estate (after the pastoral run in the area and ultimately after Beaumaris in Wales), he marketed the lots by suggesting the railway was imminent and a canal would be built. The town ship developed slowly, a Post Office opened on 1 March 1868, but was replaced next month by Gipsy Village office (now Sandringham). Beaumaris Post Office at Keys Street did not reopen until 1925. In 1957 this was renamed Beaumaris South when a new Beaumaris office opened in the Beaumaris Concourse.

Heatherton has always had a surprisingly low population for a metropolitan suburb. It is predominantly open space: market garden, golf courses (the Kingston Heath Golf Club and the Capital Golf Club) and parks (Kingston Heath Reserve and Karkarook Park). As part of the Melbourne sand belt, the area was subject to significant sand mining, though most extraction sites have now passed to other uses.

The Kingston Centre, a major regional Aged Care and Rehabilitation facility, is located in Heatherton. The site was originally the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum (where construction began in 1909) and it was later known as the Heatherton Sanatorium. A 2-foot (610mm) gauge tramway was constructed from the railway at Cheltenham to the building site. A large proportion of the grounds of the Kingston Centre were sold in the 1990s to the developer Mirvac, who built the 500 homes of the Heath estate between 2000 and 2006.

The Clayton area was first occupied for farming in the 1850s and was originally named after a property, “Clayton Vale”, owned by lawyer John Hughes Clayton in the 1860s. A township was originally gazetted on Dandenong Road and in 1862 a primary school was opened at the corner of Dandenong Road and Clayton Road, to serve the whole of the Clayton district. This school changed its name to Clayton North Primary School in 1954. The construction of the railway to Dandenong and Gippsland about 1 km south of Dandenong Road in 1878 prompted the start of a second township where the line crossed Clayton Road. The Post Office opened on 18 November 1887 as Clayton’s Road Railway Station and was renamed Clayton in 1891. Clayton’s rural lands and relative proximity to Melbourne attracted two institutions at the turn of the century: the Talbot Colony for Epileptics on land later occupied by Monash University from 1961, and a Women’s Convalescent Home.

Apart from that, in 1900 the community consisted of farms, three hotels, two churches, a tennis court and a few shops. Market gardens, fruit growing and a municipal abattoir were the leading industries.

The 1960s saw the rapid disappearance of market gardens as urbanisation and industry advanced. At the western edge of Clayton the Oakleigh High School had been opened in 1955 and a second primary school was opened next year at Clayton South. Clayton East Post Office opened in 1958 (and closed 1979). Numerous factories, including Wilke Printing, Robert Bosch GmbH and Repco were opened after the Second World War. Clayton South and Westall are closer to the “sandbelt” areas, with the Spring Valley Golf Club, The Grange Reserve and Heatherton Park. Sanitary landfill sites occupy former sand quarries.

Moorabbin Bus Lines – Early Years

A country bus route from Cheltenham to Beaumaris via Charman and Beach Roads was established as early as 1933. By 1946 the operator was Green Bus Lines (Staunton family) and by February 1948 the route had been extended from Cheltenham to the Heatherton Sanatorium and Staunton had added Messrs R. Plane, P. Quinlan and F. Storer as partner, Mr Plane being replaced by a Mr Pickering in October 1949.

On 28 November 1951 the service was sold to Charlie Currer’s Black Rock Bus Lines (later to become Sandringham – Mentone Bus Lines) and it was given metropolitan route number 215A in June 1954. The Cheltenham – Sanatorium section was abandoned from 13 November 1955 and by 1959 it had been purchased by George Elston.

Sometime in the 1930s a route began from Moorabbin Station to the Heatherton Sanatorium. The route ran from Moorabbin down Wickham Road, Chesterville Road and Bernard Street, crossing Warrigal Road into Kingston Road to the Sanatorium gates. Occasional trips would extend along Kingston Road to Old Dandenong Road, Heatherton. At the time of being sold to George Elston in 1946 it was owned by G. Ziino.

George Elston era

George Elston took over the Moorabbin to Heatherton Sanatorium run in September 1946 with four licenses and three elderly buses, a 1936 19 seat Reo, a 1934 Federal and a 1928 Oldsmobile with single rear wheels. The depot was located on the Nepean Highway just near a poultry auction shed which produced great noise and odour.

In 1953 he also started a service from Clayton to Clayton South via Clayton Road to service the rapidly expanding industrial area and it was numbered 218A in 1954. A short-lived local service between Highett Station and Cavanagh Street was tried in 1958 but was unsuccessful.

Interviewed for Jack Maddock’s book “The People Movers”, George Elston recalled as follows:

Shortly after acquiring the run we found we urgently needed a larger and newer bus. As new buses were unprocurable just after the war we tendered for one of the Tramways Board austerity buses. We were fortunate in getting a 29 passenger Reo. It had canvas roll up blinds in place of glass windows and the perimeter seating consisted of a seven inch timber backrest running around the wall and canvas covered wooden slatted seats. Before it could be registered we had to fit glass windows and upholster the seating.

Except for a few homes here and there, the area as far as Heatherton was mostly open paddocks, market gardens and nurseries. On Warrigal and Keys Roads there was McGrath Trailers (who built many of the trailers for semi trailer buses) and Freighter Industries; an old people’s home was in the vicinity and there was the Sanatorium on Heatherton Road.

We were subsidised by the government to carry the nursing staff from the Sanatorium to Moorabbin Station and back each day, and we also had to do runs at 9.00 pm and midnight. On Sundays we ran to Heatherton and continued to the Roman Catholic Church at Mentone. We also went to Mentone picture theatre on Saturday nights. Race meetings at Mentone made survival a bit easier. There were 14 meetings a year, and we carried passengers from the trains to the course and back and we used to bring home the magnificent sum of $100. It was a very sad day when Mentone racecourse was closed.

Elston’s buses carried no identification or sign writing. By the time I came along the livery was cream with thin red bands, though I can just remember two of the green liveried buses. Most vehicles carried small advertisements for local firms mounted on the rear panels. Other early vehicles in the fleet included VO 601 a 1954 Reo, LE 127 a 1948 Cheetham & Borwick bodied Reo acquired from Close & Davidson (Camberwell – Hawthorn Bridge) and GAC 949 Seddon Mk 4 / Cheetham & Borwick (2/1953) B29FP ex Frank Ricardo, Brunswick. This was used mainly for spare parts and the chassis later sold to Hampton Green Bus Lines.

From the mid 1950’s, Elston looked to New South Wales for his bus requirements, an unusual move when most other operators were starting to standardise on Bedfords with CAC bodies. He bought three Syd Wood bodied vehicles from Bowden’s, a Sydney bus dealer and operator of the Sydney City – Tamarama service. These were three genuine Albions (two Claynores with Perkins P6 engines and an FT39 with the 4 cylinder diesel) and a Ford Blitz chassis frame rebuilt with Albion parts from an Arnott’s biscuit van and Albion 4 cylinder diesel.

These were followed by a HBY 061 a Syd Wood bodied Morris 5 ton (the only 40-seater Morris bus to the author’s knowledge), HFZ 056 an Austin with early Custom Coaches body; HPL 402 an Austin with one of the very last bodies built by Syd Wood; and finally HWA 850 a Mee bodied Austin and the only bus to carry sign writing for Elston’s.

The Heatherton and Clayton services were through routed by 1962 as 218A. Trips either operated direct along Kingston Road or more circuitously via Old Dandenong and Boundary Roads, through an area that was then and still largely is market gardens. This saw the end of interworking in service between the runs with most changeovers now being dead running between Cheltenham and the depot.

Caulfield – Ormond – Bentleigh run

George Elston expanded his operation around 1963 with the acquisition the Caulfield – Ormond route from E. Davidson.

A Caulfield – Ormond bus route via Grange and Jasper Roads existed as far back as 1928 as route 62A operated by J. Lawless who sold it to the Laidlaw Brothers in 1932. By the 1950’s it had passed to the Fiske Brothers who operated to Grummet bodied Fords and a Grummet bodied Reo.

On 1 January 1953 the route was linked to the Caulfield-Chadstone service run by O. Shave and E. Lishman and ran as St Kilda – Caulfield – Ormond, however the joint venture was short-lived and by August of that year Lishman was the sole proprietor of the resumed 62A between Caulfield and Ormond. On Mr Lishman’s death in 1954 the run was operated by G. Rosevear then J. Close and W. Brown in May 1956 with Brown replaced by E. Davidson by 1961.

In May 1963 Elston successfully applied for an extension down Jasper Road to Bentleigh Station.

During both Elston’s (and later Southland’s) stewardship the route was apart from the rest of the network and was performed by one bus and driver with two meal breaks built into the timetable mid morning (around 1100) and mid afternoon (1400 – 1430). The Cheetham bodied Seddon HEX 226 was a regular performer on this route.

Geoff’s childhood and Elston’s

My original transport memories were mainly of trams. My “backyard” up until then was in fact the Royal Botanic Gardens, to which mum would take me two or three times a week, travelling up Toorak Road to Domain Road on the number 8 tram and the allowing me to run around and to feed the ducks (whilst avoiding the rather fearsome looking swans which, at that stage, were nearly as tall as I was). In 1960, my parents made the decision that a house was required for their young son to grow up in rather than the communal back area of a block of flats in South Yarra. They purchased an Edwardian era house at 17 Charman Road from Mr & Mrs Eastwood and in we moved in in May with me aged three and a half. Exit trams – enter buses.

The Cheltenham – Beaumaris run ran via Charman and Beach Roads and terminated at the Keys Street shops by doing a loop around Bodley Street, Tramway Parade and Keys Street. At Beaumaris it met up with the Victorian Railways Motor Service route from Beaumaris to Sandringham. I can recall going on the bus with my mother to this terminus both for her shopping trips and also for me to attend the Olive Wallace kindergarten which was located conveniently opposite the bus stop. We usually travelled on the Blitz to kindergarten and Albion GYK on the way home.

Probably the first great bus event of my life occurred in 1960 whilst still at kindergarten. Elston introduced a new Cheltenham – Beaumaris service via Weatherall and Reserve Roads, which then extended via White Street and Bodley Street to pick up the old run. The service was now a bidirectional loop which frequently gave me the opportunity of riding “the long way round”. It was noticeable to me because now instead of getting on a waiting bus at the Keys Street terminus after kindergarten, we had to wait for the bus to appear at the far end of Bodley Street before stopping to pick us up. The variety of buses improved as the Austins started to appear.

Also around this time there were some trips between Moorabbin, Cheltenham and the Sanatorium. This presumably coincided with Elston’s takeover of the Beaumaris run which probably occurred in 1958.

My early recollection of these times is that the actual operation was that buses using these infrequent trips between Cheltenham and Sanatorium (a destination sign which really intrigued me) to interwork the buses / drivers between the Moorabbin – Heatherton service and the Cheltenham – Beaumaris run to cover meal breaks and shift change overs as different buses and drivers were in use on the Beaumaris section at different times of the day. The timetable of that era was printed on yellow card stock and showed the services on both the Cheltenham and Moorabbin runs. Services were very frequent in the peak with 9 trips from Cheltenham to Beaumaris between 1700 and 1800. Like most private bus runs back then service was provided between 0600 to around 1900 weekdays and on Saturday mornings until lunchtime.

By the age of five or six I knew which buses would normally be doing which trips all day and could operate the service myself using toy buses around the bedroom floor (including sticking a lump of wood under the edge of the non fitted carpet to make a lump representing the Charman Road hill. I could also (to my parents horror) imitate the engine / exhaust notes of the various buses from the throaty Reo noise, through the whooshy-sounding Austins to the high-pitched babble of the Albion diesels. I would also identify the vehicles by the rear-mounted ads (the Reo advertised Bosch spark plugs, GYK advertised Hill & Co Estate Agents etc). Clearly all the signs of a gunzel in the making!

Following kindergarten, I attended primary school at Cheltenham State School, adjacent to the Cheltenham cemetery and the railway station. This involved catching the bus up and down Charman Road. For the first year or so the regular bus was the bonneted Cheetham Reo with its thick leather perimeter seats, traditional wooden fare box and with the drivers wearing their traditional grey dustcoats. No one drove their kids to school in those days so the bus was mostly full both morning and afternoon with 25-30 kids being picked up at the 6-7 stops along Charman Road.

The Reo was replaced on the run by HPL 402 the 1962 Syd Wood Austin, which remained my staple means of to and from school travel until the opening of Southland in 1968. HPL did both the morning trip and return trips from Cheltenham at 1530 and 1550. As school got out at 1530 we would race to the front gate in hopes of getting the earlier bus – after all 20 minutes extra play was at stake! It really depended on whether your classroom was towards the front or the rear of the school. Some days it worked and others it didn’t.

At other times of the day you could see HFZ 056 and HBY 061 (the two regular peak hour buses) and either GYK or HSN during the day and I experienced these when travelling to or from the station during school holidays and also on school sports trips to the Moorabbin pool. HSN, the Albion FT39 was a terrible bus compared to the two Perkins powered Claymores. It regularly worked a shift which had a short meal break of 20 minutes at Cheltenham Station around 1100. I can recall several occasions on which it refused to start up again after the break. It was also a very noisy bus inside.

That 1550 trip was the last of the day done on the Beaumaris run by HPL 402 as it then disappeared north to do one of the industrial runs. In between this and the appearance of HBY and HFZ from 1630 onwards there was a 1600 trip. This shift was worked by a depot driver and had come off a school run, then doing the 1600 trip to Beaumaris via Weatherall Road then another of the industrial runs. Now being a depot shift it could be worked by almost any bus, so it was quite tempting to hang around and wait for this. A European guy called Terry was a semi-regular driver on this run. He thought I was quite mad and used to point at me and then at his head saying “empty box” in his mittel European accent. Buses I can recall working this service included the Cheetham Seddon (known to us as The Tank because of its dark green army style interior paintwork and narrow windscreens) and later on JET 894 the 1965 Comair (so different to the Austins and Albions and dubbed by the kids “the luxury bus”. With all these buses being forward control they all had a bench or space up the front by the driver where one or more kids could sit and chat to the driver. I was always a regular.

Another to appear occasionally was HWA 850 an Austin diesel “coach”. This had 39 high back seats and was bought for charter. Unfortunately it had been bodied by R.E. Mee, vibrated something atrocious when stopped and probably influenced me at an early age against Mee bodied buses. Elston used the old Solomatic ticket machines, which dispensed about 8 different denominations of tickets, the stock for each being layered within the back of the unit. A most amusing incident I can recall involved rattly HWA loading at Cheltenham one day. The bus vibrated so badly that the back of the Solomatic unit flipped itself open and the entire ticket stock cascaded down into the step well of the bus, much to the driver’s chagrin!

I started getting to know some of the regular drivers. The first was “Freddie” a Dutchman whose real name was Vince. He was great with the kids and as a treat would let me use the “white hand” to signal the stops and right hand turns (not all buses were fitted with indicator lights back then) and also the door mechanism lever. Not so friendly was “Grumpy” an older driver whose real name was Mal. He appeared to hate the kids and never engaged with any of us. He lasted with the company for many years and did mellow a little later on. There was also “Harry McGiggenslogger” (well that’s what he told us!), who was known to the other drivers as Richard or Little Dick (he was quite short) though his real name was apparently Cuthbert! He was another friendly one as was Murray who, for some reason, I associated with Murray Cod the fish and another young guy called Geoff Hopkins.

Another regular figure known to the kids was “Mr Brash”. David Brash was a Scotsman who was the local Transport Regulation Board ticket inspector. He would appear occasionally on the bus to check whether we all had our tickets and I got to know him a little. As I started doing more after school and Saturday riding, Mr Brash and I came to an agreement. If I was travelling to or from school or on other business I must have a ticket – for extra curricular riding with my driver mates I could go without a ticket or just pay an initial fare, at the driver’s discretion. He was a true gentleman and encouraged my interest in buses a great deal over the years. Then at the age of eight and a half my bus world changed from cream to red and yellow.

Tom Jones & Southand Bus Service

June 1965 saw Elston sell Moorabbin Bus Lines to Tom Jones, adding to his existing Chadstone – Moorabbin East (Murrumbeena Bus Lines) and Moorabbin – Moorabbin East runs (South Road Bus Lines).

The sale included the Keys Road depot and the Caulfield – Ormond, Moorabbin – Clayton and Cheltenham – Beaumaris runs plus the odd assortment of 10 vehicles accumulated by Elston – four Albions, three Austins, the Morris, the Seddon and the Reo. This gave Tom a total of 17 buses and a depot was established at the corner of Keys and Kilpa Roads, in the East Moorabbin industrial estate. David Brash was employed as the Manager and he and Tom ran the company between them for over 20 years.

Tom Jones soon adopted the trading name of Southland Bus Service, coinciding with the proposed construction of a regional shopping mall by the same name in Cheltenham. This would became the trading name for all the services although both the Murrumbeena Bus Lines and South Road Bus Lines legal entities remained in place.

The next chapter as Southland Bus Service can be found here –