This is the story of Tom Jones’ Southland Bus Lines empire, formed after integrating his existing Murrumbeena B.L. and South Rd B.L. operations with Moorabbin Bus Lines, which he purchased from George Elston in 1965.
It is interweaved with tales of Geoff Foster’s teenage years growing up in Beaumaris and travelling alongside numerous drivers, building upon the interest for buses fostered during his primary school days.
Information has been sourced from Graeme Cleak’s invaluable Melbourne bus route histories, BCSV fleet records, an article by Peter Hodgson on Freighter Lawton monbuses (ABP 6/3) and extracts from The People Movers by Jack Maddock.
Local Area: Moorabbin, Clayton, Beaumaris & Murrumbeena
A little about the parts of Melbourne where story of Southland Bus Lines (Tom Jones) takes place, along with the operations before – 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.
Murrumbeena was derived from an Aboriginal word Mirrimbeena meaning many frogs. The original inhabitants were the Bunurong tribe, one of four tribes that made up the Kulin nation that lived in what was to become Melbourne and surrounding areas. In 1853, the Parish of Mulgrave, as the area was first known, was surveyed and the first blocks of land were sold in Oakleigh in the same year. The Shire of Oakleigh was proclaimed in 1871 and in 1879 the Oakleigh to Melbourne rail line was opened. What became known as “railway fever” led to a land boom in the Oakleigh area, including Murrumbeena.
The railway workshops at Oakleigh were the major industry in the area, but dairy farms, orchards and market gardens began to dominate at the turn of the century, particularly south of Clayton, growing everything from flowers to cauliflowers. Brick works, pipe making and sand mining were also important. The electrification of the Oakleigh line in 1922 and the opening of the Darling to Glen Waverley (once known as Black Flat) line in 1930 further opened up housing developments and caused the gradual retreat of the market gardens.
Pre-History – Murrumbeena Bus Lines
Bus route 77A commenced in December 1931 operating between the Darling Road tram terminus, Murrumbeena Station and North Road. For a period from April 1933 it was extended to St Kilda Beach on Sunday mornings. The North Road section was truncated to Dalny Road, Murrumbeena between June 1941 and January 1951. In 1952 the operators was Jenner’s Milk Transport who sold out to Murrumbeena Bus Lines in April 1954. During that year an extension was trialled from North Road to East Bentleigh via East Boundary Road but this did not last. In fact things were so bad that the run was closed altogether on 5 August 1955. However a new operator Beauville Bus Service (Messrs Petfield and Stokes) resumed operation the following month.
They sold the run to Tom Jones in 1957, who set on improving the route, knowing that the Chadstone Shopping Centre was soon to be constructed nearby. By 1959 the run had been extended from North Road to Stockdale Avenue, serving a new residential area and with the opening of Chadstone. At the other end an extension to Carnegie was trialled and then in October 1960 the route was extended from Murrumbeena Station along Dandenong Road to the new Chadstone Shopping Centre.
This was an immediate success in terms of increased patronage. In the other direction, the route was extended from Stockdale Avenue to South Road via East Boundary Road in 1961 and there was a short-lived extension to Chesterville Road in 1963.
A more detailed look back at Murrumbeena Bus Lines can be found here – https://bcsv.org.au/vm/murrumbeena-bus-lines/
Pre-History – South Road Bus Lines
Route 132A Moorabbin to Chesterville Road via South Road was started in July 1954 by Eastern Suburbs Omnibus Services as the market garden areas east of the railway were gradually developed into housing areas. ESOS extended the run to Bignell Road in 1955 and finally to the corner of Warrigal Road by 1961 with a U turn at the end (try that today!). By this time a large industrial area was being developed in the area south of South Road and east of Chesterville Road.
In 1961 Tom Jones entered into an agreement with ESOS to purchase the South Road route which he operated under the title of South Road Bus Lines. This service neatly passed the terminus of his existing north-south from Chadstone and Murrumbeena.
A more detailed look back at South Road Bus Lines can be found here – https://bcsv.org.au/vm/murrumbeena-bus-lines/
Pre History – Moorabbin Bus Lines
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 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 operation was subsidised by the government to carry nursing staff to Moorabbin Station.
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.
Special runs in the Mentone area included race buses from the station to the racecourse, Saturday evening picture buses from Heatherton and a Sunday church bus to the Roman Catholic Church.
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.
George Elston also acquired the Caulfield – Ormond route from E. Davidson and in May 1963, successfully applied for an extension down Jasper Road to Bentleigh Station.
During both Elston’s and Southland’s stewardship the Grange Rd 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 11:00) and mid afternoon (14:00 – 14:30). The Cheetham bodied Seddon HEX 226 was a regular performer on this route.
A more detailed look back at Moorabbin Bus Lines can be found here – https://bcsv.org.au/vm/moorabbin-bus-lines/
Tom Jones & Southand Bus Service
June 1965 saw Elston selling 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).
With this came 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.
Moorabbin East Grows
As the Moorabbin East industrial area developed during the 1960s, this generated considerable demand for travel between the area and Moorabbin Station. As a consequence a number of short workings were introduced between Moorabbin and Moorabbin East servicing Cochranes, Levanswell and Keys Roads. Some trips serviced sections of two or three roads by also traversing Kilpa Road and/ or Roberna Street but at 4.30 pm there were three buses – one each along Keys, Levanswell and Cochranes Roads then all travelling via Wickham Road to Moorabbin. The Cochranes Road bus would always get a good load at the stop outside the cigarette factory. Travelling on these during the mid and late 1960s I can recall that each bus was always full and there was something of a race between drivers to see who would get to Moorabbin first.
It made for some good vehicle utilisation. For example there was an early start shift which did route work all day until 2.30 pm. After a short meal break it then worked a school trip from the now defunct Heatherton State School – the afternoon version doing the Old Dandenong Road loop, then going back to the depot for a short layover until doing a 4.30 pm industrial to Moorabbin then back to depot for a 5 pm finish. Vehicles added to the fleet were JMK 060 and JRJ 151 two Freighter bodied Bedford SB5s, the first with the flat EDSA style font, the latter with the rounded front with peep hole windows below the windscreen, which started its life on the Chadstone run but later moved around a lot.
Southland and Geoff
By the time of the takeover, I had started doing some extra travelling on the buses when some of my favourites were on – especially on the Saturday runs and during the school holidays when I could spend longer on the bus, including time on the Moorabbin – Clayton run with a special treat being going to the depot on meal breaks. In this way I got to meet Tom Jones and also renewed my acquaintance with David Brash, who had been hired by Tom as the Manager of Southland Bus Service — the two were a great partnership for the remainder of South- land’s existence. David Brash also died far too early in life.
I also got to meet others on the staff, who were not Beaumaris regulars. There was Gary the pot bellied mechanic in his overalls (he was joined in later years as the company expended by anther mechanic called John). There was Ray Derbyshire – a regular on the Clayton run who remained with the company for many years and has since worked with Greenline and Sandringham & Brighton; Peter Redmond, another Clayton man who went on to run his own bus operation at Trafalgar in later years and an American guy called Hank who I was once told by another driver would occasionally out on a “show” featuring his wife and their German Shepherd (I leave the rest to your imagination!).
Other drivers came and went on our run that I got to know. There was Anti, a Yugoslavian migrant who I spent a lot of time with. An emotional man, he could become very upset at times and was one of those who started off as an enemy and became a friend; Michael the Russian, a post war refugee and a very gentle man; Merle, the first woman driver employed by the company and very butch and George Barrand an egregious former pom who always seemed happy to see me. Another was Mick “habit” Abbott, the first person to offer me a puff on a joint (which was politely declined). I am however grateful to him for introducing me to the music of Pink Floyd, which has remained as a lifelong addiction.
One memory is of those years 1145 trip out of Clayton – the last until just before 1500. Most trips from Clayton to Moorabbin were given 30 minutes, but this trip was given only 20. The driver had to go like hell to achieve this, not so bad in the Austins as the bus was generally pretty empty, but in the 4 cylinder Albions it was a very noisy affair with the little diesel screaming and working its guts out.
The late 1960s – Southland Shopping Centre
Following on the success of its Chadstone Shopping Centre in 1960, Myer had begun a program of establishing similar regional shopping malls at strategic points around Melbourne. Northland in Preston was followed by Eastland at Ringwood and Southland at Cheltenham, the latter offering many possibilities for the local operators. Tom Jones’ newly named Southland Bus Service was ideally positioned to take advantage of this. This became the trading name for all the services though the Murrumbeena and South Road Bus Lines legal entities remained in place.
The Government Gazette of 10 May 1967 carried notice of a hearing by the Transport Regulation Board on 31 May 1967 to consider a number of applications lodged by bus companies seeking to service Southland or Eastland. For Eastland there were 11 applications submitted by Croydon Bus Service, Boronia Bus Lines, Wil- lis Bus Service and the M&MTB. In the case of Southland there were 22 applications as follows:
- Beach Transport (Ventura): Extension of the Chelsea – Mordialloc service to Southland via Nepean Highway and Warrigal Road;
- Blue & Silver Bus Lines: New services Mentone – Cheltenham – Southland via Nepean Highway; Mordialloc to Southland via Nepean Highway and the extension of their existing Mordialloc- Mentone-Cheltenham service to Southland via Argus and Cavanagh Streets
- Currer (Sandringham – Mentone Bus Lines): Extension of the Sandringham-Mentone service to Southland via Nepean Highway
- Grenda’s Bus Service: Extension of the Springvale – Mordialloc service from Mentone to Southland; extension of the Dandenong – Springvale service to Southland via Heatherton Road and Argus Street; Extension of the Carrum Downs – Chelsea – Edithvale service to Southland and extension of the Dandenong – Cheltenham service to Southland
- Hampton Green Bus Lines: Extension of the Hampton – Highett service to Southland via Graham and Bay Roads then to South Heatherton via Argus Street.
- Melbourne – Brighton Bus Lines: New services from North Road, Gardenvale to Southland and Brighton Beach to Southland
- Murrumbeena Bus Service: Extension of the Chadstone – East Moorabbin service to Southland
- Nuline Bus Service: Extension of the Caulfield-Middle Brighton – Moorabbin and the Middle Brighton – Hampton – Moorabbin services to Southland via Nepean Highway
- Peeler (Hampton Red Bus Service): A new route from Middle Brighton via Hampton and Wickham Road to Southland
- Portsea Passenger Service: A Tuesday only single return trip extension of the Portsea – Frankston service to Southland via Nepean Highway
- Sandringham Bus Lines: Extension of the Sandringham – Cheltenham service to Southland
- Southland Bus Service: Diversion of the existing Moorabbin – Clayton service via Chesterville Road and Southland plus a new diversion from Wickham Road to Moorabbin via Chapel and South Roads; a new Clayton – Heatherton – Southland service; extension of the Cheltenham – Beaumaris service to Southland then to Bellevue Road, East Bentleigh; extension of the Caulfield – Bentleigh service to Moorabbin and Southland via Jasper Road and Nepean Highway
- Victorian Railways Motor Service: Extension of the Sandringham – Beaumaris service to Southland via Cromer, Balcombe and Charman Roads.
Not all these applications were granted – Melbourne – Brighton and Portsea P.S. missed out altogether. The TRB also modified a number of applications.
Hampton Red’s Brighton application was cut back to be Hampton – Southland; Hampton Green’s South Heatherton extension was not approved and the Grenda, Blue & Silver and VRMS applications all had some route modifications applied.
Tom Jones did quite well out of the hearings receiving approval for the diversion of the Clayton – Moorabbin service, the Cheltenham – East Bentleigh extension and the extension of the Chadstone service to Southland. The latter was very important as it provided a major traffic generator at each end of the route.
The applications not approved were the second Clayton – Southland service, which became a Grenda route from Springvale instead (running express over Southland’s Clayton service) and the extension of the Caulfield-Bentleigh run.
Between 1967 and 1969 four more Comair Bedford SB5s were added to the fleet JXW 654, KAX 826, KBW 805 and KKO 040 – two each for Clayton and Beaumaris. These all had some single seats on one side to allow greater access form prams and shopping jeeps. It was around this era that older buses also had some seats removed and the last of the perimeter seat buses converted to forward facing. Added in 1969 was KFM 889 a single door 41 seater for charter work.
Southland Shopping Centre opened on Tuesday 3rd September 1968. From that date the Cheltenham service was extended from Southland Shopping Centre, firstly along Chesterville Road to Bellevue Road, East Bentleigh where a U turn was possible.
A later extension in 1969 saw the East Bentleigh end extended to become a loop service via Chesterville Drive, Brady and Highview Roads. Some trips from Cheltenham between 1000 and 1500 diverted to Moorabbin instead of East Bentleigh, providing additional capacity over the Moorabbin – Clayton route. The two services operated as loops at these times, one running straight to Moorabbin via Wickham Road and the Highway, then returning via South and Chapel Roads whilst the other did the reverse. When the Beaumaris – East Bentleigh route was renumbered 652 in 1971 the Moorabbin trips became 653.
There is some dispute over when the Chadstone route was extended to Southland. Graeme Cleak’s route histories state that this occurred in 1970, however my own recollection is that is was rather earlier than this and probably dated back to when Southland opened as I can recall the Monobuses running out of Southland for several years before being replaced.
Timetables from here on in were colour coded – all produced on the office roneo machine from stencils. Beaumaris was on green quarto size paper, the others on foolscap Clayton being pink, South Road yellow and Chadstone white.
A notable feature was that the shift bats differed from the published timetables as the shift bat time was usually between 1 & 4 minutes after the published time. Presumably this was intended to ensure people didn’t miss the bus.
The fleet arrangements at this time were that the 655 was done by the three Monobuses plus Bedford JRJ 151. The 656 was home to JET 894 and JMK 060 (the latter doing an off peak stint on 652 to cover the meal breaks). The 652 was run predominantly by KAX 826, HGM 400 and KBW 805 whilst HMA 246, JXW 654 and KKO 040 were on the 654. KFM 889 and HFW 969 were the charter and industrial buses but would make occasional route appearances to cover breakdowns etc.
Naturally all these extra services and routes gave me many opportunities for riding both the Southland routes with my driver friends and also to experience the routes and buses of other companies. I got to know the strange Fodens of Hampton Red, the flat fronted Ansairs of Hampton Green, Blue and Silver’s Comairs and their Piper Bedford and Nuline’s AEC Reliances. By this time I was not only doing doors and indicators, I was often taking fares and issuing the tickets, changing destination rolls, sweeping out during breaks etc etc.
Another memory of this era was the “wrong turn” incident. This was probably during my last year at Cheltenham State School when the old 3.30 and 3.50 trips had been replaced by two 3.40 pm trips – one each via Weatherall and Charman Roads. The former trip came from Southland whilst the latter was a short turn, the same bus having also done a 3.20 pm Beaumaris trip. I would get on either, often depending on who was driving each shift but had a preference for the Weatherall Road bus as the Charman Road trip was usually done by HGM 400 – a bus I detested for its low seating capacity of 31 compared to all my beloved 40 seaters of earlier years.
Of course being a bi-directional loop a driver would occasionally forget and go the wrong way, usually doing a round the block movement to get back on track. Anyhow one day I got on the Weatherall Road bus and he missed the turn. This was not one of my friendly drivers—his name was Don as I recall. Anyhow I pointed this out to Don who told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. I picked up the shift bat (I knew all of them off by heart by then) and handed it to him. He looked at it and said “SEE – 3.50 via Charman Road!” I said “Yes but that’s the Beaumaris time – you are doing the 3.40 from Cheltenham via Weatherall Road.” Awkward silence followed by an “around the block”. Yes I was a smart arse – but I was also right.
The Southland – Chadstone run was doing very well by the early 1970s and Tom introduced a new type of bus to the run. This was the Bedford VAM, again with two door Comair bodies. Between 1971 and 1973 came KWM 021, LAL 023 (an extended wheelbase version with 46 seats – a huge bus), LDH 025 and LHN 026. These all went onto the Chadstone run enabling the Monobuses to be retired – though KWM soon moved to the Clayton run.
Also purchased for the Chadstone run was LAL 024 a Freighter bodied Hino BT51 similar to the tram replacement units delivered to Ballarat and Bendigo operators. During the same period further Bedford SB5 / Comairs KPY 570, KWM 022 and LPN 028 were added to Beaumaris and Clayton whilst a second single door charter bus had arrived in 1970 as KRO 220. These were the last of the Comairs in the Southland fleet as CAC ceased its bus production shortly after delivery of LPN.
With the introduction of late night shopping, operation of Beaumaris – Cheltenham – East Bentleigh varied widely from what had gone before. We now had six drivers working five shifts (one day off each week) plus two on Saturday mornings as overtime.
Shift 5 was the first one out, doing the first trip from Cheltenham at 0600. This was followed by 3 shift at 0630 and 1 shift coming on at 0720 as the third bus when the industrial runs started. These three shifts stayed on during the day, their various meal breaks being covered by 4 shift which started at 1000.
After covering the last meal break 4 shift disappeared to do school and industrial runs, returning from Moorabbin for the later part of the peak until 1910. 5 shift went to the depot at 1420 and handed over to 2 shift a “short and dark” which ran until 1920 enabling 1 and 3 shifts to finish just after 1800. On Friday nights both 2 and 4 shifts stayed out until doing last runs in both directions from Southland at 2108, each having a half hour meal break between 1930 and 2030.
This gave me another option for my riding around. A couple of other drivers who were on the scene during this period were Mick (aka “Habit” by some of the other guys as his smoking was allegedly not limited to tobacco) and another Harry. George Barrand returned after working elsewhere and stayed for a year or two. He then left again – I spent most of his last shift with him – as a special treat the extended Bedford VAM LAL 023 made its first (and possibly only?) appearance on the 652 for the first half and we had charter bus KRO 220 for the second half.
George Barrand returned a second time as a part timer. He would work overnight as a security guard then work a 0600 – 0930 short shift on South Road. I got up early and caught the train to Moorabbin several times to ride this with him on several occasions.
An unsavoury incident I recall from this period involved Stan the union delegate. Stan was on the Chadstone run and was not a particularly friendly type. I would always avoid him if he and I were at the depot at the same time. He was also something of a bully and would pick on soft targets. One victim was Michael the Russian, mentioned earlier, who had also moved onto the Chadstone run.
Whatever happened occurred when one was taking over from the other after a meal break at Southland. Michael was so upset he drove his bus straight back to the depot in tears. Another bus and driver were dispatched and Stan pulled off the run to see Tom and David. I never saw Stan again so I presume he was fired.
The publication of Melbourne’s first public transport map had followed the 1971 route changes and, suitably armed with this, I was venturing further afield on my bus riding in an endeavour to ride or at least see all Melbourne’s bus routes. This introduced me rather abruptly to the idea that a bus could work for more than one company during its lifetime.
One morning in 1972, I went out to find Route 607 Toorak – Burnley for the second time as I had learned the hard way that it only ran in peak hours. (the first ride had been in their droolly ex ESOS Leyland OPS4 half cab). Imagine my surprise this time when Southland’s HBY 061 the Syd Wood Morris turned up – now run on the 607 by R.J. Welch but still in Southland colours. I was further surprised to see the ghastly Mee bodied HWA 850 come the other way as the other bus on the run. At least it was not as scary an experience as the evening if fifth form when I tried to catch the 606 from St Kilda to Port Melbourne in school uniform whilst being stalked by an unsavoury character who probably had designs on my bottom!
From 1973 onwards Southland’s vehicle purchases took a new turn. The next new buses to arrive were (27) a second Hino BT 51/ Freighter two door semi coach and (29) a two door 46 seat Freighter Bedford VAM, followed by similar unit (30) in route bus configuration and (31) a 49 coach seat Freighter bodied Bedford YRT – the first full coach since HWA 850. These buses were being used mainly on the series of private school runs from St Leonard’s College in South Road, Brighton Beach.
May 1977 saw the arrival of something different again –a two door Ansair Bedford BLP with automatic transmission – the first auto in the fleet and the start of a trend as all remaining Bedfords purchased were autos. (30) was one of the buses featured on my first ever roll of 35 mm slide film.
Southland takes Sandringham – Mentone (Currer’s)
Tom Jones had been seeking to expand further and the opportunity came along in 1977. The Sandringham – Mentone via Black Rock route (216A and 217A) had been run by the Currer family since the late 1940s, under the trading name of Sandringham – Mentone Bus Lines – firstly by Charlie who extended it to Southland in 1968. After two years of partnership with Ray Allnutt’s Sandringham Bus Lines from 1969 – 1971, Charlie’s son Dennis who took over during 1971 after returning from Europe. The depot was in the yard of an old house at 141 Beach Road, Parkdale.
I had taken some interest in this fleet since starting secondary school at MGS in 1969. Their OB Bedford HCN 506 (ex SU 216) did a school run along Beach Road to the school in the morning. HOB 224 a 1962 Bedford SB3 / Freighter (known universally as Archie’s Bus after its regular driver) did a reverse working via Balcombe, Charman and Beach Road’s in the afternoon. Also, Anti from Southland had returned to bus driving after his illness and was working the 645 route allowing me to renew our acquaintanceship and spend some hours on the run with him, usually in JBT 076 the 1964 Freighter Bedford. He later went to work for Grenda’s at Dandenong. The other two buses in this fleet at the time were GGW 281 a flat screen CAC SB Bedford ex Ventura and HED 727 a Bedford SB3 / Comeng.
One memorable occasion from the spring of 1969 – I was doing a run into Southland with Anti in the Bedford OB just before its retirement and arrived there during a tremendous hailstorm – the results of which were echoing inside the bus. The only other bus on the rank was the Nuline Federal NA 864 (then also on its last legs and ironically having been a Murrumbeena Bus Lines vehicle between 1950 and 1955). What a photo that would have been – a bonneted Federal and an OB Bedford in the one location in the pouring rain and hail. Oh for a time machine!
Dennis tried to expand the four-vehicle route operation by expanding into charter. In 1973, he did a deal with Mentone Grammar School (where I was attending at the time) who had traditionally used Grenda buses – after all some of the Grenda kids were also pupils!
This made school sports days rather exciting for me as the Grenda Bedfords were replaced by firstly a Superior bodied Ford ex Panther and a Leyland Leopard / Freighter ex Hoys. A third vehicle was added being an ex Centralian Bedford VAM3/ Ansair and finally an ex Australian Pacific Denning Albion VK41L. I did the first trip in this one – Dennis bought it on Thursday, put an orange stripe over the APC red on Friday and we left on Saturday for a school camp.
As Dennis did not have enough buses to do our bigger movements to and from the school’s Keysborough playing fields he would bring in Hampton Red, Hampton Green, Sandringham and others as backups – basically everyone except Grenda’s.
However Dennis sadly became ill and had to sell off the coaches the following year. Finally he sought to leave the industry and negotiated a sale to Tom Jones. Southland took over the run on 26 September 1977. The Currer buses received red over their orange stripes and JRJ 151 was diverted onto route 645 to join the similar looking INI 555 – an ex Ventura unit Currer had acquired – this pigeon pair were the mainstay of the 645 for some years afterwards.
Buses purchased in the remainder of the 1970s were (33) an MAN 15168 demonstrator with Comair body (CAC having re-entered bus production), which went on the Chadstone run; (34) a Hino BG100 with Smithfield Euro body (another first); (35) a Hino AC140 midi bus for charter and (36) a two door Smithfield bodied Bedford BLP2.
By this time my own relationship with Southland Bus Service had changed as well. Having finished school and started work I was now using the service as a commuter to Cheltenham Station. However having discovered the BCSV and other bus photographer / gen collectors, my depot visits were now of the enthusiast type.
1980 was a big year for fleet replacement with no less than four Smithfield Bedfords arriving – two BLPs and two SB5s numbered (37-40). Sadly by now the Beaumaris run was in decline and (39) one of the Smithfield SBs was the only new bus to go on the run since (28) in 1973. 1981 was a second big year for deliveries comprising (41) a Domino bodied BLP (the last Bedford in the fleet as the marque was then withdrawn from the market); two Volvo B58/ PMCSA Apollo charter coaches (42 and 45), a Newnham Bedford SB5 (43) and (44) a Volgren bodied Volvo B58 which became available as part of a cancelled order for Melbourne Brighton Bus Lines. This took the fleet into a whole new era again.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority had instituted a series of major bus reviews in each of the Neighbourhood fare zone areas. The Moorabbin Neighbourhood review was conducted in 1982 and the results implemented from 12 November of that year.
There were several significant changes to Southland’s services as a result. The route 653 Moorabbin – Beaumaris trips were abolished and the East Bentleigh portion of route 652 was through-routed to Chadstone over Bentleigh Bus Lines route 636 (Chadstone – Hughesdale – North Road via Poath Road) as part of the Moorabbin Neighbourhood Review implementation.
This was a very logical move as the termini of the two routes were only about 1km apart and an additional north-south corridor route paralleling the 655 was created as a result. The service was jointly run by Southland Bus Service and Bentleigh Bus Lines until 27 April 1987 when Bentleigh sold out to Ventura.
(Subsequently in the 1991 service cuts, Moorabbin Transit relinquished their half of this run leaving Ventura as the sold operator, who through-routed the 636 with the former Rennie’s run between Chadstone and Box Hill forming the current route 767. Grenda however picked up the Nunawading – Glen Waverley portion of the 888/889 Springvale Rd service off Ventura, which had previously operated as a connecting bus.)
The Moorabbin – Clayton – Westall 654 run was extended to Heatherton Rd, Clayton South on 9 June 1987.
Tom seemed unsure as to where to go once the Bedford chassis was no longer available. He experimented with a Newham bodied Volvo B6FA as (46) in 1982 and a PMCSA bodied Leyland Super Viking as (47) in 1983. At the 1983 Bus Association Victoria Maintenance Conference at Moonee Valley, Leyland displayed their demonstrator Leyland Tiger chassis fitted with a PMCSA body in the same style as their recently introduced Elwood.
Tom bought the demonstrator units as (48) and subsequently added a further 12 Tigers between then and 1987 – nine with PMCSA bodies – a mix of six route and three charter vehicles and a further three route buses with Ansair bodies. The only other purchase was a Volvo B10M / Volgren route bus as (53) in 1985.
Moorabbin Transit formed
30 June 1988 saw the end of the Tom Jones era and of Southland Bus Service. Tom did a deal with his friend Ken Grenda to take over Southland through a company called Kemflex Pty Ltd.
However it did not end there – in fact Kemflex also acquired the operations of Sandringham Bus Lines (which had previously absorbed Blue & Silver), Hampton Red Bus Service, Hampton Green Bus Service and Camden Bus Lines. The services were combined under the new name of Moorabbin Transit, operating initially from the former Southland depot in Keys Road until such time as new and larger premises were obtained in Philip Street, Cheltenham.
However this was not quite the end of the Southland livery. A few of the Southland Bedfords were reallocated to another Grenda group fleet Peninsula Bus Lines as school buses. From here former (20) KRO 220 Bedford SB5 / Comair and (23) LAL 023 the extended chassis Bedford VAM70 / Comair were rescued by Ray Arneil and added to the Grenda heritage fleet, repainted into the Southland livery. They are regularly made available to the BCSV for heritage events with me as one of the regular drivers.
Whilst I may never have fulfilled my original childhood ambition to become a Southland Bus Service driver, I have at least managed to drive two of the buses I grew up with on various outings to bus rallies and special services such as the open days at HMAS Cerberus. That will do me!