REFLECTION: The beginning

By: Gordon Lowe


ABC explores the heady days at Deluxe Coachlines during Australia’s bicentennial in 1988

REFLECTION: The beginning
Deluxe Coachlines came from humble beginnings

Let’s climb on board the time machine, press a few buttons, and suddenly find ourselves back in the year 1988.

It was Australia’s Bicentennial year, with many celebrations of this big event taking place across the country. And at Deluxe, it was no exception!

I suddenly found myself with a challenge from the company’s directors — to come up with something special that would generate some publicity for the now very well known coachline — but with a Bicentennial theme.

GETTING NOTICED

Now that’s not an easy task you might say, because as we all know, mainstream media is not really interested in buses (Bus + Coach magazine being the exception), especially when it comes to normal day-to-day activity, services and so on.

The media is, of course, very interested if there is a crash — it then goes into overdrive.

So how could Deluxe entice interest for the Bicentennial and get some publicity?

Well the answer didn’t come easily, simply because the media wasn’t interested in promoting Deluxe for free! There wasn’t any interest and airlines always took pride and place (as they do today) with Australia’s media outlets. Unfortunately, buses always play second fiddle to airlines!

INSPIRATION FROM THE BYGONE ERA

Now for those of you in the bus business (or at least interested in the bus business), you will remember from your school days, The Lights of Cobb & Co, written by that quintessential Australian — Henry Lawson.

Everyone knows Cobb & Co. It was a part of Australia’s history. Some of the words came back to me: "Weird bush and scattered remnants of rushes in the night. Across the swollen river, a flash beyond the ford, Ride hard to warn the driver! He’s drunk or mad, good Lord! But on the bank to westward a broad, triumphant glow — A hundred miles shall see tonight the lights of Cobb & Co."

What could be more quintessentially Australian than Cobb & Co? That, dear readers, was the answer! But, where would you find a ‘dinky di’ Cobb & Co coach? Well the answer to that question wasn’t all that simple either. But we did and the Deluxe Bicentennial project was on its way.

Henry Lawson once wrote his immortal poem expressing the importance of Cobb & Co Coaches as land transport in early Australia.

And, indeed, land transport today is just as important, in fact more so, in Australia’s Bicentennial year.

And what better way to see Australia than travelling in a comfortable air-conditioned Deluxe coach?

Like Cobb & Co in its heyday, Deluxe today has a major network of coach transport routes throughout the country.

THE EARLY DAYS

In the early years, the first stage coach to run in the country was made in England and it wasn’t until the 1830s that Australia started building its own ‘express coach’.

The coaches had iron tyres with wooden wheels and had seating made of canvas, later replaced with vinyl.

The early Cobb & Co carriages were built in Ballarat and Charleville, and were used for mail contracts rather than passenger transport. Limited maintenance was made on the coaches and the drivers needed no special qualifications.

The five horses were changed after 12 to 15 miles in hilly areas and between 15 to 25 miles in fl at regions. Coaches were licensed for eight passengers only.

Six sat inside and had to pay an extra five shillings for the privilege. The brakes were shod with leather and passengers were charged extra for their use.

Journeys could be long and hazardous from bad weather, horse trouble and, of course, bushranger attacks.

For more than 70 years, Cobb & Co coaches were the only means of land transport in the country.

By 1870, the company was harnessing 6,000 horses a day and the coaches were travelling 60,000km a week.

Inevitably, however, the Cobb & Co Coach had to compete against the motor vehicle and steam locomotive. The company was forced to close down in the 1920s.

MODERN COMFORT

The story of coaching in Australia today is a far cry from transport in the 1800s.

Passengers can now enjoy travelling in luxury, with Deluxe Coachlines. After only nine years of operation, Deluxe owns a fleet of 142 luxury coaches.

Unlike the early days of Cobb & Co, Deluxe coaches are appointed with comfortable aircraft-type reclining seats, a rest room, toilets, air-conditioning, reading lights, air vents and, for entertainment, most services have on-board video movies.

Deluxe’s fleet of coaches includes 16 revolutionary new double-deck German built ‘Super Deckers’ built at a cost of almost $500,000 per vehicle. These coaches not only offer passengers the ultimate in comfort, but great viewing — particularly from upstairs.

Another 20 Australian-built Super Deckers are currently on order from a Brisbane-based manufacturer, Denning, with the first few already delivered to the company.

BUSINESS ON THE GROW

In the early days it was ‘pot luck’ when travelling to a specific destination. Travellers would have to be at the various stage coach stops in hope that seats would be available when the coach came along. However, today this, of course, has all changed. Reservation service has virtually been revolutionised by the modern coach company. Deluxe, in particular, has recently installed a $5 million computer reservations system and is one of the most efficient automated systems that not only handles all reservations and agents accounting, but also monitors the complete maintenance schedule of the large modern fleet.

Deluxe now employs in excess of 800 people throughout Australia, with offices in every capital city, as well as Broome, Canberra, Alice Springs, Townsville, Surfers Paradise and Cairns.

It has also opened its own office in the United Kingdom and is represented in the United States, Japan and New Zealand, certainly a bit different from the early days of Australian coach travel with Cobb & Co.

From Cobb & Co to Deluxe, coach travel in Australia has come a long way in 200 years. We once had the wooden, horse-drawn carriages of the past; now we have the modern, sophisticated Deluxe Coaches of the future.

The story of Cobb & Co and Deluxe worked, with many publications around Australia enthusiastically taking up the story. However, the most enthusiastic of all were the Deluxe drivers who took part in the project — after all it’s not every day that you can travel back in time to the 1890s.

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