Friday Flashback: McCafferty's golden years part II

By: Gordon Lowe


Gordon Lowe looks back to when McCafferty’s started running coach services between Perth and Darwin in the 1990s.

Friday Flashback: McCafferty's golden years part II
The mainstay of the McCafferty’s fleet was the Denning Landseer.


So, you're an operations manager with a major coachline! Imagine this scenario. The boss calls you into his office and tells you he has a major announcement to make.

‘I wonder what this is?’ you think to yourself. The boss asks you to sit down; you collect your thoughts and wait patiently for him to make the announcement. "I want to run a coach service from Perth to Darwin".

Your mind suddenly goes into overdrive. How far is it from Perth to Darwin? You quickly look at the map in the offi ce, hoping that the distance between Perth and Darwin is shown on the map. It is! "But boss, Perth to Darwin is around 4,024 kilometres!"

Questions run through your mind at machine gun velocity as you mentally equate the task ahead. How many coaches do we require? How many drivers would we need? What about spares? What if there was a breakdown? How many support staff do we need? Where are we going to locate our main terminals and offices? What is going to be the major stopover points? "But boss, even Broome is 2,219 kilometres from Perth! Look Boss, it sounds a pretty impossible task!"

The boss, however, seems determined and wants to go ahead. Again your mind slips into overload. Well, maybe we need six to eight coaches including two spares.

Mmmmm … maybe at least six drivers and two relief coach captains and what about driver staging? Support staff? Well, I will have to think about that one! All these questions and more must have reverberated through the McCafferty’s Operations department in late 1994, when the decision was made to go national.

Planning took some months and on May 26, 1995, McCafferty’s began services from Perth to Darwin and Darwin to Perth. Jack McCafferty’s dream of being a national coach company had fi nally become a reality. The company had already established a Darwin terminal and offi ce, and it made sense to run a service from Darwin to Perth via Katherine, Broome, Port Headland, Carnarvon , Geraldton, and on to Perth.

No easy task

Setting up such a long distance service was certainly no mean feat! To give you an example, the distance between Brisbane and Cairns on Australia’s east coast is approximately 1,721 kilometres. That in itself takes a lot of organisation as any bus Operations Manager will tell you! Imagine more than doubling the distance — and how difficult it would be, running a service on the other side of the continent from your Toowoomba office.

Launching their Perth–Darwin-Perth service proved to be one of the greatest challenges the company had ever faced. McCafferty’s overcame all these problems, sought out the opportunities and on May 26, the first services rolled out of Hay Street, Perth. Firstly, there was the tyranny of distance.

Hay Street, Perth was a long way away from the company’s maintenance and administration facilities in Toowoomba — so virtually from the start the Western Australian operation was on its own.

Secondly, most Western Australians had never heard of McCafferty’s and its reputation as an extremely reliable and competent coach company — so the Western Australian services had to be built from scratch.

Thirdly, there was already competition on the route with established operators having been travelling the route for some years and, on this occasion, McCafferty’s were the newcomers. Wisely, the company chose only to run the services from Perth to Darwin — deciding not to complete the circuitous route around Australia via the Nullarbor Plain.

Teaming up with rail

Instead, Jack McCafferty opted to arrange a deal with the Indian Pacific Railways, code sharing those passengers that wished to cross the Nullarbor to Perth. This saved an enormous amount of money on infrastructure costs. Jack recognised the fact that Nullarbor crossings by coach were not as popular as those offered by the Indian Pacific Railway.

A McCafferty’s ticket could be used on this sector, in conjunction with the rail. The distance between Perth and Adelaide is 2,685 kilometres — so it certainly made sense to have an arrangement with the railways! McCafferty’s quickly established a Perth base prior to the service launch, setting up an office in a prime position at 544 Hay Street.

Preparations were very extensive with coaches being sent to Perth well ahead of time. Timetables were organised and a survey of the route was conducted. Employment of drivers and customer service staff commenced as soon as the decision was made on the start date.

By 1995, the McCafferty’s fleet had grown to 110 modern coaches including the stateof- the-art Stretchliner that has already been referred to in last month’s issue of ABC. McCafferty’s were very positive and enthusiastic about marketing.

Hello Western Australia

They had a very substantial budget for this purpose and recognised the importance of pushing their brand image out in the market place. It was a budget that could not be matched by any other company, even today. Promoting the West Australian services were no exception and the campaign theme was based on a slogan — ‘Hello, Western Australia’.

The idea came from a previous project organised for Cathay Pacifi c, ‘Hello Brisbane!’. That idea worked well, and I knew it would work for McCafferty’s also — as both projects were launch campaigns.

A major television campaign was organised with a spectacular 30-second partly animated commercial showing a coach bursting out of a map of Western Australia and a photo of the company’s founder Jack McCafferty. This was also transferred to press advertisements which ran in all key newspapers up and down the Western Australian coast and, of course, in Darwin.

For the launch a special jingle package was commissioned using the voice of well-known singer Kim Durant, with a specially composed version of ‘Hello, Western Australia’.

The launch program took place with military precision. Television advertising commenced on March 17, 1995 and continued on a monthly basis on GWN Television up to an including the May launch date.

Television advertising also ran after the launch period as GWN offered an enormous coverage area. Imparja TV and NTD8 covered the Northern Territory proper and Darwin, so that feeder services could on-carry customers on the Darwin-Perth southbound run. As well as advertising on STW9 Perth, newspaper ads proclaimed the new service in eight suburban newspapers and the Sunday Times.

Seat sales were organised via press advertising Band on television and radio. Seat sale prices from Perth were costed at: Perth-Geraldton $18, Carnarvon $49, Port Hedland $68, Broome $99, Fitzroy Crossing $128, Katherine $162, Darwin $179. The aggressive marketing campaign also included contacting agents, organising special promotions and product publicity on the new service.

Alas, the challenges of distance, so far from McCafferty’s Toowoomba base, took its toll. The Western Australian operation was eventually withdrawn some 13 months later. Not a bad effort when you consider the difficulties involved!

Unfortunately, it became a matter of economics as the cost of running the operation so far from its Toowoomba headquarters amplified costs  to the point that the route from Perth to Darwin became unsustainable.

 

The end of an era

Fast forward to the year 2000. In 2000, McCafferty’s purchased Greyhound Pioneer Australia but sold their interests in the business to the Chapman group in Cairns and the ANZ bank in 2003. At that point, the new group changed its name to Greyhound

Australia Pty Ltd to capitalise on the generic brand, not only within Australia but overseas.

With McCafferty’s no longer in the business, the brand was dropped altogether like its predecessors Bus Australia and Pioneer. Sadly, the McCafferty’s brand is no more after 63 years on Australian roads.

All that is left in 2007 is the occasional metallic gold liveried McCafferty’s Denning still travelling the highways in its familiar colour scheme, patiently waiting to either be sold or re-painted in Greyhound’s striking red and white colours.

While out on the open road recently and routinely looking up at the rearview mirror, I took a second glance and there it was — a gold McCafferty’s Denning Landseer. Like a phantom, the coach glides past and fades into the distance and disappears from sight … a stark reminder of one of Australia’s most successful coachlines and its golden years.

It is a great loss to Australia, to the industry and, I am sure, a great loss to the McCafferty family that this now legendary iconic brand has been swallowed up and is no longer officially on Australian roads.

Vale Jack McCafferty OAM … undoubtedly King of the Road! 


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