Flashback Friday: When times were tough

By: Gordon Lowe

Gordon Lowe reflects back to the days of the great depression and chronicles the story of a very special bus

Flashback Friday: When times were tough
To be manufacturing the leviathan “DeLuxe Coach” in 1930 during the Depression years must have been an enormous risk

Four DeLuxe buses were built for Mr MA Fitzgibbon of Marrickville in 1930 — at the beginning of the Great Depression. 

According to records, the Great Depression commenced in 1929 and like today’s global recession involved a US stock market crash with worldwide effects.

This occurred on October 29, 1929 and was known as Black Tuesday.

The end of the Depression in the United States is associated with the onset of the war economy of World War II, beginning around 1939.

To be manufacturing the leviathan "DeLuxe Coach" in 1930 during the Depression years must have been an enormous risk for the hero of our story — MA Fitzgibbon.

Truly, Fitzgibbon must have been an entrepreneur in his own right to commit capital expenditure for the production of these buses during such uncertain times.

For technical aficionados the "DeLuxe Coach" is of particular interest since they had (and were the first) to have all steel bodies.

You see, during the 1920’s lighter chassis were generally in use and were made with wooden bodies. The 1930 "DeLuxe Coach" was manufactured by the Walsh Island Dockyard, Newcastle New South Wales.

They were certainly people carriers with a complement of 36 seats — not bad for a suburban bus in the 1930s. Chassis were White model 54A.

Every picture tells a story and from the image we can ascertain the "DeLuxe Coach" made regular trips around Marrickville and Campsie and probably other suburbs as well.

Eventually, the four coaches were passed on to the Department of Road Transport and Tramways (DRTT) on March 1, 1937.

The DRTT then allocated the DeLuxe buses fleet numbers namely 298 to 301.

Three of these beautiful buses were finally auctioned in 1939 and one was in use, I believe, until 1942.  That bus was finally sold in 1947.


Doing time

The 300 bus had a rather chequered life over the years and finished up at the Emu Plains Prison Farm in the late 1960s.

Now the Governor of the prison farm must have liked buses because he put the prisoners to work restoring the vehicle.

This took place between the years 1968 to 1969. Apparently, the prisoners did a reasonable job and the bus was almost restored to as new condition.

But alas, the prisoner Governor was transferred elsewhere and the new Governor wasn’t the slightest bit interested in buses and it was removed from the prison farm.

The bus finished up in a paddock somewhere rotting away in the open air and deteriorated rapidly.

So all the good work by the Emu Plains prisoners was cancelled out within a few years. To me, this is an extraordinary tale.

It definitely imparts a sense of déjà vu. The fact these superb pieces of machinery were branded as a "DeLuxe Coach" in 1930 was as if they were in some way the forerunners for what was to come.

The buses were big, bold, carried a huge complement of passengers for their day and the drivers were a cut above the rest in their white coats and shiny black shoes — a bit like the Coach Captains of today in their "supercruisers" — immaculately uniformed and taking care of their passengers in a clinical and determined manner.

Perhaps MA Fitzgibbon was a visionary in his own right. Why was he driven to such high capital expenditure when the Great Depression was well underway?

You see, when Fitzgibbon made that decision over 78 years ago he was one of a special breed of bus entrepreneurs — one of many, who have driven this country by way of persistence, entrepreneurial spirit and determination.

The bus industry will always prosper whilst we have those who emulate MA Fitzgibbon — a man who was prepared to take a risk in the face of adverse times. 

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