ABC Magazine Stories, Australia, Uncategorized

Iconic bus tracked down and returned home to Brisbane Transport Museum

In April, an iconic Pioneer Bus Service vehicle was finally located and brought home to the Brisbane Transport Museum from Deniliquin

When John Haig started as the curator of Deniliquin’s historic vehicle museum The Depot, a certain legendary bus had been part of the collection for a year. Back in 2018, Neville and Debbie Purtill, both Deniliquin legends who have a long history of running Purtill buses in the town, purchased a 1959 SB3 Bedford bus from the former owners of Queensland’s iconic Pioneer Bus Service. 

The McDonald family operated the 1959 Watt Bros bodied model for more than 30 years for Pioneer Bus Service in Ipswich, Queensland.

As The Depot opened its doors and introduced local NSW buses, the Pioneer bus quickly became its own unique part of the museum’s collection.

“Neville originally bought the bus because he wanted to save it from being bought and converted into a motorhome or floating into obscurity,” Haig told ABC. 

“He didn’t want to see it go anywhere else to get repainted or converted, so he acquired it for The Depot.”

For years, the Purtill’s had the special Queensland bus on display down at Deniliquin as part of its growing vehicle collection. This path was destined to change when Queensland Omnibus & Coach Society (QOCS) president Nick Wilson became aware of the bus’s presence in NSW.

“We didn’t know where the bus had gone – when it popped up, I immediately wanted to get it to our Brisbane Transport Museum,” Wilson told ABC. 

“It’s a very iconic vehicle that has a lot of significance to Ipswich.”

Going back a couple of decades, the bus belonged to the McDonald family, who were members of QOCS for many years. The vehicle was progressively used for events and stored down near Gold Coast, before a divorce meant the bus was lost due to an auction. 

For years, Wilson kept searching for the bus until it popped up at The Depot. However, the Purtills weren’t originally keen to let go of such a beauty.

“There’s a running joke that Neville doesn’t like to sell anything,” Haig says.

“He loves his collections and his history – when he heard QOCS wanted to buy it – he raised an eyebrow at me and didn’t look like he wanted to let it go.”

Fortunately, Purtill’s understanding of history came to the fore, with QOCS and The Depot working on a deal to return the famous Ipswich bus to Brisbane. Wilson originally tried to broker the deal with a bus swap, but the two parties then negotiated a fair price to return the vehicle to ‘home’.

From there, the logistics of getting the bus from Deniliquin to Brisbane had to be sorted, with The Depot fortunately completing a trip up to Brisbane at that same time to pick up another vehicle. A few phone calls later and the bus was strapped to the back before being delivered to QOCS in April.

“It still needs some touch-up work due to sitting outside for 15 years, but it’s in exceptionally good condition for its age,” Wilson says.

“It only operated in Ipswich its entire life and had three owners, so it has a rich legacy. I thank everyone who donated money to acquiring the bus – it was a group effort from a number of Queensland bus industry identities.”

While The Depot, including Haig and the Purtills, were sad to see the iconic Pioneer bus leave Deniliquin and the museum, they understood the need to get the vehicle back up to its hometown in Ipswich. 

“It’s gone back to where it needs to be,” Haig says.

“QOCS will love it, restore it and look after it. We’re privileged to be part of the story of the bus and, on behalf of the team, we’re all about preserving heritage and stories, so this just makes sense.” 

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