Australian history-making shines on buses

The Retired ACT Transport Employees Club is back in the news with a successful heritage grant application, bringing together an important piece of the past

Australian history-making shines on buses
Australian history-making shines on buses

By David Goeldner | September 21, 2010

Capturing Canberra’s public transport history has been made a little easier with an $8000 grant recently announced by ACT Chief Minister John Stanhope.

The Retired ACT Transport Employees Club (RATEC) will set to work over the next 12 months recording the oral histories of ten retired workers, leading to the publication of a book on their history in time for Canberra’s centenary in 2013.

RATEC was among 23 community groups sharing in $340,000 allocated to heritage projects.

"The grants will ensure that those in our community with the enthusiasm and the expertise to collect and conserve our local heritage can make their ideas a reality," Stanhope says.

"This year a total of 38 applications for grants were received, which demonstrates the level of enthusiasm in our community towards the heritage of our young city."

An integral part of Canberra’s history can be traced to the original bus and public works depot at Kingston, where much of the ACT’s development efforts were coordinated from the 1920s.

RATEC’s Heritage Coordinator Carole Lawrence says her club was approached by the ACT Heritage Council to apply for a grant which continues an oral history exercise started in 2009.

"We were given a $4000 grant in 2009 to conduct interviews with six retired employees," Lawrence says.

In 2012, RATEC plans to combine the completed 16 oral histories in book form, subject to a final grant for publishing.

A story coming out of this year’s batch of ten interviewees will be reflections from one of Canberra’s original female bus conductors who is now 94 years old.

Lawrence says there were many female employees working with buses back in the 1940s.

"Many of the female conductors worked in these jobs during the 1940s when the younger men went to war," she says.

RATEC will include the histories of people who worked in various occupations allied to transport, including Commonwealth car drivers, a mechanic, spray painter, truck driver, office workers and one of the original paymasters – all working out of Kingston with bus drivers and conductors until the 1970s.

"This isn’t just a part of Canberra’s history, but the history of Australia," Lawrence says.

RATEC has commissioned oral historian Dr Mary Hutchison to interview the ten retired workers into 2011, and will assist with next year’s grant application to publish their stories.

Lawrence says there were many retirees approached to be interviewed who were reluctant to place their stories on public record.

"We all have memories, and there are some tragedies mentioned," she says.

"At Kingston bus depot itself there were quite a few deaths."

Lawrence says some older retired drivers have related the accidents that occurred at the depot in the days before occupational health and safety laws were thought of, much less legislated for and enacted.

"It’s tragic but still part and parcel of the history."

Stories behind the original ACT Government bus operator’s involvement transporting workers and dignitaries to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme is covered in the oral history collection.

Lawrence says RATEC is privileged to have photographic records of buses inside the Snowy Mountains scheme’s tunnel at Tumut.

She says one photo stands out from the collection featuring former drivers Sid Coggan and Jack Bradley from 1962, the latter who provides his story for the oral history compilation.

"The Snowy Mountains Scheme is an area that has received a lot of coverage in the past, but not the contribution from buses," Lawrence says.

Chief Minister Stanhope congratulated RATEC and each of this year's successful applicants, thanking them for their strong commitment to conserving and spreading the word about the diverse heritage of the ACT.

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