Flashback Friday: Industry pioneer Des Kennedy

By: Gordon Lowe

We take a look back at Gordon Lowes' interview with the legendary Australian bus pioneer and Transport Hall of Fame inductee Des Kennedy

Flashback Friday: Industry pioneer Des Kennedy
One of the early Trailer Tours coaches in all its glory


Desmond Kennedy was born in Deniliquin, New South Wales, on January 14, 1921.

He joined the Parramatta-Ryde bus service (Sydney) as manager more than 67 years ago.

The Parramatta-Ryde service had its beginnings in 1896 when a horse-drawn bus service was established between the intersection of Victoria Road and Kissing Point Road, Ermington, and Ryde (now West Ryde) railway station.

By 1915, the bus service had become motorised. The service continued to run successfully.

During World War II, Rydalmere and Ermington became important industrial areas.

To meet the growing demand for regular transport services the government made an extra passenger available. It could carry 28 passengers.

In 1949 the bus service was passed on to Bill Phillips Jnr and his mother Sarah. Kennedy joined the Parramatta-Ryde service as manager in 1950 – at the time the company was not travelling as well as it should.

In 1955 Ivan Ferris joined the company as a body builder and later took over the supervision of maintenance and vehicle building. In 1976 Kennedy and Ferris purchased the business from the Phillips family.

Subsequently, Ferris and Kennedy established Riverside Bus and Coach Services which incorporated the Parramatta-Ryde service as well as other offshoot companies along the way.

Between 1950 and 2000 Parramatta Ryde bus service carried thousands of passengers until Kennedy sold the business to the New South Wales Government on February 28, 2000.

During his many years of service to the industry, Kennedy held a variety of positions with various associations, including the Chartered Institute of Transport. He was also a committee member of the Bus and Coach Association and a foundation member of the Road Transport Training Committee.

In 2008 he was inducted into the National Road and Transport Hall of Fame.


The Des Kennedy story:

ABC: What sort of work did you do before joining the bus industry?

Kennedy: I have very fond memories of those early days.

I joined the Phillips family bus service as manager in 1950. Mr Phillips Snr had just passed away, leaving the service to his son Bill and Mrs Phillips as partners. My background was accounting and I became involved when requested by Bill to check their books.

They seemed to be floundering and had lost their way with accounting detail and seemed to be running the company at a loss.

To be frank and to the point, they had not adjusted fares for 25 years and on top of that they gave 25 percent discount on weekly tickets.

So that’s how I became involved in the first place. During my early years with the company our bus service operated between Parramatta station and West Ryde station via East Parramatta, Rydalmere, Ermington and Ermington West.

The Parramatta- Ryde bus service route network covered approximately nine kilometres. Prior to joining the company during the war years, Rydalmere became a very busy industrial area, being transformed from a purely rural district during the period 1940 to 1946.

This created an opportunity for the bus service to expand, not only to cater for local employees working in warehousing, but to also provide transport for the US Navy and Army which were operating in the area 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


ABC: You mentioned that the Parramatta- Ryde bus service was one of the pioneers in introducing the semitrailer bus. How did that come about?

Kennedy: Well, permission was granted by the New South Department of Transport (DOT) to introduce semi-trailer type buses. Because the semi-trailer bus was a new and innovative vehicle, it was decided to build these buses in our own workshops. Three semi-trailer buses were built, initially two of them offsite and one onsite. Two of these buses had steelframed bodies and one was built from timber. The timber-framed semi was built in conjunction with Motor Body Assemblers, who, incidentally, were a branch of White Trucks.


ABC: Initially, what sort of design did you come up with?

Kennedy: The design of the semi-trailer buses was based on a two-door saloon. These buses were huge and could seat 53 passengers with 20 standing (officially), making a total of 73 passengers all up. However, believe you me, in peak hours there was sometimes 45 to 50 people standing and that’s a lot of passengers. ABC: Can you tell us a little bit about your semi-trailer specifications? Kennedy: As I remember, the clearance in the saloon (between floor and ceiling) was at least six feet. However, in the goose neck (observation cabin) section it was only 4 foot 8 inches. Transport regulations required 6-foot clearance for all registered buses. However, owing to the urgency, some people in the transport department closed their eyes in relation to this matter until the early 1970s when we were given 12 months’ notice to get them off the road.


ABC: What happened to the vehicles once you were told by the DOT to get the buses off the road?

Kennedy: We sold them of course. In all, we operated eight semi-trailer buses during the period they were in vogue. All were fitted with two doors to the saloon and in those days conductors were compulsory. Communication to the driver was by either an electric bell or buzzer. There was a special code. One bell to the driver indicated (to him) to stop at the next stop. Two bells meant that the driver could leave the bus stop and continue the journey. During peak times our semi-trailer buses required two conductors.     

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