Australia, Bus Industry News

Queensland bus industry veteran celebrates remarkable career

For Jim Hill, he has spent more than half a century running buses in Queensland and New South Wales. He reflects on his remarkable journey as he prepares to pass on the Hill legacy.

The name Jim Hill is synonymous with the Queensland bus and coach industry. Having spent more than 50 years owning and running bus fleets up and down Australia’s eastern seaboard, Hill has become a local industry legend for his work with Gatton Bus Service. 

For someone so intrinsically linked with buses, it may come as a shock that Hill didn’t always want to follow in family footsteps.

“In my old fella’s eyes, there was no debate that I would be a bus man,” Hill told ABC. “I’d rather have stuck with trucks.

“I went and worked with trucks for a while, but then mother nature turned me back to buses and I’ve stayed there ever since.”

The bus industry is lucky that Hill decided to return to his family’s love for running buses. As the latest member of a long line of Jim Hills to work in the bus and coach game, he’s become a stalwart of Queensland’s industry over the past 55 years.

For Hill, his family ties to buses started more than a century ago when his grandmother applied for licenses to run buses out of Wollongong in the years before World War I. Out of the eight licenses being issued by the local department, she was awarded three of them.

Following the war, Hill’s father came onboard and grew the business, securing five of the eight licenses.

“That was when the Hill family really started to have a firm hold in the bus industry,” Hill says.

“When I then left school, I went straight into an apprenticeship in the bus industry and served my time doing four years in Wollongong with my old man.”

Hill was the last of the five-year apprentices. To offset the extra year, Hill completed his final two years of his apprenticeship at former England vehicle manufacturer Leyland Motors. At the time, Leyland was a well-known producer of lorries, buses and trolleybuses before the English body went defunct in 1968.

During this two-year period, Hill lived in London and worked at the main Leyland factory. After his apprenticeship finished, he stayed in England for another few years to learn more about spare parts.

Working with the Sydney-based second-hand spare parts dealer Trevor Sloan, Hill continued his English journey in Southampton where he drove tow trucks around, picking up old trucks and trailers for wreckage that would eventually be transported to Australia.

Eventually it was Hill himself who would return to Australia to resume his mechanical work with his father.

But it wasn’t a triumphant return for young Hill. Upon landing down under, a falling out between Hill and his father pushed him away from the bus industry towards the lure of trucks.

“I started driving trucks interstate for quite some time after that,” Hill says. “When I eventually got back into the bus game, I sold my trucks and got back in Sydney for five years.”

It seems like Hill was always destined to return to the family passion. He forged his own way in the bus sector, buying four routes from Cumberland Coaches in 1983. Just two years later Hill bought more routes from South Western Coach Lines and ran them under the name of Revesby Bus & Coach Service.

Although he loved the grit involved with running services in Sydney, Hill soon saw an opportunity to dominate the market in a nearby state and left New South Wales.

At the time Hill was running buses in Sydney, he only remembers there being five bus companies on the market in Queensland. He started a legacy by buying Gatton Bus Service and moving up north.

“I was lucky enough to strike these Queensland companies early, with the first one being in Gatton,” Hill says. “The other companies in Queensland were Minden Bus, Logan Coaches, Beaudesert Bus and Glasshouse Mountains.

“I eventually bought them all and had more than 200 buses. It nearly killed me running that many buses.”

Hill says he benefited in his early forays in Queensland by having limited competition. While many Queensland operators were happy to lay low, Hill came storming in to seize control of the state’s main bus businesses.

“People in Queensland weren’t interested in slaying the world, but I was,” Hill says. “I was 100 miles an hour and brought venom. A lot of people after that woke up to the fact they were a bit slow off the mark.”

After buying his way through the Queensland bus market, a standard day was never the same for Hill. He would start at Glasshouse Mountains and travel to three companies per day, checking out the management and updating the ancient vehicles.

His mechanical background came to the fore while undergoing a massive vehicle replacement program. Hill says this hectic time of his career meant no two days were ever the same at the helm of multiple bus companies.

“I loved the role as there were 10 changes in a day and it was so fast-paced,” Hill says. “It started with making sure guys got out of bed in the morning to looking after the vehicles in our fleet.”

After 55 years in the industry filled with successful services, Hill’s presence is set to come to a close in 2023. The stalwart turned 75 recently and has announced he will slow down and retire from the sector. He’s now in the midst of assisting his daughter Tayla in transitioning ownership of Gatton & Minden Bus Service before he steps away.

“At the age of 75 it’s time to steadily wind down my career,” Hill says. “When Tayla finished school she came to the yard pretty often and was always interested in it.

“She’s worked in our offices here for the past five years and knows the game back to front, so I’m excited to see what she can do with the business.”

When Tayla replaces Jim at the head of Gatton & Minden Bus Service, it’ll be yet another milestone moment in the Hill family’s bus legacy. Hill admits after celebrating his 75th birthday, he’s looking forward to retirement. Yet he knows he won’t stay too far away from the bus sector to give Tayla a helping hand if required.

“I’m proud of the Hill family and it feels great knowing we’ve got a long way to go yet,” Hill says. “It’s up to Tayla now – if she wants to keep on growing the business then there are more purchases to be made and she’s capable of growing the place further.”

For such a long stint in the industry, Hill is remarkably measured upon reflection. He says he doesn’t have any particular highlights or challenges that headline his career.

Throughout his time owning bus companies, Hill says he flew close to the wind financially at times. He credits financier and dealer Boy Bradstreet for being Hill’s saviour when the goings got tough.

Despite not wanting to follow his father’s wishes and work in the bus industry, it’s been a special career for Hill. He’ll leave the industry this year confident that the sector will continue following the rules and excelling all over the country.

“It’s a great industry and it’s given me a good life over the past 55 years or so,” Hill says. “There are a terrific bunch of people in the industry and I’m sure it’ll continue staying strong and performing well.”

  1. Australian Truck Radio Listen Live
Send this to a friend