Vic­to­rian bus op­er­a­tor Ross Wise is proud of his achieve­ments with Wise Way to Travel since its foun­da­tion in 1997. He started his bus op­er­a­tion Wise Way to Travel af­ter be­ing of­fered the pur­chase of a school run while on a vol­un­teer­ing mis­sion overseas

Vic­to­rian bus op­er­a­tor Ross Wise is proud of his achieve­ments with Wise Way to Travel since its foun­da­tion in 1997

ABC (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS AND IM­AGES RAN­DALL JOHN­STON

Peo­ple in the bus in­dus­try are usu­ally com­mu­nity-minded folk. Op­er­a­tors will gen­er­ally help each other out when they need a hand and, when a call goes out to sup­port a wor­thy cause, we come through for those in need.

So it’s no co­in­ci­dence that a brand new bus op­er­a­tion was born some 20 years ago dur­ing such an act of kind­ness.

Ross Wise has been a coun­try school bus op­er­a­tor for two decades. He started his re­gional Vic­to­rian bus op­er­a­tion Wise Way to Travel af­ter be­ing of­fered the pur­chase of a school run while on a vol­un­teer­ing mis­sion with the Rotary Club of In­ver­loch to cy­clone-proof schools in storm-hit Samoa, along­side pre­vi­ous owner Frank Bain.

“It was a good trip to Samoa, a real eye opener,” Ross ex­plains.

“We dou­bled the roof trusses in the school build­ings and strength­ened all the pil­lars.

“The school we were work­ing on was on the south coast of Samoa in a very poor area that is very prone to be­ing struck by cy­clones. We did what we could in the short time we were there any­way.

“Frank Bain and I were hav­ing a beer one night, prob­a­bly around 1996, and he asks, ‘ Would you like to buy my school bus run?’

“My ini­tial thought was no. Deal­ing with school kids didn’t re­ally sound like my cup of tea at the time.

“About a year later Frank still hadn’t sold it and the peo­ple look­ing at buy­ing it were stuf  ng him around. He had an old Bed­ford bus that had to be up­graded, but I didn’t think that was too much of a big deal.

“I thought about it a bit more and got to think­ing that it seemed like a fairly good gig. One hour in the morn­ing and one hour in the af­ter­noon do­ing the lo­cal school run, so I ended up buy­ing it off him.

“I did my due dili­gence and spoke with a few other bus op­er­a­tors in the area and they all said it would be a good buy and that I should go for it. So that’s what I did and haven’t looked back since.”

One of the  rst things Ross did was call In­ver­loch Pri­mary School to see if they wanted any char­ter work done, which they did.

“It’s all just snow­balled from there re­ally,” Ross re­veals.

“When I pur­chased the busi­ness 20 years ago it came with the In­ver­loch to Won­thaggi school run and a shut­tle ser­vice from Won­thaggi Sec­ondary Col­lege to two of the pri­mary schools,” Ross ex­plains.

Hav­ing al­ways been the com­mu­nity-minded, hand­son type, prior to get­ting into the bus busi­ness Ross was re­spon­si­ble for main­te­nance and en­gi­neer­ing at a lo­cal house- build­ing com­pany.

“I also worked in a garage by my­self for six years, so hav­ing that me­chan­i­cal knowl­edge and be­ing able to do my own re­pairs has come in very handy and got us out of trou­ble at var­i­ous times over the years,” Ross ex­plains.

A for­mer mo­tor me­chanic by trade, race car owner and driver, the first Bed­ford bus Ross ac­quired was in pretty bad shape but in time he re­placed it with a Vol­gren-Mercedes-Benz com­bi­na­tion and picked up a few new jobs along the way.

Vir­tu­ally run­ning the op­er­a­tion from his fam­ily home, Ross reck­ons he has now achieved the ideal work-life bal­ance, and he is in the process of up­grad­ing his on- site fa­cil­i­ties.

BACK TO SCHOOL

One of the big­gest schools the or­gan­i­sa­tion ser­vices is Won­thaggi Sec­ondary Col­lege, which is split into two cam­puses. There is the Dud­ley Ju­nior Campus (for stu­dents in years 7 to 9) and McBride Se­nior Campus.

“There’s only one pri­vate sec­ondary school on Phillip Is­land called Ne­whaven Col­lege, so all the pub­lic school kids come up to Won­thaggi and other bus op­er­a­tors pick them up from Phillip Is­land,” Ross says.

“We get an in­take of about 200 new stu­dents a year at the high school into year 7, so those school runs do keep us fairly busy.

“I’ve been in the bus in­dus­try for 20 years now and the way this area has grown is just phe­nom­e­nal.

“We were tak­ing 140 stu­dents out of In­ver­loch area when we first started and now we’re tak­ing more than 200.”

The num­ber of stu­dents en­rolled at Mary MacKil­lop Catholic Re­gional Col­lege, Leon­gatha has also grown signicantly over the years.

“There are a lot of younger fam­i­lies mov­ing out here now. Hous­ing is ob­vi­ously a lot more af­ford­able here com­pared to Mel­bourne, and it’s a good life­style for the kids,” he says.

“There are quite a few peo­ple out here who com­mute to Mel­bourne for work ev­ery day, which is a two-hour drive one way.

“It’s not so much the peo­ple work­ing in cen­tral Mel­bourne who are com­mut­ing, but denitely those work­ing in the outer east, in the Dan­de­nong area.

“A lot of the in­dus­try that used to em­ploy a lot of peo­ple out here has gone, the coal mine closed in 1968.

You’ll get kids on the bus who say ‘Good morn­ing Ross, how are things?’ and it just makes your day

“The ma­jor em­ploy­ers out here now are prob­a­bly the schools, su­per­mar­kets and the hos­pi­tal.”

Ross en­joys do­ing school runs and says the chil­dren in the area are po­lite and well man­nered.

“You may be hav­ing a bad day and you’ll get kids on the bus who say ‘Good morn­ing Ross, how are things?’ and it just makes your day.”

While no new school ser­vices have been added since In­ver­loch Pri­mary School came on board, Ross has been grow­ing the char­ter side of the busi­ness re­cently with great suc­cess.

“We are get­ting a lot of char­ter work with In­ver­loch Pri­mary School at the mo­ment, which is nice,” he says.

“I am also start­ing to get quite a lot of week­end work with sports clubs and es­pe­cially Won­thaggi Foot­ball Club, Probus clubs and the lo­cal bowls club.

“There are some very nice and scenic places around here too, such as the Kil­cunda Hills.”

The small com­mu­nity of Kil­cunda is sit­u­ated on the rugged South Gipp­s­land coast­line be­tween Phillip Is­land and Won­thaggi, and is a handy day trip for char­ter groups.

The nearby Shel­ley Beach is a se­cluded sandy beach bounded by two rocky head­lands, and past the east­ern head­land at the main beach is the town’s surf beach.

The school kids love it, and also the peo­ple I take around for char­ter say it’s just so much more com­fort­able than the pre­vi­ous ve­hi­cle

HOME ON THE RANGE

One of the most unique as­pects of Ross’ op­er­a­tion is the fact that he es­sen­tially runs the busi­ness from his home in Won­thaggi.

“We moved into this new place at the end of April last year,” he says.

“I’ve also got a per­mit to add a stor­age fa­cil­ity which will be large enough to t four buses into.

“That will be good, be­cause we do get some pretty wild storm over here in the win­ter and I want to keep my new bus look­ing like new for as long as pos­si­ble.”

Ross plans to have a new bus wash and this new stor­age fa­cil­ity up well ahead of win­ter this year, and is likely to be call­ing in a few favours with rel­a­tives to achieve this.

Driver Gra­ham Blun­dell, who has been work­ing for Ross for a num­ber of years, says it’s a plea­sure to work with him.

An­other long-time em­ployee and driver Kevin McP­hear­son helps to keep the wheels turn­ing.

“Kevin was my co-driver when we did the Syd­ney Olympics in 2000. That was a big job tak­ing me­dia to and from the games. It was a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week op­er­a­tion in my 14/18 Mercedes.

“The Bus As­so­ci­a­tion of Vic­to­ria put out the call for Vic­to­ri­ans bus op­er­a­tors who wanted to be a part of the Syd­ney Olympic Games, and we thought that would be a good thing for us to be a part of.

“It was a good experience,” Ross says. “It was a ma­jor exercise in hind­sight, but I’m very proud that we were a part of that.”

Ross’s daugh­ter Amanda Camp­bell also helps out in the busi­ness from time to time.

The lat­est ad­di­tion to the Wise Way to Travel eet is a Sca­nia-Vol­gren En­dura school/char­ter co-mbi­na­tion that was de­liv­ered in June last year.

Ross speci cally re­quested his pref­er­ence of a coach- style door – in part to bet­ter keep out the strong, squally winds that coastal Gipp­s­land is prone to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

“It has McCon­nell seat-belted coach seats, which the kids have said are very com­fort­able,” Ross re­veals.

“The school kids love it, and also the peo­ple I take around for char­ter say it’s just so much more com­fort­able than the pre­vi­ous ve­hi­cle.”

The new bus has been put to good use on the pri­mary and sec­ondary school run from nearby In­ver­loch into Won­thaggi.

His other full-size bus is a 20-year-old Vol­gren body on a Mercedes-Benz 1418 chas­sis, so his new stor­age fa­cil­ity will pro­vide more than enough room for th­ese two and more if an­other bus needs to be added to the eet in the fu­ture.

While Ross admits he is “get­ting on in the years”, he is not look­ing to re­tire any­time soon and plans to stay ac­tive in the busi­ness and within the com­mu­nity for as long as he is able to.

“I’ve thor­oughly en­joyed be­ing in­volved in the bus in­dus­try and I’ve got to know a lot of very good peo­ple. It’s re­ally con­nected our fam­ily to the com­mu­nity even more,” he says.

Ross reck­ons his op­er­a­tion is at a good man­age­able size at the mo­ment, but he does in­tend to con­tinue to grow the char­ter side of the busi­ness over the next few years.

Clock­wise from

left: The lat­est ad­di­tion to the fleet; Sca­nia is the bosy builder of choice; Driver Gra­ham Blun­dell; Ross en­joys his work

Above and left: The old Merc is still go­ing strong; One of the most fre­quently vis­ited beaches in the Won­thaggi area

Clock­wise

from left: Ross and Gra­ham; The En­dura is at home; The hum­ble work­shop

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