We sit down for a chat with the un­stop­pable Tom Berry from the suc­cess­ful, long-run­ning Highway Coaches in Ip­swich, Queens­land

Ap­proach­ing 100 years of age, Tom Berry of Highway Coaches is a proud driver and pa­tri­arch of an es­teemed fam­ily busi­ness

ABC (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS & PHO­TOS PAUL ALDRIDGE

Com­mon threads found in many of the great orig­i­nal bus com­pa­nies I have had the op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­view are that most come from hum­ble be­gin­nings, all have a spe­cial early-day en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit, and al­most all are suc­cess­ful be­cause they are fam­ily owned and run. They have all achieved suc­cess through hard work, per­se­ver­ance, ded­i­ca­tion and, most im­por­tantly, the bond and sup­port of fam­ily.

On meet­ing 97-year-old Tom Berry from the long-run­ning Highway Coaches in Ip­swich Queens­land, and speak­ing with his iden­ti­cal twin sons Bruce and Gor­don, you eas­ily get the pic­ture that the bond be­tween fa­ther and sons is a very spe­cial one. Mum June is 94, and def­i­nitely one of the chat­ti­est ninety-some­things I have ever met. The clan in­cludes daugh­ter Kay and her hus­band Max, who has just passed his mile­stone of be­ing with the com­pany for 37 years, so even his long ca­reer makes him far from a new­comer.

WARTIME ME­CHANIC

Tom Berry started with the com­pany in 1939 dur­ing wartime as a mo­tor me­chanic and re­mained in this po­si­tion un­til he took over the bus com­pany in 1979. He has also driven buses since he was just old enough to have a li­cence.

In the com­pany of­fice there is a great col­lec­tion of pho­tos that show how the com­pany and fam­ily have changed over time. There is even a great photo of Tom and his push­bike, which he rode to work from Keogh Street each day when he first started out. The broth­ers’ pas­sion for what their fam­ily has achieved is ev­i­dent as they showed me through the photo col­lec­tion, re­mem­ber­ing even the smallest de­tails of each photo be­fore their dad ar­rived to chat.

In 1979, com­pany owner Hil­ton McDon­ald be­came too un­well to con­tinue work­ing and Tom took over. The busi­ness con­tin­ued to do town runs up un­til the mid-1990s when it was scaled back to do only school runs and char­ter work, as that was more prof­itable. Up un­til this time they had 21 buses and 22 peo­ple em­ployed in the busi­ness – it has al­ways been a fam­ily af­fair.

“Our cus­tomer ser­vice – that’s what we do best,” Max says has played an in­te­gral part of the com­pany’s longevity.

CHURCH RUNS

Tom drove the buses for more than 60 years un­til he had to let his bus driver’s li­cence go. He has sto­ries of bus runs he did driv­ing lo­cals to the pic­tures on a Fri­day and Satur­day night be­cause few peo­ple owned cars, and how he did a run to take lo­cals to ser­vices at St Mary’s Church on a Sun­day.

It was a time when pub­lic trans­port was the lo­cal bus com­pany. This, of course, meant Tom Berry and the Berry fam­ily have played a huge part in the life of the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

“I take kids to school now and I took their mums to school, so you can just imag­ine how many gen­er­a­tions dad has driven over the years,” Gor­don says.

June adds: “The lo­cal kids all loved Tom and there would be very few of them who had never been on a bus with Tom Berry driv­ing”.

I won­dered how this long-mar­ried cou­ple had met as I thought maybe she used to catch his bus, but she laughs and says cheek­ily, “I didn’t catch his bus, he would just pull the bus up ev­ery time he saw me and ask me to get on board.”

I ask if he made her pay to get on. “I would pre­tend to pay, so other pas­sen­gers didn’t know, but we would just touch hands and make it look like I gave him money,” she smiles.

BERRY GOOD LIFE

Ev­ery bus in the shed is like fam­ily. Bruce and Gor­don could tell me, go­ing back many years, when each bus was pur­chased, how much they paid for it, and the story be­hind it. The pho­tos in the orig­i­nal of­fice each had a mem­ory and story.

This fam­ily has lived and breathed buses and, with the longevity of Tom and June and the ob­vi­ous close­ness of the fam­ily, it’s clearly been a pretty good life for the Berry fam­ily.

An­other amus­ing fam­ily story is be­hind the his­tory of the com­pany’s colour scheme. Bruce says, “The colours have been used since 1986. Barry Watts, a painter, had talked about colour changes and he takes full ac­co­lades for it – but it was ac­tu­ally me. I was still liv­ing at home and us boys re­ally wanted to change the colours; I was sit­ting at home draw­ing pic­tures of buses

You can just imag­ine how many gen­er­a­tions dad has driven over the years

and do­ing colour­ing in and paint­ing un­til I came up with the per­fect com­bi­na­tion. Barry had showed me schemes from some down in Syd­ney he’d done, but I came up with our colours.”

LUCKY ES­CAPE

There is a photo from 1943 of a crash be­tween a stolen army truck and a bus on the Three-Mile Bridge.

To get out of the bus, pas­sen­gers jumped out of the win­dows and into the creek; many hurt them­selves more with the fall into the creek than the ac­tual crash. Mil­i­tary po­lice came and the thieves were shot. The photo shows how bad the ac­ci­dent was – the driver was killed in­stantly. Tom, only 21 years old at the time, was meant to be the driver that night but swapped shifts.

TIME WARP

Go­ing through big old sheds is like a be­ing in a time warp; there are so many orig­i­nal parts and mem­o­ra­bilia. The boys want to clean it up but there is so much his­tory in there that would be a shame to lose.

There were old tick­ets, driv­ers’ hats, even orig­i­nal leather money bags with a run­ning his­tory of driv­ers’ ini­tials crossed out for the next driver to add theirs; all great old-school things you can re­mem­ber about a child­hood trip on a bus.

The twins re­call how, when they first started, they would do the brake shoes with their dad, knock the riv­ets out, did full re­builds of mo­tors and gearboxes on the bench.

Those old sheds have seen many years of Tom ply­ing his trade and then pass­ing his skills onto his sons and fam­ily.

In­di­vid­u­ally, I ask if they each had a favourite bus over the years. Gor­don replies: “Mine would be the Coach De­sign 420hp MAN, 8-speed syn­chro.” Max says: “I like driv­ing them all.” Bruce adds: “Def­i­nitely the Den­ning – it’s the only one I drive.”

Tom him­self replies, “I’ve liked them all too,” but they all agree he has a soft spot for No. 24 or No. 26 with the Ley­land 401.

You could see that Tom holds all of his time driv­ing and lead­ing this fam­ily run busi­ness very fondly; he only has pos­i­tive mem­o­ries.

Al­though he hasn’t driven for some time now, it is ev­i­dent he spent many years still want­ing to be be­hind the wheel. It was a forced re­tire­ment, not one that was self-im­posed.

GREAT BUS FAM­ILY

The Berry fam­ily is a great Aus­tralian bus fam­ily. Their longevity in the in­dus­try and the im­por­tant role they have played in the town of Ip­swich is some­thing you can see that Tom, al­though now 97 and a man of few words, has given him a life he is very proud of.

The twins and Max are amaz­ing char­ac­ters, very hos­pitable with a wealth of knowl­edge about the com­pany, but you can see it is Tom who has al­ways been the driv­ing force.

As the fa­ther and de­ci­sion-maker of Highway Coaches, the broth­ers both say, “Dad wouldn’t buy a bus un­less he could pay cash for it,” and it is such tra­di­tional think­ing that has made this fam­ily busi­ness sur­vive and con­tinue when oth­ers haven’t.

When I was fi­nally alone with Tom, I said to him that, as a fa­ther, it is ev­i­dent what a great job he has done rais­ing his chil­dren given ob­vi­ous re­spect and love they have for him.

In a very quiet voice, nod­ding, Tom replies, “I hope so.”

Such tra­di­tional think­ing has made this fam­ily busi­ness sur­vive and con­tinue when oth­ers haven’t

Top & above: From left: Tom, Bruce, June and Gor­don Berry in the bus shed; Highway Coaches boasts a proud his­tory

Op­po­site top & bot­tom: Highway Coaches now in its fa­mil­iar colour scheme; Tom Berry stand­ing in his orig­i­nal work shop at Highway Coaches, where it all be­gan in 1939

Above: A young Tom Berry dig­ging out a bus stuck in the mud; Tom in his old driver’s cap; An old tool box Bot­tom: Photo of the crashed bus that Tom was ros­tered on to drive but changed shifts on the day

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