Bus boss kept city moving
DUNCAN JAMES POLLEY Coach company founder Born: June 24, 1930, Gympie Died: July 23, 2015, Gympie
MENTION the name Polley in Gympie and everyone will say “bus” – whether it be a school run or a streamlined coach touring Australia.
Over almost 60 years, Duncan Polley built his father’s single school bus business at Tin Can Bay into a dynasty – 28 school runs carrying 2500 students a day, and a tour company that can claim to be the longest-running in the nation.
Duncan was the son of Roland and Elizabeth (Betty) Polley, British immigrants who had come to Australia with their parents.
His father arrived in 1909 and his mother from Scotland in 1912. They ended up as neighbours at New Cleveland Rd in Tingalpa, Brisbane. Roland was share farming at Toogoolawah when he and Betty married.
They later moved to Harrisville, Cleveland and then to Gympie, where Roland had a cream run. It was while they were here that Duncan was born, joining three brothers, Donald, Roland and David.
Later the family moved to Rockhampton and then to Thornlands and another three children were born – Bob (who had a twin sister, Janet, who died in infancy) and Neil.
The family then settled on a property near Brooweena, west of Maryborough which they named “Kildare” because it reminded Betty of her native Scotland.
The family was poor, living in a hut until a house was built and then building yards to establish a dairy farm.
As school was too far away, the boys were enrolled with the Primary Correspondence School, although they preferred work on the farm to schoolwork. They helped their father clear the scrub and build fences and, in open season, trapped possums and sent their skins to Brisbane to earn some for cash.
Duncan didn’t pass Scholarship, which ruled out agricultural college, so he stayed on the farm.
His father was sickly, having been gassed in the trenches during World War I, and the doctor recommended a move to a dryer climate so Kildare was handed to share farmers.
In 1947, the family moved, with their dairy herd, to Saramac Downs at Wallumbilla.
Duncan was charged with taking the cattle. He drove them into Woolooga and put them on a train. The new farm meant there was a lot more work to be done building milking sheds and clearing the land.
In 1954, his parents sold the farm and moved back to Gympie while Duncan moved into an old butchery in Wallumbilla and worked sinking dams, building fences and carting logs for the sawmill, before becoming a plumber in Roma.
His father, meanwhile, had bought the bus run between Tin Can Bay and Gympie, which operated three days a week for shoppers, workers and students.
It was while visiting his parents in Gympie that Duncan met the Mason family at the Gospel Hall. Before his departure he asked if he could be penpals with their daughter Valda, who was 13. She looked forward to his letters and Duncan waited for her to grow up.
In 1956, Duncan took over the bus run from his ailing father and his career in coaches and tours began.
In 1959, he added a sevenpassenger Volkswagen Kombi van to the fleet and set off taking a group of widows to the Jacaranda Festival in Grafton.
It was unfamiliar territory for Duncan who had never operated a tour in his life.
Nevertheless it was a successful outing and it wasn’t long before another trip departed for three days at Springbrook National Park.
In 1960, the Kombi was replaced with a Tempo Matador and the tours continued. Tin Can Bay’s growing population also meant increasing frequency of the bus run to six days a week.
The other big event of 1960 was that he married Valda and they moved into the home he had built for them in Tin Can Bay. It had a combustion stove, bed, bath, table and chairs, an unsanded wooden floor and packing cases for cupboards.
Many a night was spent painting and fixing their first home and they soon welcomed the first of their seven children, a daughter Sherryl.
As the family grew, so did the fleet of buses.
Duncan bought his first bus in 1962. At £5000 it was a huge risk for the fledgling business but by 1964, he had added another to the fleet.
To meet repayments, he began conducting regular weekend tours, beginning with a trip to Alice Springs. It was so successful that by 1968 he was able to purchase his first coach, a 45-passenger Denning he named Gympie Goldliner. In 1969 he set off on his first tour around Australia. It was for 43 days at an all-inclusive cost of $660 a passenger.
By 1972, the fleet had outgrown the depot in Tin Can Bay and it was time for Duncan and Valda to move into the heart of Gympie.
The new premises had a shed large enough to accommodate 10 vehicles and a maintenance bay, where their buses and vehicles from other companies, including the fire brigade, could be serviced.
In 1973, a 49-seat coach named Cooloola Star, in recognition of the family’s Tin Can Bay heritage, was added.
During the ’70s, there were many camping trips throughout Australia with tours originating in Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra and travelling to tourist hot spots including Tasmania and Western Australia.
The growth of Polley’s touring business, combined with up to 10 trips each year to the Northern Territory, meant a new coach was added to the fleet almost every year for the next decade. In 1976, Duncan and Valda consolidated their business interests after buying the long-established Lewis Brothers, taking on another four vehicles and a depot.
That same year, they also decided move to Gympie.
Duncan had been a Widgee Shire councillor for five years but the move meant he had to give up the position.
He had a keen eye for tourism potential and was instrumental in the construction of the Big Pineapple service station on the highway and also the duck pond parklands at the southern end of town.
In 1999, the Polleys took delivery of Gympie’s first wheelchair accessible city bus. It was a substantial upgrade on the town services and an instant hit with passengers.
The Polleys tour division grew again with the purchase of Suntour Holidays in 2001.
In 2002 Duncan was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As his health deteriorated the business was eventually passed to son Warren.
Duncan found it hard to retire but eased back slowly, enjoying his vegetable garden and never losing sight of his faith. He was thrilled when his extended his family came from Mackay, Perth, Tasmania and New Zealand to see him.
Duncan is survived by Valda, his wife of 55 years; his children Sherryl, Mark, Robyn, Warren, Christine, Jennifer and Miriam; 25 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.