Backward Glance – The evolution of transport on the Sunshine Coast
  • Wednesday 30 May 2018

We often take for granted how easy it is to travel from our homes to work, school, shops and anywhere else in between.

In earlier times, most people walked, rode horses or used wagons to get around.

Transport for residents, visitors, mail and supplies to the North Coast region was via boat to the main river access jetties until Cobb and Co coaches began to use the rough track along Gympie Road when it opened 150 years ago.

The development of buses and transport here on the Sunshine Coast is very much intertwined with early tourism and holiday makers.

When cars were scarce and unaffordable, many people travelled here by rail, on a steam train or later on diesel trains.

When the railways opened up in the early 1890s, horse drawn vehicles gathered at the main station yards in Landsborough, Palmwoods and Nambour, waiting for passengers to arrive and transporting them to camping spots beside the sea or to guest houses in places like Montville, Buderim and Maleny.

Early tourists enjoyed the coastal region for swimming, fishing and boating.

The hinterland was renowned for its scenery and fresh mountain air where holiday makers enjoyed bush walks and lovely waterfalls during their holiday.

Next came motorised fleets of cars and early buses waiting at the stations to take the residents or holiday makers to their destination.

It was the transition period between horses and horse-less vehicles.

Cars were very expensive and were out of the price range for most working people and their family budgets.

A holiday was carefully saved for and most families only took a break once a year if fortunate enough to do so.

During the 1920s, Charles Clarke started the first regular bus service, return from Buderim to Alexandra Headland and Mooloolaba.

At that time, Ken Hendren and his truck provided another form of available transport for hire, to go to the beach or perhaps the pictures and dances.

The seats were wide boards tied in place with cream can ropes to railings on the sides.

Hendren's truck also transported travelers from the Old Gympie Road to Caloundra.

The solid rubber tyres meant frequent bogging along the unmade roads.

During World War II, petrol was rationed and large military movements occurred.

Many soldiers came through the district by troop train and it was not uncommon to see soldiers being transported in trucks along the Bruce Highway which had opened in 1934.

The rationing of petrol using coupons limited the use of automobiles for transportation.

Harry Lyons from Maleny, in addition to his garage and mechanical business, operated a car rental business and bus depot from the lower end of Maple Street.

In 1923, he pioneered the first motor service between Maleny and Landsborough and in October 1938 he took over the main contract and passenger service from Albert Benhrendorff.

Harry co-owned the Mapleton Picture Company with B. Tesch and became the sole proprietor when he purchased Tesch's share in March 1938.

During the war years, Harry's garage often served as a venue for skating and dancing in aid of the Red Cross.

Caloundra’s bus depot, on the corner of Minchinton and Bulcock streets, was a hive of activity on Friday nights and Saturday mornings as local young people watched who was coming and going. 

It was run by Evan Boxell until 1943 when George Watson took over and remained in the bus business until 1959.

Handsome young surf lifesavers, arriving to patrol the beach on weekends, regularly came via train then bus to beach side areas. 

If a lifesaver missed the Saturday morning train they were generally assured a lift to their destination if they were seen in their surf lifesaving blazer hitching a ride. 

On Sunday afternoons, buses filled with happy holidaymakers and a special train timetable, designed to fit the weekend schedule, transported travelers back to their homes for the working week in Brisbane.

Times were changing. By the 1960s, the lovely old guest houses had waned in popularity. 

Flats were popular, as well as camping and caravanning.

Many people drove their own cars and the number of buses waiting at the railway stations began to decline.

In the mid-1970s, our public libraries here on the Sunshine Coast converted Bedford coaches into purpose-built mobile libraries to service the reading needs of smaller towns on a regular basis. 

This service has continued using newer vehicles as needed.

Over the years, buses have changed into modern styled coaches.

Tourism has changed too. Holidaymakers may choose to travel to their destination by air and enjoy sightseeing with local tour companies in smaller buses.

Local bus companies offer long distance tours and visit local tourist attractions without the need to drive yourself.

Outside Sunshine Coast Airport, shuttle buses offer a reliable service to visitors and locals, transporting them to their destination.

For many years, Nambour had the only high school between Gympie and Brisbane and trains and buses transported students long distances.  

They were long days for children from places like Mooloolaba and Caloundra, leaving at about 7am each morning and returning home about 4.30pm.  

Homework was sometimes complete as the bus rumbled along and many assignments were marked down due to untidy handwriting.  

Buses are still a very important method of transportation and every morning many children take them to and from school.

Special educational trips for students and teachers visit exciting faraway destinations by bus, like Australia’s capital, Canberra, or even the snow fields in winter.

If you have been out and about across the Sunshine Coast recently, you may have seen, or even taken a ride on the Horizon Festival’s Art Bus.  

Adorned with an incredible artwork, Sunrise: Ba’boon bi’ra, by local Kabi Kabi artist Bianca Beetson, the Art Bus is a public art project on wheels. 

The Art Bus forms part of Horizon Festival’s visual arts program and Bianca’s incredible work speaks to the strength of the First Nation’s focus in this year’s Horizon Festival program.

To find out more about the Art Bus and Horizon Festival, visit

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.

Image captions 

Hero - Forester's bus crushed by a fallen tree on the Maroochydore Road, late 1930s. 
The Federal Bus, owned by Percival (Percy) Forester was one of the first more modern style buses to operate in the locality. In the late 1930s and 1940s the service carried passengers between Nambour, Maroochydore and Mooloolaba. At the time the roads were in a bad state and the heavy traffic and constant erosion caused the ground to give way.

Image 1 - Buses in Main Street, Mooloolaba, ca 1947. The trailer buses were part of a fleet of vehicles owned and operated by Leslie Douglas and Mr Cook during the 1940s. Bus on right named 'The Progress'. The service operated between Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, Woombye and Nambour.

Image 2 - Douglas and Cook with their trailer bus at Mooloolaba, ca 1947. Leslie and Jeanette Douglas were the proprietors of a small fleet of buses which ran between Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, Woombye and Nambour during the 1940s.

Image 3 - Charles Clarke's bus with a full load of passengers on the Mooloolaba Buderim Road, October 1924. Charles Clarke built the passenger bus on a new Ford Model T one ton truck chassis and in ca 1922 he started the first regular passenger service to Mooloolaba. The bus was fitted with a covered wagon type of all-weather protection and canvas seats. It could carry eleven passengers and provided a daily service to Buderim, Alexandra Headland, and Mooloolaba.

Image 4 - Passenger bus service between Maroochydore and Palmwoods, 1920s. During the 1920s bus services were established in the Maroochydore area by F.W. Phillips, H. Gill and Percy C. Evans.

Image 5 - Federal Buses from the Nambour-Maroochydore-Mooloolaba service, ca 1935. The Federal Buses (pictured at Maroochydore) were among the first more modern style buses to operate in the locality. They were owned and driven by Percy Forester and carried passengers between Nambour, Maroochydore and Mooloolaba from the mid-1930s to the 1940s. 

Image 6 - Coolum - Nambour Bus Service, via Yandina. V.A. Barnett proprietor, 1930s. Victor A. Barnett began the licensed passenger service to Yandina in 1930, after the first genuinely trafficable road to Coolum was constructed between 1922-1925. The service operated daily, except Sundays.

Image 7 - Fred Charles, owner of the Obi to Mapleton bus run, with his fleet of vehicles on the Obi Obi Range Road, late 1930s. In addition to serving as passenger vehicles, the open-sided canvas covered trucks carted goods and operated as a cream run between Obi Obi and Mapleton. 

Image 8 - Gill family with the Nambour-Maroochydore bus, ca 1929. 

Image 9 - Ginger Farm tour bus at the Ginger Factory, Yandina, 1988. The courtesy bus took visitors on an informative tour of the working Ginger Farm and also provided transport to and from the Ginger Factory to the paddle steamer 'Ginger Belle', moored at Browne's Wharf on the Maroochy River. 

Image 10 - Pioneer Tours Scenic Clipper coach parked on the top of Maleny range, ca 1955. 

Image 11 - Landsborough-Mooloolaba bus at Mooloolaba, ca 1940. The bus was from one of a number of different bus lines providing passenger services in the Mooloolaba and Landsborough areas during the 1930s and 1940s. 

Image 12 - Ken Hendren and his cream truck with passengers for Caloundra, ca 1925. Ken and his truck were available for hire to go to the beach, the circus or the pictures. It also transported travelers from the Old Gympie Road to Caloundra. The seats were wide boards tied in place with the cream can ropes.

Image 13 - Bus parked outside Shaw & Son Cafe and Bakery in Maple Street, Maleny, ca 1939. 

Image 14 - Shire of Landsborough Library Service mobile library in Maple Street, Maleny. May 1987.

Image 15 - Caloundra's bus depot, Bulcock Street, ca 1950. Caloundra was a popular tourist destination and during the holiday season tourists came by train to Landsborough and then caught the bus to Caloundra.

Image 16 - Harry Lyons' motor garage, Maple Street, Maleny, ca 1930. Harry also operated a car rental business and bus depot from the lower end of Maple Street. He pioneered the first motor service between Maleny and Landsborough in ca 1923 and in October 1938 he took over the main contract and passenger service.