Omnibuses, or buses, were operating in the Illawarra from its early days, the Mercury first reporting their existence in November 1856.
The region’s first omnibus service was established by newly arrived Woonona man Mr A. McIntyre, in September 1868.
McIntyre was granted a licence to operate the service, to run between Bulli and Wollongong, by the Court of Petty Sessions.
His horse-drawn vehicle was capable of carrying 16 passengers and was described by the Mercury as ‘‘a very respectable article’’.
‘‘No doubt he will be very patronized... We hope he will meet with every success in this bold undertaking, being the pioneer in bus business in the Illawarra district. The moderate charges will induce many to go by it, it being only a shilling each way.’’
September 30 of each year represented the last day for the annual licensing of passenger vehicles. In 1872, the industry was flourishing, with a number of licences granted, including to W.S. Makin Sen, (two buggies), James McLeery (three coaches), James Thompson (two coaches), W.J. Wiseman (buggy), Joseph Makin (buggy), and John Beattie (spring cart).
However, the proliferation of vehicles was not a reflection of quality, according to one Mercury letter writer in January 1877. Signing his name as ‘‘Traveller’’, he said complaints had been made ‘‘for years past’’ about the ‘‘inferior and miserable description of vehicles that are licensed by the local authorities’’ to ply to and from Wollongong.
‘‘These vehicles are much too small to accommodate the passengers, and in many respects are positively indecent for females to travel in, and are generally kept in a very dirty and dilapidated condition.’’
He called on the council to introduce a set of bylaws to regulate the industry, based on those recently announced by the Metropolitan Transit Commissioners. Included was that ‘‘every driver shall be clean in his person, and wear a good hat and other clean and respectable clothes’’.
They were also not allowed to knowingly ‘‘permit any such person to be so carried, or any corpse, or (except to a police office or watch-house) any person in a state of intoxication, or who is noisily or violently conducting himself’’.
Interestingly, no driver was permitted to smoke tobacco while driving any licensed vehicle, ‘‘and in no case was smoking to be allowed inside’’.
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The Road Transport Historical Society is a volunteer-based project dedicated to the preservation and presentation of Australia’s unique road transport heritage.
Picture: Bulli transport in the early twentieth century – a buggy from the Bulli stables of Henry Mant, 1910. CREDIT: From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society