It's not often you bump into a local legend on a bus – or driving one, for that matter.
Aged 93, Les Dion snr took a lap around Wollongong on one of his family’s iconic buses yesterday to celebrate 90 years of Dion’s Bus Service.
From humble beginnings with a single Model T bus with wooden seats and canvas sides in 1923, Dion’s grew into an Illawarra institution as it ferried thousands of locals to work, school and beyond.
‘‘I’m proud as punch for what the family did,’’ said Les Dion jnr, now manager of Dion’s after taking over from his father.
‘‘They went through some tough times, the Depression and the world wars, so it’s some pretty big boots to fill.’’
To celebrate nine decades in the Illawarra, Dion’s yesterday offered free bus rides to its customers.
Jacob Robinson, of Fairy Meadow, was one of those who instantly recognised Mr Dion snr when he got on the bus.
‘‘I remember Les when he used to drive my bus to school,’’ Mr Robinson said; Mr Dion snr only retired from driving buses at age 85.
‘‘Dion’s is one of the most recognised names in the Illawarra. It’s massive for any company to reach 90 years in business.’’
As a comparison, Dion’s has lived through 23 Australian prime ministers; is six times older than the WIN Entertainment Centre; and had been in operation for almost 20 years by the time Wollongong was officially named a city in 1942.
The company also started at a time when Chinese immigrants were a marginalised section of Australia, making its success all the more remarkable due to tense race relations at its inception.
‘‘The Chinese heritage, that was a challenge as well, but when you look at this community, everyone is so respectful of them,’’ Mr Dion jnr said.
‘‘That’s what makes the job hard, living up to the standards set.’’
And as for the future?
‘‘I don’t know about another 90 years, but we’ll be around as long as we can,’’ he laughed.