The Como Bus Service

There are few of us for whom buses were not part of our youthful transport. Sydney’s Sutherland Shire had several omnibus fleets but it is unlikely any of them had a motley collection of people movers like the Como Bus Service, which served Oyster Bay, Jannali and Como.

The picture above (taken by the firm’s owner at the time, Ted Coleman) depicts their depot at Jannali, on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Georges River Road. The Colemans seemingly operated on the proverbial `smell of an oily rag’, there were no flash new buses in their fleet back in the day, and it seems likely Government subsidies were not splashed around as they were in later years. They had little choice but to buy worn-out old buses and rebuild them in their cramped workshop. As a result, no two were quite alike, although two of their most iconic models still in service in the 1950s and 60s, Reo Speedwagons, were similar in appearance. These classics, an example of which is seen at far left, were based on a pre-WW2 truck chassis that was imported into Australia from the USA in reasonable numbers. The coach bodies were often built by Waddingtons at Camperdown.

One could write reams about the drivers, characters and incidents attached to the folklore of Como buses, which bore destination rolls for such places as Caravan Head or The Bonnet. The latter, for a time, operated from the western side of the original Como railway station, at the bottom of Como Parade, a steep descent. The short wheelbase Reo had to turn around on a narrow embankment. This involved poking its rump into thin air over a steep drop-away several times during a multi-point turn, it was frightening to watch.

One time the old Reo was loaded to the gunnels climbing steep Mitchell Avenue Jannali and she cried enough halfway up. The driver instructed all the youngsters to disembark and walk up the hill, leaving just the old ladies on board. At the top of the hill, the Reo turned right into Soldiers Road and pulled up, we young-uns climbed back aboard and off to Como West we went. It seems ironic that three of the Shire’s hilliest suburbs had its quirkiest collection of buses, but incidents like this were nothing exceptional for the workshop magicians who kept the old bangers going for the Como Bus Service.