Imagine spending your days driving through the great Australian country – think beautiful mountains, clear paddocks, blue skies, and the open road.
That’s what Cathy Hedges office looks like every day while she drives a Forest Coach Lines bus, picking up kids to take them to and from school.
She does an out-of-town school run to the Maules Creek area at the foothills of the Kaputar National Park, ready to take students to Narrabri’s four schools – the high school, two primary schools and the Catholic primary school. It’s about a 100km round trip, but she doesn’t mind.
“How could you get tired of beautiful mountain views?”
Clearly Cathy hasn’t got tired of it and has been driving this school run for seven years. The 66-year-old been a driver since 1991, having got her start from another previous business owner.
“In Narrabri, if anyone gets wind that you’ve got your (bus) licence, you’ve got a job,” she said.
“I was approached one afternoon to drive one and that’s how it started.”
Bus driving wasn’t something foreign to Cathy, she had grown up driving trucks on the family property.
“I like driving the buses better though. Driving buses, you get different types of people, and you develop great rapport with both the kids and their parents. I’ve got some kids on my bus who call me nan or Gran, it’s like we’re a big family.”
So much so that Cathy didn’t have to worry about the kids mucking up on her bus – she’d just tell them that she needed to have coffee with their mum to speak to them about their behaviour and they’d be good as gold.
Cathy said working for Forest Coach Lines was perfect for her as it allowed her to spend a few hours a day at work and then spend the rest of her time with her family.
“I have four daughters, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren,” she said.
She said her job allowed her the flexibility of being there for the moments that mattered in their lives – and it also got her out of her house and gave her a bit of cash.
“I’m happy driving but I’m having the hardest time because we’re talking about retirement, we’re at that age, but I think ‘Nah I can’t leave my kids’,” she said.
“My husband says I love my job too much to give it up and I do, it’s a wonderful job and everyone should give it a try.”
Fellow school bus driver Jeff Smith, 68, agreed with Cathy sentiments about having a bus licence in Narrabri.
While he’d worked in a different career prior to his retirement, he always knew he was going to be a bus driver when he reached that stage in his life.
“I have had a bus licence for donkeys’ years; a mate asked me to get my licence and said it (bus driving) was a good semi-retirement job. So, I got it years ago and always had it in the back of my mind that that was what I was going to do when I retired,” he said.
When he was able to take advantage of a redundancy from his job as an electrical technician a bit earlier than he’d planned, he knew exactly what he wanted to do – bus driving.
His run is like Cathy’s, but not quite as far and in a different direction with more dirt roads.
“It’s a nice, slow-paced drive and the country kids are great,” he said. “When there’s wet weather it’s a bit of a tangle, but it’s been really nice lately.”
Jeff said he particularly enjoyed the fact he was able to get up and get outside for the day.
“I like seeing the kids and getting them to school, I make sure to give them a nice hello and goodbye and try to be a good influence to cheer them on their day,” he said.
His run heads out towards Yarrie Lake, bringing kids into the region’s four schools.
Like Cathy, Jeff is also a grandparent and enjoys the flexibility his job gives him. While he has a few grandkids who live near him in Narrabri, he and his wife also travel to Mackay and Brisbane often to see their family. He also said he liked having time to spend around the house and enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee.
Forest’s Narrabri operations recently moved to a new premises and are now located at 48 Ugoa Street. The company, which is owned by ComfortDelGro Australia Corporation (CDC), operates a fleet of around 70 buses from six locations. The move marks its continued expansion in the Mid North Coast and Western Slopes community.
Forest Coach Lines provides reliable and competitive charter services for schools, charities, sporting, and recreational groups, as well as transport partnerships for special events and festivities.
It has had a presence in Narrabri since 2017, following its acquisition of Wolters Bus and Coach Services.
Forest Coach Lines also operates routes in Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Sawtell, Woolgoolga and Wee Waa and employs around 100 staff in driving, operational, mechanical, maintenance and administrative roles.