If buses had a mind of their own, this one would be living the retirement of its dreams.
A 1949 double-decker Leyland bus that once served Sydneysiders on the Abbotsford route, is now free of timetables and takes life as it comes.
“We’re heading up the east coast of Australia and we don’t know where we’re going to end up,” Lorie Norton, its driver, said.
Over the past four years, the bus has traversed the Nullarbor, rested among boab trees in the Kimberley and made countless stops along Australia’s coastline on a charity drive that has so far clocked up 29,000 kilometres, with no foreseeable end in sight.
Mr Norton, originally from Finley in New South Wales, was working on powerlines in 2004 when he spotted the old bus discarded in a quarry at Griffith, in the Riverina region of NSW.
Fascinated by his find, he decided to rescue the bus and uncover its story.
“It ran on the Abbotsford run out in Sydney and it was in service right up into the ’70s,” Mr Norton said.
“It was decommissioned and disappeared, and no-one had any idea where it ended up.
“I heard it ended up as a fishing shack out in Hillston before being sold in a deceased estate.”
By the time Mr Norton found it 19 years ago, the old Leyland double-decker was “derelict” but he saw its potential.
He paid $950 for the vehicle and, much to his surprise, it started first go, despite not having been driven in 15 years.
“The black smoke that came out of it when it first went, I was ready to shut it down and the old guys that were with me were like, ‘No, let it run, let it run’,” Mr Norton said.
“I drove it home and started the mammoth task of rebuilding it all.
“It was a three-year restoration project for the frame and 18 months to fit the bus out of reclaimed timber from hard rubbish in Melbourne.”
Today, the towering yellow-and-green vehicle — affectionately named Corazón (which means “heart” in Spanish) — has been fully renovated and serves as Mr Norton’s home, a gallery for his artwork, and most importantly, a travelling cafe that fundraises for various charities through sales of coffee.
Mr Norton even opens his doors to invite customers to sit down and drink their coffee inside.
Cafe on wheels
Mr Norton has been raising funds for Muscular Dystrophy Australia since March last year.
“I had a friend whose dad passed away with muscular dystrophy and she couldn’t go home and see her family with COVID restrictions,” he said.
Mr Norton describes his endeavour as a closed-loop economy where the sales of his coffee and artworks fund the roaming gallery cafe and raise money for charity.
Even the used coffee grounds feed into the loop – he paints landscapes with the waste product.
“It’s definitely a lifestyle decision,” he said.
“The funds I make from the coffee painting doesn’t help you save lots of money, but living in the bus, the people you get to meet and where you are on the road makes the journey worth it.”
He says he has raised about $70,000 so far — about $10,000 for Muscular Dystrophy Australia and $60,000 for Eli’s Gift, a charity that supports families with sick children.
Mr Norton and Corazón have recently made their way from Gippsland in Victoria, to Wairo Beach, on the New South Wales South Coast, where they will spend Easter.
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After that they’ll spend a fortnight at Lake Conjola, before heading north up the east coast with no set plans apart from more fundraising.
A bus in the slow lane
Travelling in a 74-year-old bus must also require some patience.
“Forty-five kilometres an hour is its happy speed, because it was only ever designed for Sydney streets,” he said.
These Leyland open-platform decker Synchro buses were in use between 1947 and 1975 in Sydney, carrying up to 61 seated passengers and 12 people standing.
Sydney Bus Museum archives and curatorial manager Bradley Jenkins said the buses were “iconic” to Sydneysiders, but the four-speed manuals were “cantankerous” to drive.
“You’d have to do double clutching, so it’s like driving a manual car but with a little more effort,” he said.
“The driver was isolated from the saloon, so there had to be a conductor to collect fares and communicate with the driver when to stop and when to start.”
Mr Jenkins said some of the buses were in private hands today, but the majority were held in the Sydney Bus Museum in Leichhardt.
For more information on the Twice as Nice Gallery Café, go to twiceasnice.com.au.