Reverse Gear

From usual suspect to special guest

Mick Bolognese's picture

Graber’s bus returns to Lobethal for the Christmas Pageant on Tuesday December 23

To make the Lobethal Christmas pageant extra special this year, a very old friend will be returning to the town’s main street. It is no longer a familiar sight to Adelaide Hills residents, but from 1942 until the 1970s the shiny chrome bonnets of Graeber’s green and brown buses were known to all who lived in Lobethal and surrounding towns. In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, having more than one car per family was unusual, and many people relied on Graeber’s bus service to move between neighbouring towns or for trips to Adelaide.

When this Diamond T bus was bought by Graeber’s in 1942 (as a truck chassis, onto which a skilled coachbuilder fitted a body that could seat 29 passengers), wartime rationing was in full swing. Petrol was among the goods that were rationed, so public transport was having a bit of a heyday. If you lived in Lobethal, Graeber’s bus was probably your only option to get to Adelaide for some shopping, or to get to a football match or a dance. Commuters getting to their day jobs in town were also a common sight – in the war years these were often workers (mainly women) at the munitions factory in Adelaide. Seeing South Australian Premier Tom Playford on his daily commute on Graeber’s bus up to the 1960s was not an uncommon sight. Gradually, though, the service became less frequented as more and more Australians bought their own car.

Graeber’s buses were not only distinctive for their paintjob – they also had a fairly sizeable overhang at the back (they had booty). This makes it even more surprising that one of the usual drivers, the original Graeber’s son Percy, was often in trouble with police for going too fast around bends (or finding himself on the wrong side of the road). As if that weren’t enough, at the busiest times when there was no sitting or standing room in the bus, passengers were told there was one last option if they wanted to get home that night – they could ride on the roof with the luggage. Exercising a little bit of caution after too many run-ins with the law, the driver told them ‘whatever you do, don’t put your heads up otherwise the cops will see you’. Percy Graeber’s brushes with the authorities weren’t all bad though – he was also presented with a bronze medal for heroism by the Governor after snatching an infant from a burning building.

In the 1970s, however, the State Transport Authority was created and private bus operators declined. Graeber’s Diamond T found its way to a team of adventurers who used it to cross the Nullarbor Plain and then to a rock band in Melbourne who used it to lug their gear. It’s no wonder it took a huge restoration effort to get it looking like it does now.  

With a bit of a last-minute tune after having spent a long time in the gallery since it last ran, Graeber’s bus is ready to take a full load of passengers up Lobethal’s main street once again. If you haven’t seen the Lobethal Lights yet this year or you’d like to fit in another pageant before Christmas, or if you remember Graeber’s bus and would love to see it running again, make sure you’re at Lobethal on the evening of Tuesday the 23rd. Festivities kick off at 6! And, speaking of which, have a safe and Merry Christmas from all of us at the National Motor Museum.

Comments

Until 1964 I lived with my grandparents next door to the bus sheds on Graeber Road.  I went to school on a bus similar to this, or this one, to Lobethal for primary school, and to Oakbank Area School.  They also used an old Packard "limousine" for bus duties if a bus was off the road.

Tell us what you think or know by adding a comment