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Year: 2016

Bob Willis was born in Broken Hill in 1938 and his wife Nella in Jamestown in 1941. They married on Nella's 21st birthday. Bob spent his early years working as a station hand and slaughterman before moving to Jamestown to help his step-father run the family butcher shop. In 1958 Bob, at just 18, started driving coaches for Mick Boston in Jamestown. Mick Boston had built it himself; it was the biggest 2-axle bus in the southern hemisphere at the time.

In 1963 Bob started with Wadmore's Coach Lines driving on the co-ordinated Rail-Road service from Jamestown to Riverton connecting with the train from Terowie to Adelaide. This was the start of a long association with the Wadmore family. Bob's first trip to Central Australia was to position an empty coach (a petrol powered Commer) at Ayers Rock in 1965. Bob then drove for Murray Valley Coaches (which Wadmores had purchased). His charters included school trips to the Snowy Mountains and Central Australia. He recalls one tour when he sacked the cook on arrival in Alice Springs he had to rang Nella to fly in and carry on the cooking chores.

In May 1978 John Wadmore sent Bob to Alice Springs to manage 'Bull's Bus Service' which they had just purchased. It operated Alice Springs Adelaide Alice Springs. It was meant to be for two weeks; 38 years later Bob and Nella are still in Alice Springs. Stateliner, purchased Murray Valley Coaches not long after. The contract included remote community and station mail bags and parcels along the track. Bob would do everything in his power to ensure the mail was delivered. He and Nella went out of their way to pick up emergency supplies or parts for people living and working along the track. It was not unusual to have up to 200 mail bags on a bus, even to the extent some were strapped down and covered with a tarp on the roof rack. Bob's young son Kelvin would often help out loading mailbags after school.

In those days the Stuart Highway was a rough dirt track, dusty and corrugated or wet, boggy and impassable. There were many times Bob would go days without sleep coordinating coach movements to get passengers transported through outback floods or going up the track himself to deliver urgent parts. Nella had always helped Bob clean the buses. She worked as cleaner for 13 years looking after six coaches a day seven days a week often by herself.

Nella ran the office when Bob was on the road, looked after the house and raised their children, Michelle and Kelvin. The couple also managed Busfreight for Greyhound before their retirement. Not afraid of hard work they continued to transport freight around Australia. They always worked Christmas Day make sure the people of Alice Springs received their presents.

The vital role that Bob and Nella played in transporting passengers, mail and freight throughout the Northern Territory and South Australia was invaluable. From Darwin to Adelaide and all points in between they were renown for their hard work and willingness to help truck and coach companies and drivers. In 2016 Bob and Nella Willis are enjoying retirement; Bob plays golf and Nella is Chairperson of the Drovers volunteer service at the Hospital.

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