We imagined Caroline Scicluna saying to her husband David in their North Blinman Hotel: “Any washing dear?” To which he replied: “Yes dear.”
Perhaps not exactly in those words, but there were 22 bags this day and he drove 36km to Parachilna in the Flinders Ranges to put them on a coach that had left Port Elliot 5.15 that morning, heading back via Copley 7am next day.
All up it’s a 1405km trip to get clean sheets. Amazing really, but this is just a small part of a remarkable story in the life of Alan Bell, who has ran Genesis Transport & Removals for 25 years.
When Premier Roadlines, a giant in the South Australian industry, cut off the Flinders Ranges service 20 years ago Alan took it on in 2008 largely because he could see just how many every-day people and small businesses up north were struggling in isolation.
Now, 12 years on, he has yet to make a profit from this weekly trek. Thankfully, the transport and furniture removals side of the business enables him to prop-up the coach and freight costs.
According to Alan, it’s about providing a service for people in desperate need of help, like picking up 75-year-old Kaye Jones on the way at Seaford. She is almost totally blind, and she needed eye surgery. “I live at Hawker, and if there wasn’t this service I would have had to ask my friends to drive me to Port Augusta to catch another bus, and they’re a lot older than I am,” she said. “Who’s going to take me?”
Also aboard this particular bitterly cold morning from the Adelaide Bus Station pick-up were two hikers planning to walk the Heysen Trail from Parachilna to Cape Jervis in 60 days, and a young man who had been in Adelaide to see his family, which he otherwise could not do from Hawker. Over the past few years growing numbers of cyclists – many from interstate – have gone further to get on the Mawson Trail back to Adelaide.
With driver Ben Price behind the wheel, this service was also helping literally hundreds of operators to not only survive, but expand their business. It regularly delivers 70 crates of Fleurieu Milk to Melrose, Willmington, Quorn , Hawker, Parachilna, Leigh Creek and Copley. There are other sensational cafes along this journey like Flinders Food Co. in Hawker that make great coffee, and everyone says it’s about the milk from the heart of the Fleurieu.
On the way Ben had to pick up one-and-half pallets of fruit & veg through the supplier Love’n it Fresh in Dublin, and drop boxes at cafes and stores. There were two boxes of chopped up potatoes and carrots from Barker Boy Processing in Mount Baker delivered to Copley, and made into pasties that night for a delivery to cafes on the way home.
Dan Roden, who runs a nursery at Willmington, collected 50 plants from Ben when they met on the side of the road, and on the way back sent plants to a northern-suburb distributor in Adelaide. “I could not afford to buy a vehicle that I needed to set up this business, and without the bus service I’d have nothing,” Dan said. “The people in Port Elliot are a saviour for us. Besides, they are nice people.”
Every week Genesis also picks up at least 16 x 200gm boxes of meat from butchers shops in Jamestown and Gladstone and again drops them off at hotels, cafes and people who live in the outback.
Ellen Litchfield, who lives north of Copley, makes these sensational lamb sausages, drops them into the Copley Caravan Park and Ben delivers them to the Teas on the Terrace in Quorn along with dozens of homemade Quandong Pies, and in Snowtown.
The examples of strengthening the Fleurieu-Flinders connection go on. There are other sources of supply for meat, and for that matter milk, but this is very much about quality and creating a reputation for shops in a tough market. The network created by Genesis is astonishing.
Ben has been doing this weekly Copley run for two and a half years, and loves every trip… the never-ending sight of huge wedge-tailed eagles, emus, kangaroos and the salt bush across the amazing red soil. “It’s great,” he said. “I guess the personal reward comes from meeting all these wonderful people who really appreciate what we do.”
The Copley bus has picked up and delivered a vast array of supplies – even food from Mount Compass Feeds for the camels at Camel Treks Australia at My Little Station in Hawker. Huge sheets of timber were delivered this day to Copley.
However, by far the most treasured occasional deliveries up north for Alan are the bunches of flowers on behalf of his wife, Shirley, who runs Allira Florist in Victor Central Shopping Centre. For the record, incredibly, they first met when they were teachers in the same class at Strathalbyn High, and now they both could give a lesson on how to be in the business of selling kindness.
“I guess we would be helping an amazing lot of small businesses,” Alan said.
“We initially went out to the Arkaroola Wilderness Resort in 2010, and they jumped up and down and said they couldn’t thank us enough. Unfortunately, six or seven years ago we realised it was too harsh on our vehicles and drivers, pushing them to the limit as to how far they could drive in a day.
“Copley became the last stop, and from when we took on the Fleurieu Milk run five years ago the freight service picked up.
“We have also done the Tour Down Under for 15 years. We are the sole provider for bus and bike transfers for the community ride. One year we did 1200 bikes and riders; it’s tough going, but we appreciate the work and just get on with it and do the job.
“We feel the locals here and those up north appreciate what we do.”
It has been far from easy. The coronavirus has seen the Genesis business income drop almost 80 per cent compared with last year, but Alan hasn’t cancelled one trip because he knows how dependent his clients are on him.
Things get even tougher when considering every other bus or coach service in this state is reimbursed by the state government for free or reduced-prices for pensioners and other concession card holders, but not Genesis. The government doesn’t see this as a regular passenger service, but a decision-maker should have joined us on this 36-hour trek – including 24 hours on the coach taking in pick-ups and regulatory stops – and discovering just how crucial this Fleurieu-to-Flinders run is to so many.
“Yes, it’s a tough game, but to be honest, even though we haven’t made a profit from the Copley run we feel good inside knowing that a lot of people are dependent on us and we’ve done our best to help them,” Alan said. “I think it has been good for our south coast too; it’s brought us closer to the Far North.
“When we took this on we thought we’d give it a go as a family venture, and to be honest we’re too stubborn to give it up.”
It is astonishing to think so many small businesses could be linked to the service, including big David in the North Blinman Hotel who sends his washing, the hotel linen, to Sharna and Paul Collins of Sea Breeze Services in Victor Harbor, and picks up other supplies from the coach.
Dave and Shirl Mills, who run the Copley caravan park & bakery, are among the many other characters up this way, and according to Shirl, they planned to stop here for 35 minutes to see a friend. “The friend’s gone and we’ve been here for 35 bloody years since,” she said.
Dave said the thing he loved about Copley was the nothingness. “It’s bloody amazing.”
But beneath all of these characters with a crusty look from the wind-swept red sands you know there is tremendous respect and appreciation for Alan and his team. It’s the same everywhere across the Flinders, and in the process people are talking about coming down on the bus for a holiday in Port Elliot.
Indeed, a wonderful connection all round, but the question begs: why would anyone run this coach and freight service when they don’t make a profit?
With a humbling smile Alan said: “I guess it’s about being an Australian.” And mate, he’s a bonza one at that.