For the past 43 years, Marie Ochelen has been a friendly face behind the wheel of a Gladstone bus, and her efforts have been recognised at the QBIC Industry Awards in Cairns on Saturday, 15 April.
Ms Ochelen received the Manmeet Sharma Perpetual Professional Driver Award, awarded to industry drivers credited to their profession through their safe driving.
“[CDC Gladstone manager] Jacqui [Hart] let me know they’d nominated me. I just turned around thinking it wouldn’t happen, but they said I was in with a shot, so I went to Cairns,” Ms Ochelen said.
“I was nervous when I found out and being on stage with all the cameras and lights.
“I’ve won awards before for things like appreciation, keeping my bus clean and being reliable, but this is the first one like this.”
CDC Regional Australia Division Chief Executive Office Tony Hopkins said Ms Ochelen continued to exceed the expectations in dedication and pride in her work and ability to service her customers.
“She has learned every run we have over the years, both school and urban,” Mr Hopkins said.
“Marie is also one of our most trusted charter drivers because we know she takes great pride in her bus and the company.”
Ms Ochelen’s career as a bus driver began in 1980 with Gladstone Bus and Coach, which Buslink took over, and later acquired by ComfortDelGro Corporation Australia (CDC) and subsequently rebranded to CDC Gladstone.
“I wanted to be a Greyhound driver, but they wouldn’t take females, so I started with John and Shirley Cox,” she said.
“I drove a crash box back then and wasn’t afraid of driving buses.
“Thirteen years ago, I got the first new bus I’d ever had, a 57-seater Hino, and I still drive it today.
“It was instilled in me to keep the bus perfect and clean along with our uniform. You’re showing the public you’re not ragamuffins.
“I’ve grown to be proud of the industry.”
Ms Ochelen said her favourite moments over her 43-year career were seeing the children grow up and eventually bringing their kids on the bus.
“You get sad when you see them go off to university, and they come up to you and say thank you for driving them,” she said.
“I think, oh my gosh, they like me.”
With 43 years of driving behind her, Ms Ochelen hopes to drive for another three to five years before handing in her keys.
“I want to keep going until my body decides I can’t anymore,” she said.
“People say, ‘why don’t you retire or find another job’ and I say, ‘another job doing what, go back to truck driving?’. I say keep doing what you know.
“[My advice to new drivers] be patient. You just can’t get in and expect to fall in place right away.”