Erica Burns likes to think of herself as a “great grandmother bus driver”.
She’s been picking up and dropping off local Yeppoon kids to their schools for three decades and she can’t imagine life being any different.
She’s been there for the good days and the bad days and all the things in between.
“You’re more than just a bus driver, you’re a teacher too. Some drivers don’t realise that you can impact their lives, in a positive way,” the Young’s Bus Service driver, 68, said.
“I had one young girl who said ‘you’re like another mum to me’ because I’d talk to her on the hour trip home. She’d be upset because of her friends a lot, and by the time we got her home she was happy again.
“Out of 30 years of carrying kids, there’s only been three that I couldn’t get along with. I’ve had my share of troublesome ratbags, and there was this one who was driving me potty. He was a problem child, but I said I’d help him. We made him bus monitor and it totally changed him – he came from a family of seven and he just needed some attention.
“He’d yap to me, and I found out he liked gardening. He was a totally different kid. If he saw me, he’d come and say hi. That feels like you’ve made an impression on their life.
“We do all sorts of things, you know, play games and we used to do fire drills, so they’d know what to do. I’d train them to keep an eye out for each other.”
Erica’s no stranger to doing things to make her kids happy – she’s constantly creating crafty Christmas presents and has even been in the news for her quirky – but smart – bus driver mood meters.
She said she was inspired by fire danger meters and soon came up with her own version that could tell the kids what kind of mood she was in.
“It had angry faces and smiley faces and a pointer so I could show what mood I was in. We had a lot of fun with it.”
One of Erica’s proudest moments in her career was being named the Queensland Bus Industry Council’s Bus Driver of the Year in 2015.
“I’ll never forget that night – everyone knew about it before except for me and it was a total surprise,” she said.
While she’s been with Young’s in the Rockhampton-Yeppoon area for 30 years, joining the team in 1992, Erica actually started her driving career in Adelaide 14 years earlier.
She was a young, 24-year-old married mother of two and “needed the money”.
“My husband was a driver, and they were looking for more, so I gave it a go. Another girl and I started together. It was quite a novelty to have a female driver in those days,” she said.
While learning how to drive the big vehicles didn’t really make her nervous, she remembered the feeling of looking in her rear-view mirror and seeing the enormity of the bus.
“I remember thinking, ‘oh goodness, that’s all behind me’,” she said.
Driving a bendy bus was also a highlight.
Many of her friends and family were shocked she decided to go down the school bus driver route when she started with Young’s, because the kids in Adelaide were a lot harder but she wouldn’t change it for the world.
It’s not just the kids she’s seen change and grow during her career, but technology too.
“The first bus I drove here was a geared bus, I’d never driven one in my life that was that big and old,” she laughed.
“I had that for a couple of months before I got an ex-Brisbane bus and that was more familiar with what I’d learned in and drove in Adelaide. In 2009, I got a new Volvo and that’s what I’ve still got now, it’s still going, and I look after it well.
“In the old days you’d just check your oil and water and go – now there’s all sorts of technology that I’ve grown along with.”
Seeing littlies get home safe and sound is all part of Erica’s DNA.
Proving she’s not just great at caring for kids, recently Erica went one step further (or should we say hop?) during her role on the road.
Erica was on her usual rural route – run 26 – returning from her school run, when sadly she spotted a dead kangaroo on the side of the road, pulling over to check the mum’s pouch.
Sure enough, Erica’s instinct was right.
After rescuing a little joey, and returning to depot, her furry passenger was safely transported to the local vet – all the while warmly snuggled down the front of Erica’s shirt.
After the vet visit, she took the joey to Cooberie Wildlife Park, where the wonderful team at the sanctuary will ensure it remains in the best of care.
Thank you for going the extra mile Erica!
By coincidence, CDC has another connection to Cooberie Wildlife Park in Yeppoon – thanks to the efforts of our CDC Gladstone team (formerly Buslink). Read the heart-warming story here.