All Aboard for a Scenic Bus Adventure

on the Thursday, August 10, 2017

It’s a bright sunny day as the Wesley Mission Queensland community bus pulls up outside Cooper House aged care community, at Wheller Gardens in Chermside. A few residents who are enjoying the morning sun in the foyer watch the driver get out and open the back of the bus, before he hurries over to the front door where those who are most eager are already making their way out. “Hello Frank,” they say with a smile, and Frank returns the greeting as he begins to help everyone on board for the day’s bus outing.

Frank Van Der Ros has been driving the WMQ area north community bus for almost four years. He follows a roster that sees every north side community get at least one bus trip a month. Each day he pulls up outside a different community, greets the residents waiting to go out like they’re old friends, and then heads north, south, east or west on a different adventure.

“We’ll regularly go out for lunch to a club or a cafe, or we’ll plan a specific trip somewhere like the museum. Sometimes it’s just a drive, take in the scenery, maybe to the mountains or to the beach,” says Frank. “Often we’ll drive through the suburbs where residents grew up, and they begin to tell us their life story. They love to reminisce – and some of them have incredible stories to tell.”

On this particular day, the residents of Cooper House are heading to the Caboolture Historical Museum for a spot of lunch and a walk among the gardens. It’s a popular trip, one Frank has done before, so he knows the route well. Some residents chat together amiably as the bus makes its way through the outer suburbs of Brisbane, while others contentedly gaze out the window as the scenery flies by.

Over at Sinnamon Village, while he’s waiting for the residents of Knowles Court aged care community to make their way out to board the bus, area west bus driver Marc Lea is making sure that he’s packed his most important possession on board – his guitar.

“My background is a musician primarily,” says Marc. “I was also a leisure and lifestyle coordinator with Wesley Mission Queensland before I took up the position of bus driver. So for me it’s not just about driving – it’s about how I can brighten and enrich the day for each resident.

“I like to incorporate music into each trip we go out on. I often put some music on while we’re driving, or sometimes we’ll pull up at a park somewhere, stop and have some lunch, and I’ll bring out my guitar or ukulele and get a sing-along going. Music is the great universal communicator. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what your abilities are, I believe everyone can connect through music.”

Knowles Court resident Stella arrives to take her place on the bus. Marc helps her to her seat then says, “Stella knows the words to every song. And I mean every song! I’m yet to find a song she doesn’t know. She’ll sing from the moment we get on the bus to the moment we arrive at our destination. She’s fantastic!”

When everyone is safely on board, Marc begins his trip out to Colleges Crossing, where the residents will stop by the river for a BBQ lunch.

Every day the trips have much in common – a comfortable drive, a meal or an activity, and some great company. These trips are an integral part of the leisure and lifestyle activities for all WMQ aged care communities, and they are always popular. “It’s something that, I think, if we stopped doing them, there would be a riot!” Marc quips. But to imply that the bus trips mean a lot to residents is not ungrounded.

“For some residents, it can be hard to get out and about freely because physical limitations can mean that they require a little extra support,” says Fran Larkey, Manager of Parkview aged care community. “Often they rely on family or friends to take them out, and the bus trips can give them another option to enjoy a day out where they feel safe and supported by carers and volunteers, including the bus driver. Because Frank and Marc don’t just drive the bus – they make sure all the residents are comfortable and cared for and having a good time. They are an integral part of what makes the bus trips so successful.”

Leisure and Lifestyle Coordinator for Cooper House, Kat Turton, echoes this statement, saying the trips are only as good as the driver who conducts them.

“Really, it’s all because of Frank,” she says. “He’s not just a driver, he’s a carer and he’s a friend. He makes everything run so smoothly and he’s such a help to the staff and volunteers as well as the residents. And the residents just love him. We’re so lucky to have him as our driver. It’s always such a joy to go out on a trip with Frank!”

Marc and Frank don’t work together side by side, as Marc conducts the trips for WMQ’s area-west communities and Frank conducts the trips for area-north, but they regularly catch up to exchange ideas for trips. And it’s clear when talking to both of them that they have a passion for what they do.

“I really enjoy the comments I get from the residents on the trips,” says Frank. “And what I particularly love is when they share their knowledge and tell me something that I don’t know about Brisbane. I’ve learned so much about this city thanks to them. And it’s not just memories that they share; often they’ll bring me history books about the city for me to read. Suddenly a street or a suburb that once seemed insignificant to me becomes significant, because someone else has a personal connection to that place. It makes our trips so much more meaningful.”

Marc has some favourite memories of past trips he’s done, including one that saw a group of residents enjoy a night time CityCat ride on the Brisbane river. “One resident particularly requested the CityCat ride, as it was something they’d always wanted to do but had never had the chance,” says Marc. “So we drove down to St Lucia, boarded the CityCat and sailed to Southbank, where we ate ice cream while taking in the sights of the city, then it was back on the CityCat to St Lucia. The looks on their faces when they came off the boat – they had had the best time. And that’s what it’s all about.”

Although, Marc says nothing quite beats Christmas time, when he conducts Christmas lights tours with a full bus almost every night for two weeks straight. “It’s definitely the residents’ favourite time of the year and the most popular trip we do,” he says.

“I remember coming back from one trip out and one of the residents said to me, I feel like I’ve been on a holiday,” recalls Frank with a smile. “That was really lovely. It’s nice to think about the joy we can bring to their day. That’s something I love most about this job.”

For both Frank and Marc, the residents have become good friends. “They always greet me with a smile, and there are certain ladies who give me a kiss at the end of the trip each time,” Marc says. “We get to share experiences together and get to know one another, and I think that’s a big part of why these trips are so important to the residents. Going out and getting a bit of a change in scenery is one thing, but building friendships by making new memories and sharing old ones, that’s what makes them special.

“I think I’ve got the best job here.”

After the Knowles Court residents have joined in their last sing-along, and the Cooper House residents have strolled every sunny pathway of local history, Frank and Marc make their return trips to deliver the residents safely home. Back at Cooper House, as he steps off the bus, resident Russ grins and says, “Boy that was fun. Thoroughly enjoyable. I can’t wait for the next one.”

And there’s no better testimonial for Marc and Frank than that.

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