Community pays tribute to beloved bus driver
FRIENDS, family and a busload of past students will gather together in Miles on Tuesday to farewell local legend, bush poet and beloved bus driver, George Johnston.
After driving to and from Drillham for 43 years, generations of school children will be able to recall George's big warm voice, his iconic bushie hat and his tin of Log Cabin Tobacco.
George's son, Steele said his father was your typical Aussie larrikin, full of good stories and always had time to tell them to you over a cold beer, or a Bundaberg rum.
"He was always the last man standing at any party," he said.
"He was a hard working, generous, community-minded man who always made his own decisions and could never be told he couldn't do something."
"He had the biggest laugh and the biggest smile. You'd always know where he was, you'd hear him coming long before you saw him," daughter-in-law, Tash Johnston said.
George William Johnston was born to Roderick and Ruby in the Miles Hospital on November 12, 1941.
He was the fourth of six children, including five boys who would all grow up to be as rowdy and mischievous as each other.
Never destined to become a star pupil, George reluctantly attended school in Miles until Year Five.
He spent a lot of time elsewhere catching yabbies to sell to the teachers before moving to Columboola to live with his grandmother and work at the Sleeper Mill.
At the age of twelve George had the local police's consent to drive unlicensed provided he behaved himself, and he used this privilege to drive his grandmother to town of an evening to visit his grandfather.
He worked at the sawmill for a number of years and on the Railway Bridge Gang for a short time before starting employment at 16 with the Murilla Shire Council.
"Dad always told us, Jack Lee, the overseer, sacked him most weeks for driving the machines too hard but because he was such a good worker, it never actually stuck and they always took him back," Steele said.
George was a tough footballer and was invited to play with the Redcliffe Dolphins, but he declined after his father told him he would have to turn up for training and that he wouldn't be allowed to smoke at half time.
At the age of 19 he headed to Darwin in search of adventure and worked as a grader driver at Balgo Mission on the edge of the Tanami Desert and El Sharana Uranium Mine on the South Alligator River.
He worked as a mechanic in Perth and as a grader driver on the Benmore Dam Project on New Zealand's South Island.
Upon returning home in 1963 to work with his father carting wheat and delivering, George began courting a young Betty Butler and they were engaged in 1964.
In 1965, he purchased the fuel depot and house in Drillham, and a few months later in April, George and Betty were married.
George and Betty, who he affectionately called his little "Gidgee Tree", spent 54 happy years together and raised three children, Jo-Ann, Tania and Steele.
George's work ethic was tremendous and he and Betty would take on any and every contract, from house moving to carpet cleaning they worked long hours to provide for their family.
"When I first met George and Betty, I immediately knew they were good, honest salt-of-the-earth people," said Tash.
"I attended my first ever Johnston clan gathering at the Drillham Hall and George's brother Don told me "if you survive this weekend you'll be around forever," and that's when I knew I would be.
"George was an incredible father and father-in-law. He always had time for people, no matter what their back story was, Georgie would have a drink and a yarn with them. He was your classic Aussie bloke, he worked hard and he partied harder.
George and Betty spent many long days delivering fuel and carting wheat in the Drillham District before they won the the contract to operate the South Drillham bus run in 1966 and so began George's long association with the Drillham School and its families.
Steele recalls how George once dropped the Nixon brothers off in the rain after school one afternoon.
"Instead of leaving them there to get soaking wet George picked them up and put them inside the 44 gallon drum mailbox and when their mother came to get them they popped out and scared her senseless."
George was a long-time supporter of the Miles Devils where he helped win the 1966 premiership and the Miles Race Club of which he was made a Life Member in 2011.
He made his bus and time available to countless sporting and community events and passed on some of his Rugby League skills as a coach at the Drillham School.
After retiring from trading as a fuel agent in 2001, George wanted to find a way to record his life's memories so he started writing and performing bush poetry and produced both a book and CD which is widely circulated amongst the Grey Nomad community.
George lived life to the fullest and seemed to have two lifetimes worth of stories to tell.
"Dad's generation weren't about Google or social media, if you wanted to know something you went down to the pub and asked someone yourself," Steele said.
"George loved people and people loved George," Tash said.
"He could tell stories and tall tales until the sun came up."
George lost his battle with throat cancer last Wednesday, August 7, after nearly two years of bravely fighting on through radium treatments and a surgery to remove his voice box.
"Dad made all his own decisions throughout the treatment process and even though he ended up loosing his trademark voice after the surgery, he always said he wouldn't have lived his life any other way," Steele said.
"Everyone at the Miles Hospital were just beautiful, they looked after George and our whole family so well in the lead up to his death. We are extremely grateful for their amazing service," Tash said.
There will be a service held at 1pm tomorrow at St Luke's Anglican Church in Miles to honour George's memory.
His family are asking former students from his school bus days to attend the service and form a guard of honour outside the church at the end of the service as a send off for their beloved bus driver.
The church service will be followed by interment at the Miles Lawn Cemetery before an afternoon reception at the Queensland Hotel.
"George always said he wanted us to have a big old party after he was gone. The Queensland was like a second home to him so it seemed right to have his final get together there," Steele said.
"Everyone is welcome to come along and share George's memories and stories, I know there will be a lot of good ones we haven't even heard yet."
The Arms of The Lord by George Johnston
Well I made my own bed where I had to lay
And most of the commandments I broke along the way
I've never stood in the church in that very long line
To take the bread and to sip the wine
I prayed to the Lord from the very back pew
I can't read as good as most people do
But I've drank a lot of scotch with a Minister or two
And my prayers have been answered, thanks to the Lord
With a big, loving family, and a good life too
Yes, the arms of the Lord can reach you too
You can pray in the back yard or in the back pew
If you ask for forgiveness he'll hear you
I've never seen his footsteps but they must have been there
When between life and death there's a very fine hair
And when our children are sick we turn to you in prayer
So, Lord, I thank you for your loving care
And when the sun goes down on my last day
I pray you'll be there to take me away