Julie’s got the drive to survive

JULIE Honner could nearly drive the 59km from Miena to Bothwell blindfolded. The 62-year-old has been driving the privately-owned school bus up and down the Highland Lakes Rd for more than 35 years, safely delivering children to Bothwell District School.

She has to contend with ice, snow and freezing temperatures right through winter, sometimes having to call all the parents to say that it’s just too dangerous and the bus run is cancelled.

Rising at 5.20am, she checks the weather, and starts the run from the Great Lake Lodge by 7.30am, picking up kinder to grade 12 kids along the way.

When her precious passengers disembark, she parks opposite Weavers Crafts, where for nearly 15 years she has filled in her day volunteering and attending to the gardening until it’s time to load up the 17 or so kids for the return trip.

“These kids are often second generation that I’ve carried, I just remind them that I know their mum and dad and they treat me with respect,” she said.

Julie, who is a councillor with Central Highlands Council, has one day off every two months to attend council meetings when her son Chris is the driver.

She’s on her fourth Mitsubishi bus, it was a Mazda before that, and it has a two-way radio for areas without mobile phone service.

“When I first started there was no mobile phone, no police up here, so I’d call Inland Fisheries before I took off to see if the road was open in winter,” Julie said.

“The Miena community bought the two-way for me and it was great being able to keep in touch with the log truck drivers. “Back before the road was sealed and it was a lot narrower, especially through Barren Tier, they would keep tabs on where I was and move right over.”

Apart from joking with the kids, she occasionally has to stop if they’re sick or need a toilet … and pushes through the occasional herd of cattle or sheep on the road.

Julie grew up at Derwent Bridge and met her husband Geoff while he was there working for the Department of Main Roads. When their two children went to school they moved into Bothwell before finally returning to Geoff’s home town of Miena.

“It’s a great job and I’ve no intention of retiring any time soon.”