You can’t miss Jack’s orange bus

By Ashleigh Murch

Photo courtesy Denmark Historical Society

WE ARE all accustomed to seeing school buses with a livery of white top, green band below the windows, and Readymix Orange body colour.

The distinct colour scheme is mandated by the State’s education department.

Less well known is the fact that the bright-orange colour scheme originated in Denmark.

At the end of WWII, the education department decided to consolidate the many isolated schools throughout the state, and bus students at these small schools into nearby towns.

Although a few such services had existed before the war, serving mainly larger towns, the new plan required many more services, and contracts were let by the department for locals to provide them.

In 1946, Jack Holmes, who ran a motor garage and taxi service, won the contract to provide the district’s first school bus service.

He bought a new bus for the Mt Lindesay (Group Settlement 101) route and had it painted bright orange with a cream roof.

We are not absolutely sure why, but his son Stuart, now a nonagenarian, believes that his father chose the highly visible colours because he knew of an accident involving a bus that was painted green and blended in with the bush.

Jack thought bright orange was the best colour to stand out.

How the colour scheme came to be standardised throughout WA has proved more difficult to confirm, because department records from the time are not readily available.

However, it was reported in 1946 in the Mount Barker and Denmark Record that the Denmark school P&C recommended to the education department that a ‘bright, distinctive colour’ for school buses be used throughout the state.

That same year the Blackwood Times reported that the school inspector for the Southwest and Great Southern agricultural areas, a Mr Crabbe, recommended that all school buses be painted a conspicuous colour, suggesting bright orange because ‘[It] could be distinguished a long way away.’

Jack Holmes had the school bus contract for 16 years. He upgraded his bus – again painted orange – when student numbers increased.

Jack was popular with the school children he transported to and from school, particularly when he got his new bus which had a radio and loudspeakers, so they could sing along with the latest hits.

When Jack turned 100, the primary school students of the day sent him a huge card in the shape of his original orange school bus to celebrate.

Besides the school bus run, Jack’s taxi service operated in Denmark for many years, with up to five vehicles in the fleet.

Much of his taxi work was taking people to and from the train station, which from 1929 until the line’s closure in 1957 was on Inlet Drive, opposite the current rivermouth footbridge.

That was a long walk to and from town, particularly if it was raining.

Jack Holmes was also known for his generosity. If he knew people were struggling financially, he would waive the fare, and if he had delivered someone to the morning train to Albany he would be at the station, unasked, to pick them up on their return in the afternoon.

If any readers have further information about this story, the Denmark Historical Society would love to hear from you.

Please call 0414 936 874 or email

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