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Ventura Buses in Sydney? Oi, Mate, It's True

September 27, 2000|Steve Chawkins

Oi, Oi, Oi.

That's the cheery, all-purpose, monosyllabic what-not that they use all the time Down Under.

It means many things: Peace be with you. Hello, mate. Goodbye, mate. More beer, mate? And, by the way, mate, just how much longer will we have to watch these browbeaten, anorexic little gymnasts risk their necks to coax a hug from their scowling coaches?

Oi, mate.

That's what 20 Ventura bus drivers are saying constantly as they haul competitors from the Olympic Village to the swimming pools, badminton courts, cycling ovals and softball diamonds of their destiny.

That's right. As part of the huge transportation fleet assembled for the Olympics, Ventura bus drivers are piloting Ventura buses around Sydney.

Oi! you might exclaim. Which knuckleheads agreed to this? How much does it cost to fly a bus to Australia? Can you actually fly a bus to Australia? And why are we sending buses and drivers to Sydney when it takes long, frustrating hours, a family history of good luck and maybe a court order to cross Ventura County by bus?

But before your tread peels off, consider the obvious:

The Ventura drivers and the Ventura buses aren't from Ventura.

They're from Melbourne, Australia's second biggest city.

In fact, one of the biggest transportation providers in Australia's second-biggest city is the Ventura Bus Lines, a 75-year-old company so called because its founder grew misty over the two or three years he had spent in Ventura . . . California.

An Aussie born and bred, Harry Cornwall drifted into Ventura after serving in Europe with the Australian army. In 1920, he returned to Australia, ran a sheep-grazing operation, and started a humble one-bus operation in the bush country.

Times were tough. At one point, he lost a leg to diabetes. Then a thief broke into his hotel room and stole his wooden leg. But Harry continued to drive, naming his struggling company after some bloody little spot on the California coast that was never really known for its bus service.

Today the company, run by Harry's grandson, carries 10 million passengers a year on some 200 buses. All of them bear the word "VENTURA" above the grille.

"He must've liked the place," ventured Richard Willard-Turton, an employee in Ventura's operations office.

Willard-Turton and his mates at Ventura are predictably crazy about the Olympics. In the office, the TVs are on continuously. When the remarkable Cathy Freeman won her 400-meter race, Willard-Turton and the rest of Melbourne erupted in lusty Australian cheers.

"We've had one person who confessed to not having watched the race," he said. "He was watching 'Friends,' I believe."

Oi, I said.

*

Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at steve.chawkins@latimes.com.

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