From every corner of Launceston, the bus driver has a front row seat to the stories of a city: the heart-warming, the mundane, the serious and the life-changing, each told in small snippets.
That was Russell Lockett's life for almost 46 years as he weaved his way through the streets behind the wheel of a Metro bus, greeting passengers with a friendly smile and forging lifelong friendships with strangers.
He resigned last year after developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder following a collision with an elderly pedestrian in central Launceston, in which he rendered immediate assistance. Mr Lockett claimed his PTSD was due to witnessing the trauma of the collision.
Metro contested this in the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Tribunal, claiming his PTSD was caused by the subsequent investigation and not the collision itself. The claim has now been discontinued.
Mr Lockett's sudden retirement meant he did not get to farewell many of the countless friends he had made along the journey, from elderly passengers for whom he had gone the extra mile, to those he had seen grow up as children to later become parents themselves.
"I loved my job, I love my driver mates and the passengers. You'd see the smile on their face as you pull in," he said.
And to celebrate his years of service, more than 100 drivers, families and friends held a special event in Kings Meadows last weekend where Mr Lockett was presented with a plaque.
It capped the end of a long career helping Launceston travellers reach their destination.
Driving in his veins
Rex 'Silver' Lockett went from driving trams to driving buses in post-war Launceston, before introducing his son Russell to the fold in 1974.
Colleagues called them "Silver & Son", and the pair worked together at Metro for about six years, during which Rex passed down his knowledge to Russell.
"My dad used to say, all the people want is a nice smooth ride, and keep the noise of your bus down - because in those days they were really old rattly buses," Mr Lockett said.
In the 1970s, parents would walk their children to the bus stop where they would greet the driver before they were sent on their way.
"A lot of folks say you could write a book about all the stories you hear, but what comes to mind quickly is how you'd have mums bringing their kids to the bus stop in the '70s and then, in turn, the kids would grow up through school, then they'd be teenagers, and then in turn they'd start their own families," Mr Lockett said.
"It's like a circle, it goes round and round."
Mr Lockett can talk all day about the things he's seen and heard on a Launceston Metro bus, but it's the heart-warming tales that always come to mind first.
On one occasion, a girl no older than 6 had lost her bus fare, but Mr Lockett let her on anyway. The next day her mum came with the extra money but he said not to worry, and not wanting to be thanked, he told them his name was "Fred".
And so for the next 20 years the girl thought he really was called Fred.
Another time, a passenger tried to board with a sulphur-crested cockatoo on his shoulder. Mr Lockett allowed it, but on one condition: that if another customer complained, he'd have to leave the bus.
"I had a passenger further back who was quite intrigued by the bird, so he sat beside the fella and kept teasing the bird before it suddenly latched onto his finger," Mr Lockett said.
"He let out a squeal and was telling me it shouldn't be allowed on the bus. I said, with respect, if you poked and teased me the way you had been with that bird, I'd bite your finger too.
"He sat up the back and left him alone after that."
The extra mile
When taking a regular route near the Launceston General Hospital, Mr Lockett would get to know people at the most difficult times in their lives.
One woman in her late-80s would board from Youngtown four days a week, like clockwork, to travel to see her husband with dementia, walking up from the Metro depot.
But heavy rain was falling on one particular day, so Mr Lockett asked the passengers if they'd mind if he quickly drove her up to the LGH and loop back around.
"'No, you're right bus driver, away you go', they told me," he said.
"I ran her up there, up Howick, dropped her off, then back down.
"For a long time we'd do things like that, it happened all over the city. The passengers were our friends, our bread and butter, and they used to get a lot of comfort knowing you were their driver."
Others enjoyed just sitting up the front and chatting away.
"If they were on their own - whether it was the very elderly, the young, people with disabilities - they used to love to grab the front seat and sit alongside you and talk," Mr Lockett said.
"You might have a passenger with Down syndrome. You could see the excitement in their face when they could talk to the driver."
He didn't just try to make a difference behind the wheel, either. When a former Launceston family lost their daughter in the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, Mr Lockett - along with the social club - helped to raise $10,000, which doubled to $20,000 when their total was matched by the manager of the day.
To help rattle the tins, the social club women asked Mr Lockett to wear a tutu and colour his hair while driving the bus route.
"I had no idea what I'd said 'yes' to, but it ended up helping to raise more money," he said.
And after the 2004 tsunami, they arranged to have six containers of clothing, food and emergency relief sent over to help in the recovery.
Recognition for service
Since his retirement, Mr Lockett has been overwhelmed with messages of thanks from passengers - some taking him completely by surprise.
"I've had lots of text messages, they must have talked to someone who said, 'send him a text, he's on Facebook', like just yesterday I got another one that said I was missed and the buses wouldn't be the same," he said.
"I had a nun ring me the day before yesterday, I used to pick her up and drop her off outside the convent. I had a lovely yarn with her, she's 86 next month, and I'm going to meet up with her. She just thanked my for the service - both between me and my father."
At last weekend's dinner in Kings Meadows, Mr Lockett was able to chat with those who worked with "Silver & Son" back in the day - drivers, inspectors and supervisors - along with the younger drivers of today, giving him the perfect send off.
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