Like many others around the country, Buslink NT driver Kim Bell was nervous about what the COVID-19 pandemic would mean for her safety.
Despite the possibility of being more susceptible to effects of the virus at her age, when the opportunity arose to volunteer for international airport transfer work in her role as a driver (which meant taking passengers to quarantine facilities), she didn’t hesitate to put her name forward.
“I felt for families and the backlash they would receive coming home from being in the middle of this outbreak,” she said.
“I put myself in their shoes, how I would feel arriving in the country. I felt like I was doing the right thing and was proud to make a difference in the community.”
Her first passengers on the quarantine airport pickup were embassy staff from Beijing and they had a police escort take their buses from the RAAF base out to the Howard Springs quarantine centre.
“When I saw how tightly controlled things were, I forgot my fears.
“We operate under the strictest safety conditions – from the regulation head to toe PPE gear, to the rigorous pre- and post-sanitisation bus practices. We are kept at a mandatory safe distance from the travellers, whose luggage is handled by RAAF personnel,” Kim said.
A year after completing her first trip in April 2020, Kim had completed more than 20 trips, conveying close to 140 passengers (Buslink NT’s COVID-19 charter team had completed close to 390 trips and conveyed some 5,150 passengers and counting).
Kim has been a bus driver with Buslink NT for the last two years and her “exemplary” efforts during the pandemic saw her nominated as one of 14 Outstanding Finalists in the global 2019/2020 Passion Awards run by Buslink’s ultimate parent company, ComfortDelGro Corporation based in Singapore.
She came to Buslink NT highly recommended by her sergeants and superintendent, who testified to her professionalism, honesty, reliability, and strong work ethic as a Senior Police Auxiliary after working at the Northern Territory Police Station from 2001 to 2018.
In May 2018, Kim was awarded a National Police Service Medal in recognition for her “significant commitment in providing ethical and diligent service”.
Kim said she was attracted to the steady 20-hours per week driving job after retiring from the force. She enjoyed her retirement, travelling around the South Island of New Zealand, among other things, but when she got home a few months later, felt restless.
The 68-year-old saw an ad for a driver in the paper, and while everyone told her she’d be “too old to find a new job at over 50”, the ad mentioned the lifestyle, hours and opportunities for people of all ages, and she felt it was perfect for her.
Kim was nervous about starting the job when she joined – she only had her car licence – but three weeks later she got the hang of it, thanking trainers for their patience in getting her up to speed.
Her first run was as a special needs driver for a year, which she absolutely loved, and then she worked on the United State Marine Corp (USMC) charter team, as well as school bus driving.
Kim loves her school bus run, despite being one of the more challenging routes. But she’s been able to command the respect of children, building a rapport between them and herself that makes the job so worthwhile.
She said she was really relieved to be given the same run this year, as she’d built a real connection with the kids and parents.
Kim, a mother and grandmother, came to Darwin in 1972 for a three-week holiday and never left.
The former State Theatre Sydney telephonist, now local, was caught up in the Cyclone Tracy Christmas Day disaster and its aftermath in 1974, having to evacuate.
The cyclone tore the Northern Territory capital apart that Christmas, killing 71 people and destroying more than 70 percent of its buildings.
More than 30,000 people were evacuated, with airline passengers forced to share seats to fit as many people on board as possible.
Kim was on board the Qantas flight that made history, with pilot Donn Howe at the helm of the mercy mission, evacuating 674 passengers (plus 23 crew). The flight set a world record for carrying the most passengers on board a Boeing 747.
“I’d never flown before, so it was a big deal and for take-off and landing, I had someone else’s children, one on each knee, strapped into one seat belt,” Kim remembered as a slightly nervous first-time flyer.
Kim is now an avid traveller, having been to Bali “something like 70 times”, spending the last 20 years learning how to speak Bahasa Indonesian in her spare time.
She said she loved working at Buslink because of the diversity among drivers.
“I love the fact that our workplace is so multicultural – we have so many drivers from different countries,” she said.
“I often chat with Indonesian team members and practice my Bahasa Indonesian. I really enjoy that, and we have a good time together.”
ComfortDelGro’s PASSION! Award for 2019/2020 recognised those among the company who have displayed resilience and tenacity, going about and beyond to carry out their responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Buslink described Kim as “fabulous and courageous”, performing her duties “above and beyond with no hesitation”.
Police service to bus driver has been a seamless transition, but if there was one thing Kim could change about her current job?
“More women. There’s the impression that driving is male oriented job. But all you need are good customer service skills, a car licence and good driving record and Buslink will train you with all the rest.
“Before my charter, I had a chance to speak to people sitting around for our driver open day (held on 14 April). I told them my age, and how much after two and a half years, I love my job. One lady, who looked younger than me, said she couldn’t even get an interview due to her age. I told her, not here.”
“I’d love to see more women take to the wheel.”
Buslink will employ up to 60 new school bus drivers across Darwin, Humpty Doo, Jabiru, and Alice Springs over the next 12 months. For more information or to apply head to www.buslink.com.au/careers/.