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This bus is a TARDIS

  • 19 May 2019


Saturday 4.50pm. On Melbourne's Punt Rd, bus brakes squeal and huff. The 246 hits a standstill at the Bridge Rd corner. There's a momentary pall of silence on board — only the indicator click-clacks. The bus rests low on its suspension and seems to sigh. I slide across to the window side of my seat and brace myself. I expect noise, heat, irritation. I'd forgotten about the train lines closing for works.

Looking down the hill, every lane is gridlocked. Cars inch out of the MCG driveways, footy fans crowd the footpaths and line the bus stops. It's hard to tell where the queues begin or end, people are huddling five-deep. The bus doors hiss open.

A family climbs on board with a pram, a baby and a young boy. They line themselves along the side-on seats at the front of the bus. The boy sits across his father's knees with his back to the driver and gazes at the passengers already on board. His wide brown eyes are fringed by black lashes, his dark olive skin and shiny black hair match his father's. The child's face relaxes as his father speaks quietly to him.

During the minutes that follow, the temperature rises and I peel my coat off, twisting away from the close-by seat companion who has come to join me. As I pull my arms out of my sleeves he tells me the good thing about a bus this packed is that it will probably express past the other stops.

The driver stands and faces the back of the bus. He raises his voice only slightly. Ten minutes ago we'd been on a routine bus ride, he'd welcomed us on board. There's no edge in his voice. 'Please keep moving,' he says. 'Keep moving please, right down to the back.' He watches steadily, repeats the request.

There's a pattern in the way this moment often plays out — a bus or tram driver speaks, their voice might be amplified, usually it's disembodied. The instruction will ricochet from the driver's seat, people will begrudgingly shuffle, fail to notice there is indeed more space, then shrug and stay put. Along with the driver we will resign ourselves to the hopelessness of humans following a simple request.

But today we have the kindly and calm Bus Driver. He wants the bus to do its job, to move as many people as possible on this afternoon when there