Christmas Bus brings cheer to Newcastle streets

MARGARET Pannell’s cheerful Christmas Bus is selfie central.

School children start requesting in July each year whether they can be picked up in the vehicle after it has been lovingly decorated.

“With all the new technology, they spend the whole trip taking photographs of themselves on the bus,” Ms Pannell said.

“They don’t forget you either, I pick up some school kids in April and they say ‘Aren’t you the Christmas Bus lady?’

“I wear it with pride.”

Ms Pannell was driving buses part-time in 1997 when she found some of her older passengers who had lost loved ones or felt lonely were not looking forward to Christmas.

“I’d lost my husband just before Christmas in 1981 so I knew how they felt,” she said.

In an attempt to lift their spirits, she lay a roll of tinsel on the dashboard and played a cassette of carols.

“It got so much buzz that now it’s grown to look like a work of art,” she said.

Ms Pannell worked for 18 hours over two days this year with a revolving list of at least three helpers at a time to decorate the bus.

“You can still see it’s a bus- just!’’ Ms Pannell said.

“It instantly transports you back to being five years old.”

Almost every centimetre of the interior is covered in tinsel, ornaments and posters. 

About 1000 candy canes and 30 kilograms of lollies are given to passengers each year.

The audio system plays carols and the monitor displays a slideshow of photos taken aboard the year before.

The DVD can be bought on the bus and all proceeds are given to the Mater Hospital’s oncology unit.

Ms Pannell’s 80 year old mother has painted holland blinds with three images for the exterior of the bus, which also has lights illuminating its wheels.

A nativity scene is plastered on one side, reindeers and a sleigh on the other and Santa and Mrs Claus are stuck onto the rear.

Ms Pannell shares the time between the wheel with her colleagues, who dress up as Santa, elves and even The Grinch, complete with a painted green face.

“When I first started they would not be caught dead in it and now they all fight over who is going to take the shifts,” she said.

“Once they do a trip on it, they’re hooked. You spend the whole day smiling and waving at people and beeping the horn.

“Even the ones who are ‘bah humbug’ at the depot congregate onto the Christmas Bus when we stop at the top of Newcastle [outside the closed railway station].”

The Christmas Bus timetable:

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