Kids jumping for joy with new mini bus

The Tambo Upper Primary School is at the heart of the close-knit community it serves on the banks of the Tambo River in East Gippsland in more ways than one – not only does it educate the Upper Tambo’s precious little ones, but because the local hall is situated in the grounds, it is the place where residents turn for support and friendship.  

The fire season started in November of 2019 in and around Bruthen and continued to burn all through December and January with families having to evacuate their homes and move livestock to safer places on a number of occasions.  

The principal of Tambo Upper Primary School, Carly Miller, said: “The bushfires impacted our community so deeply and immeasurably. We endured many years of drought, which has still not been broken, followed by the fires, and with the fire season almost upon us again, the community is already highly anxious.”   

Ms Miller said it is estimated that more than a third of the Tambo Upper students were directly affected by fires at their own properties, or had extended family who lost houses, shedding, fencing and livestock.  

“This includes some children who were not able to leave their properties in time and experienced the fire firsthand. This trauma has put incredible pressure on our families and some have been finding it very difficult to get their children to school,” added Ms Miller.

At the time, the school only had a small and aged 12-seater bus with tears in the interior and rust appearing on the exterior.  

“We feared that one day we wouldn’t be able to offer the service and, therefore, children wouldn’t be able to get to school. With the clean-up and stress on families, some parents were finding it really difficult to get their children to school,” said Ms Miller.  

After realising that the Victorian DET school bus program didn’t meet the needs of the school, because “we also needed transport to ferry students to swimming lessons, camps, cross-country and other events throughout the year”, Ms Miller said the situation was growing ever more desperate.  

“We estimated that a new mini-bus would cost approximately $70,000, which included on-road costs, and we really wanted it to also proudly display our school name and logo,” said Ms Miller. “While we could contribute something, the entire cost was completely prohibitive.” 

That’s where Vinnies Victoria – and the Melbourne Jewish community – stepped in. Upon hearing the school’s plight, Vinnies Victoria, with thanks to the $1 million donated by the Jewish community towards education costs in fire-affected Victorian communities, provided the entire $70,000 needed to purchase the mini bus.   

In November 2020, the bus, with Ms Miller behind the wheel, took to the road. “During that first road trip you couldn’t take the smiles off the faces of both the students and the teachers,” said Ms Miller. “I took shuttles until each of the 103 students and 13 staff members all had a trip around Tambo Upper on the new bus. The boost to the community at Tambo Upper is immeasurable.” 

As one young student, Ruby, said: “All of us were affected by the bushfire in my house and a lot of others. The new bus has made going to school so much easier, and for the parents it is easier to go to work and not worry. Most parents did not let their kids go on the old bus because they were worried about it breaking down.”  

As another student, Nicola, said: “Thank you for giving us the best school bus. We love it so much. I used to travel on the old bus regularly, but now the school bus ride is not so bumpy, clunky and unsteady. The ride is actually enjoyable. If I could, I would give you an eternal ‘thank you’ and a great big hug (if it was not COVID-19).” 

As Victoria marks the first year anniversary of the bushfires, Vinnies Victoria is so happy to see that Tambo is getting on with doing what it does best – ferrying students from A to B (and sometimes C and D), supporting each other through thick and thin and ensuring that, as a community, Tambo keeps moving forward.