Moonlight over City Road: How I love the Fisher courtesy bus

Reminiscing surreal journeys through campus.

Art by Claire Ollivain

Have you ever found yourself in Fisher at an ungodly hour? For some, 10pm is not that ungodly. But when I have been looking out the window at the Victoria Park pool for hours, and watched the sun go down as fluorescent overhead lights illuminate my diseased reflection before me, I know it’s time to go home. I know it’s time to go home when I realise it’s been nearly twelve hours since I wafted off the train at Redfern in the morning and onto campus.

Even if it feels “safe enough” to walk back to Redfern, or I could use the fresh air and movement, I find myself gravitating towards the Fisher courtesy bus that runs in the evenings during semester. Outside the looming chocolate façade of the library, it looks like some kind of novelty tourist bus, especially when the driver is leaning casually on its door, smoking — though perhaps the smoking part is a figment of my imagination. 

Having already freaked out inside the library as to whether I will miss the bus, I usually arrive at the stop ten minutes early. I am allowed on by the driver and the hum of the artificial heating greets me. How peaceful. I have always found the bus to be simultaneously eerie and comforting. Time passes so slowly while I am strapped up in my seat watching students flit in and out of the library. It feels oddly surreal, as if watching a time-lapse of campus.

Frankly, the minibus environment reminds me of warm experiences of love and solidarity. Whenever I’m in Bangladesh, we somehow arrange fifteen family members into one dingy minibus to get from the main city of Dhaka to a more rural area where my grandparents’ house is. It also reminds me of the SRC hiring two minibuses to send a student junket to the Central Coast to stack out an undemocratic Co-Op Bookshop general meeting back in 2017. I think of discussions in my friend’s Tarago on road trips here and there, and how I miss those times.

As I nostalgically reminisce on the stationary bus, more students arrive and are advised passive-aggressively to put on their seat belts. I really think there is something earnest and romantic about being in a minibus with eight random people out of the University’s 60,000 or so students. It is the perfect opportunity for a meet-cute, but really, we are all tired at this point in the day — I at the very least usually find myself here during exam season. Students talk to their friends about whatever drama is presently occupying their social group, or put their headphones on and lean against the window to wistfully look at the scenery. 

The bus takes a bizarre route. The average student would seldom find themselves on the same path as the bus (unless you’re running across campus to catch a lecture at Bosch, like I did in first year). However, being someone who goes to great lengths to romanticise my life, I would say the scenery of the route is the highlight. At night when we are winding down Manning Road towards the colleges, the bus driver sometimes drives a little bit faster than we need to over a speed bump, and then glides smoothly towards Wesley — which looks like a giant castle — and onto City Road. Smooth FM, or something equally droll is usually on, and the glow of a green LED digital clock at the front reminds me of how late it is. 

This specific part of the route is so dreamlike to me. This might sound crazy, but it feels like driving on the moon in a rover, especially when the moon itself is out and bright on a particular night. If I’ve timed my playlist well, I listen to ‘The Dreaming Moon’ by the Magnetic Fields, while I hope tomorrow goes better than today. Then, after crossing City Road, I will peek into the Hermanns beer garden to see if any of my friends are hanging around. But this happens less and less as everyone starts to graduate and move on with their lives. 

Sometimes I feel like I am swimming lucidly through every life experience I’ve ever had as I sit on the bus, as if I’m a character in some cringey campus novel. But for me, these moments are what constitute the cherished and idealistic feeling of being a young student. I don’t know when my last trip on my beloved courtesy bus will be, but I’ll continue to choose it over an icy walk to Redfern.