SeaLink celebrates 30 years of Kangaroo Island service: drivers are locals

LOCAL DRIVERS: SeaLink bus drivers and Islanders Kevin Howard and Glen Willson, and both are farmers turned tour guides, and they love their job driving around KI.
LOCAL DRIVERS: SeaLink bus drivers and Islanders Kevin Howard and Glen Willson, and both are farmers turned tour guides, and they love their job driving around KI.

The Islander this week has a special feature celebrating SeaLink's 30-year anniversary of service to Kangaroo Island.

Here is the first of a two-part series about the KI locals that make up the staff of the ferry company, focussing on two Dudley Peninsula farmers that became tour guides:

Long-term SeaLink drivers are among the staff celebrating 30 years of operation this year.

Perhaps none are more local and capable of talking about the Island to visitors than Kevin Howard and Glen Willson, and both are farmers turned bus drivers and tour guides.

Kevin Howard is fourth generation Islander, whose grandfather William Howard first set foot on the Island at Penneshaw in 1883.

Kevin started driving for SeaLink back in 1999, about the same time that its ferry Sea Lion 2000 was brought into service.

But even before that he used to help his wife who had the cleaning contract on the ferry Navigator.

And before that he drove a dump truck delivering rock to build the breakwater at the Penneshaw ferry terminal.

He attended school at Penneshaw before heading off to do Year 11, 12 at Urrbrae Agricultural High School, as he always intended to be a farmer on the family property at Cuttlefish Bay.

While he was still farming, he got into the tourism industry working part-time as a driver for the original KI Odysseys company before it was taken over by SeaLink.

"They were tough times," Kevin said. "The wool market went belly up and we had to look for alternative work."

Over the years, he has remained a permanent part-time driver so that he can work on his farm when needed, and also help his wife operate their holiday homes, The Lookout at Cuttlefish Bay and Ironstone Cottage in Penneshaw.

It was a similar scenario for Glen Willson, who grew up on the family farm on the banks of the Willson River.

Glen has been a driver for 12 years, ever since the family decided to sell down the property. He kept a small portion on Moffatt Road where he still lives and does a bit of farming today.

"I looked for other opportunities and started driving to fill in a bit of time and 12 years later, I am still going," he said.

Both men thoroughly enjoy the job and the people they meet on the buses.

As locals know, Kangaroo Island is a big place and Glen has calculated he was probably taken somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 people around the Island.

"I really enjoy getting out and about and not being stuck in an office all day," he said.

"Once you leave the depot, you are your own boss with a group of people. We have a bit of fun together and every day, you meet a different group of people.

"You also see a lot of different things around the Island, how it is different at different times of the year. You see what the farmers are doing so you get a bit of a farming fix too."

Kevin meanwhile some years ago calculated he had probably driven over 1 million kilometres around the Island.

He too enjoyed meeting all kinds of people from all over the world.

"It's all about meeting the people and our customers are from all over the world," Kevin said.

"Different nationalities and different cultures, you definitely meet a lot of interesting people."

Even though he has not travelled widely, Glen has learned a few things about the world and Kangaroo Island from his time being a driver.

"The things I have learned from driving is what Kangaroo Island has in relation to the rest of the world," Glen said. "What people consistently tell me is how pristine and unique the Island is compared to the rest of the world. And how lucky we are to have this place. People say whatever you do, don't change this place. Once you change it, you will never get it back."

Both men also paid tribute to the pioneers of tourism on the Island and also all their fellow drivers and SeaLink staff.

"We'd like to pay tribute to the pioneer drivers, who are now retired," Glen said. "Plus we represent all the other drivers over the years too. We started our tour careers off the back of their experiences and then added our own bit."