Alfred William (Bill) McGeary converts his tray truck into a bus, to transport commuters left stranded by Melbourne’s 1927 cable-tram strike. Three years later, he buys the McGeary’s first new bus, which he drives on a route from Northcote, connecting with the tram and train lines of Clifton Hill.
Bill marries Hazel in 1931 and two years later, they sell their interest in the Northcote bus route and buy a busier network in Melbourne’s south, servicing Moorabbin, Middle Brighton and Brighton Beach. In keeping with the family-nature of the enterprise, Bill’s brother George joins as a driver.
The McGeary’s welcome their son Geoff in 1941 and towards the decade’s end, Bill obtains his first charter license. The contracts to transport students to Firbank Grammar School and Haileybury College finance Bill and Hazel’s investment in the McGeary’s first Federal Coach, expanding the fleet to five.
Bill sells his commuter routes and turns his attention to charters, negotiating additional contracts with Star of the Sea, Xavier Preparatory School and St Leonard’s Girls’ College. Sadly, he’s diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1954 and while Hazel works tirelessly to care for Bill and keep the business afloat, by the late-1950s it seems there’s little choice but to sell.
Determined the business should remain in the family, 19-year-old Geoff McGeary applies for an under-age bus driving license and in 1961 enters the family business, now named McGeary’s Parlor Coaches. Two years later, founder Bill McGeary passes away.
Alfred William (Bill) McGeary
1900 - 1963
Identifying the opportunities that recreational travel presented the bus industry, Geoff designs weekend holidays and interstate tours, including ground-breaking camping holidays to Central Australia and Queensland. The McGeary fleet swells to ten buses as the Australian tourism industry blossoms. In 1967, Geoff partners with competitor Mayer Page to form Australian Pacific Coaches and the following year, Geoff and wife Anne welcome the first of the third generation, son Robert.
Geoff and Mayer turn their attention to extended touring and soon, ‘Lost Weekends’, ‘Hot Snow Weekends’, Sydney and Melbourne day tours and accommodated tours to most States and Territories puts the company on the map. To reflect this, Australian Pacific Coaches is renamed Australian Pacific Tours (APT).
APT looks abroad and opens offices in Auckland, Los Angeles and London – a massive step for what began as a suburban bus company. As Australia’s fastest growing tour operator, APT expands into a new home at 475 Hampton Street, APT’s global Head Office for the next 35 years. Meanwhile, the McGeary dynasty continues to grow, as Geoff and Anne welcome their daughter Louise in 1978.
‘The little Melbourne bus company that could’ comes of age in an unprecedented period of strategic growth. The Board expands beyond family and welcomes five new directors, including future Group MD Barry Matters. APT buys TA Airlines’ travel business and consolidates its brands under the AAT Kings banner. APT also expands across the world, to keep up with Australia’s growing reputation as the globe’s tourist hotspot.
Closer to home, Rob McGeary becomes the first of the third generation to join the business, beginning his career at the Melbourne Day Tour office in 1987.
APT’s luxury camping safaris are a hit, especially with Europeans keen to take in the remotest parts of Australia, including the Tanami and Birdsville Tracks and the Gibb River Road. Meanwhile, APT’s Canada & Alaska program adds the Rocky Mountaineer train and Holland America Line’s cruise to Alaska’s Inside Passage to increasingly comprehensive itineraries.
Geoff and Mayer close their successful 27-year partnership, with Mayer assuming control of AAT Kings and Geoff continuing to build APT. In 1996, APT acquires Newman’s Escorted Tours, resulting in the company’s expanded presence in New Zealand and Travelmarvel joins the family with its value offering.
Like the broader travel industry, the business is tested during the September 11 terrorist attacks and the collapse of Ansett and Traveland. However, APH guarantees its reputation as a world-class operator with the purchase of Captain’s Choice Tours, a specialist in luxury journeys to remote destinations and is offered a majority stake in the fledgling Kimberley Wilderness Adventures from the Wunan Foundation. Antarctica Flights is also added to the portfolio.
In 2005, Geoff McGeary sets his sights on yet another untapped travel experience for Australians and New Zealanders, investing in an innovative cruise business AMAWaterways. They launch the AmaDagio in 2006 and quickly grow to an award-winning fleet of 23 river ships.
APT takes a 51% stake in GW Travel – a leading UK provider of long-distance luxury rail journeys, operating private trains throughout Russia and its former Republics, as well as Mongolia and China.
APH turn their attention to small ship expedition cruising investing in MS Caledonian Sky and Island Sky. The OneTomorrow Foundation is also established, promoting sustainable tourism and environmental and humanitarian causes in the regions APH touch. It has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support various charities including bushfire affected communities, Indigenous communities in the Kimberley and children’s charities in Vietnam. Simon Jones is appointed APH Chairman.
COVID-19 arrives and challenges not only APH but the travel industry around the world. Moving forward, $3m is spent upgrading the Kimberley Lodges, MS Caledonian Sky is moved to a new Australian base and in Vietnam, APT takes delivery of a new 44-suite rivership, the Mekong Serenity. APH also invests in fresh ideas and governance, welcoming Baldeep Gill and Claire Hatton to the APH Board.