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Mystery Bus Tour
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© W.G. Leithhead

In December, 2002, I and my wife Glenyce went along on the famous Bus Tour, in Melbourne, which the well-known, respected comedian and script-writer, Rod Quantock, has been running at various times since the early eighties. The audience pays to join a bus-load of fellow adventurers, led by the distinctively accoutred Rod Quantock, who, accompanied by his trademark rubber chicken on a stick, proceeds to lead them on a series of apparently surprise visits to almost anywhere.

I had been wanting to go for years, and hearing that he might be retiring from the tours after this year, Glenyce and I finally made it. Here, then, is the story of this unbelievable jaunt!

There we were at 7:30 on a Saturday night, at the foyer of the Malthouse Theatre, South Melbourne, for a show not on a stage, but in a bus, with ourselves the actors! Rod appeared, his coat plastered with assorted badges, holding a stick and a bag. We 45 participants boarded the bus, and received our trademark "Groucho Marx" glasses with big noses.

The rubber chicken was then ceremoniously inserted onto the long stick, with assorted sound-effects from the expectant passengers.

Three minutes down the road, we poured off the bus into Millswyn St., in swanky South Yarra, feeling foolish in our specs, but giggling like school-kids.

Led by Rod, we forayed into laneways and front gardens, looking for signs of someone at home. Goodness knows what the neighbours thought!

The one in red with the funny nose is Glenyce!

It seemed that the plan is to accost residents and pedestrians with the mob, invite them to listen to Christmas carols, and then pester them for a donation into the large-brimmed Akubra hat that Rod wears. bustour-c

The first house we picked were too busy to deal with us, so we looked further.

We were all agog with our own cheek, giggling like a bunch of school boys and girls, feeling rather stupid wearing the masks.

But these masks gave us a sense of permission to behave in ways that none of us normally would!

At the next house we struck a genial gentleman who assured us that had to leave immediately for a dinner engagement, but who did give a small donation.

Much to her surprise, Glenyce was asked to be the group's treasurer, to keep safe our ill-gotten gains!

"Quickly! Across the street! There's a man in his front garden!" Pouring across the street, we pursuaded this resident to listen to our carols. On cue, Rod waved his open hat at the target, who graciously donated $5 to us!

Whoever you are, mate, thanks for being a good sport!

This lady walking along the street struck more than she'd bargained for - us!

Obviously highly amused by the event, she obligingly listened to our plaintive caterwauling, and donated modestly to our cause.

By now, no one was safe. This couple were on their way to a nearby up-market restaurant called "Lynch's". As you see, they had a good sense of humour.

Note that that the building behind them houses a clinic in which I have been seeing my psychiatrist monthly for about 5 or 6 years. Hi, Chris!

We met some nice young guys renovating their flat and our 45 carolling voices reverberated lustily from their bare walls.

Rod glanced across a laneway to see a very nice house with a formidably large, strong door, and in a trice he was knocking at it! To our surprise, the owners of this expensive-looking home invited us all in! Amazing!!

Filling the lounge room, we warbled "Jingle Bells", "We wish you a merry Xmas!", and so on, after which Rod put on his limping Old Soldier act, urgently waving his Akubra in the face of the hospitable lady of the house. Laughing, she coughed up a donation, and off we went.

Perhaps she thought it was OK, because the house was under renovation, with things put away and draped with cloth.

Tickled pink at our own effrontery, we boarded the bus like kindergarten children.

A couple of kilometres away, across the Yarra River, in Richmond, out we surged through the gates of the old "Bryant and Mays" match factory, which houses reception rooms.

There seemed to be a wedding on, so we all skulked around a corner and made a run, en masse, at the entrance!

"Hang on!", said the manager, having a smoke out front, "I just want to see how they react!" So the 45 of us gazed at the 200-odd wedding guests, who looked gobsmacked!

Even now, I can't believe we did this!

In mid-meal, the guests stared, looked startled, and whispered rapidly amongst themselves. Giggling spread infectiously around the room.

Rod says that these places are not fore-warned, and I believe him. But his reputation is well-known in this city, therefore some people will twig onto the situation straight away and explain it to their friends.

After the surprise of the moment subsided, Rod presented Groucho Marx glasses to the bridal couple, after which, to great applause, he did a little dance with this charming little girl dressed in blue. bustour-n

Next came the time to sing the requisite Xmas carols, in which many of the wedding guests joined together with we motley invaders.

So then we applauded the guests and wedding party, and they in their turn applauded us, and off we went, boarding our bus for the next point of call. This was to be the studios of a commercial radio station, 3AK.

The bus driver had a hard task in the heavy traffic, involving precarious double parking manoeuvres.

We drove another kilometre or so, and tumbled out higgledy-pigglely to the doors of the studio. Rod talked his way into the foyer, and up the carpeted stairs we swarmed, like raiders.

The announcer looked surprised as we invaded her studio, live to air; but I think Rod's antics are known to the media-savvy, and she graciously accomodated our leader and his unruly horde. bustour-q

Rod is quite accustomed to mikes, and took his place at the console as we prepared to sing our carols once more, very quietly so as to avoid overloading the studio microphones.

Don't the ladies look great in their funny noses!?

The announcer allowed us to sing on the understanding that in return we would all go out to the road in front of the studio, speak to car drivers, and give them a CD if they would agree to turn their car radio to 3AK.

We had 6 CDs to give away, so off we trundled like a mob of rabble to accost drivers in the dusk in Swan Street, Richmond.

As we spilled out into the traffic I felt pretty nervous watching our crowd straggle across the intersection with a tendency to ignore the traffic signals. I was also aware of my own danger as I stood in the road framing shots and focussing!

The things we do!!

I've no idea what all the motorists made of a bunch of lunatics in funny noses running amok among the traffic, but they seemed to be rather cooperative, which is a lot better than if someone had taken offence.

What would you do if a strange man with a badge-covered coat and a rubber chicken on a stick knocked on your window at the lights?

By now the mob was in search of new targets, so Rod delivered to us the Kentucky Fried Chicken shop across the sreet. By now I was glad of anything to get us off the streets onto the footpath!

But first, we formed a huddle to practice the KFC jingle about "sesame seed buns" so that we could sing it in a few seconds, and thus win a free can of Coke. Under Rod's orders we infiltrated into KFC in small groups until we filled the shop.

And so we all chanted the ditty at full speed. The highly amused managers gave us our can of Coke. Jokingly, Rod asked "Well, can we have 45 straws?"

I don't know who got the can of drink because we then proceeded to the climax of our journey - a visit to a brothel!

Just around the corner was "Club 234", festooned with coloured lights.

Rod picked out a giggly young woman to be a bride-to-be, and a young man to be the bridegroom, and a couple to be Mum and Dad who wanted their offspring to have the very best tuition in their marital recreational activities, so were "sponsoring" them for a visit to the experts.

At first I thought we'd never get past security, but Rod pressed the button, and all of us entered! Rod gave his highly dubious spiel, with the girl giggling her head off with embarrassment. I've got to hand it to the young manager - he entered into the spirit of the thing, as we wandered around like lost sheep.

About then I noticed a door to the ante-room where two nice young girls were sitting on the black lounges, surrounded by black furniture, polished chromed poles for erotic dancing, and pool tables.

At a push, the door opened, to the surprise of all of us, and the working girls, because most of us entered the waiting room! The girls, puzzled, stared at us, and we all milled around, enjoying the ambience, and the sheer unbelievable craziness of the situation!

I thought better of the temptation to take a photo, out of respect for the privacy of the young women, so you'll have to use your imagination!

Boarding our bus, we tried to all go into a pub nearby, but were refused by bouncers. Just down the street, we did get into a pub, where Rod Quantock generously ordered 45 beers, and we all rushed for the toilets.

After we all took the pressure off, we relaxed over our drinks. A young man who fancied himself as a performance poet realized he had a captive audience, and reeled off his personal saga, to the enthusiastic acclaim of us all. It was a suitable finale to a bizarre night!

It was only a short bus ride back to our starting point, punctuated by Rod leaning out of the bus with his chicken and megaphone, regaling startled pedestrians with his unexpected comments. Spying a young couple walking along near a park, he boomed out: "This is God speaking!! I know what you've both been up to in the bushes, and you're both going to go to to Hell!" Goodness knows what people made of all that, but we all reckoned it was hilarious.
As we left the bus, Rod told Glenyce to keep the $15 which she, as honorary treasurer had collected from the hat, which was very generous of him.

As we drove home we were full of utter amazement at what we all had done, and wondered what on earth the on-lookers made of it all. There is something wierd about just gate-crashing into peoples places like we had done. I couldn't imagine doing it in any other way.

There is something really unique about a busload of ordinary people, wearing funny masks, following a well-known comedian with a rubber chicken on a stick into places where we wouldn't dare go. The psychology of it intrigues me, and Glenyce and I will never forget the sheer affrontery with which we just barged into other peoples lives like that. Absolutely amazing!! And some of the best fun we've ever had in our lives. It was unique, and we'd do it again like a shot! We still can't get over it!

Thank you, Rod Quantock, and good onya, mate!

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