Australian Pioneers and Explorers
'I used to follow the antics of the explorers. Then I thought ... there must be others who are interested.'
Bill grew up with two interests that would shape his whole life - buses and the bush. During the year his father ran the family bus business in suburban Melbourne, but come the holidays they were always off to the bush.
Bill had the idea to combine his father's business with his own pleasure by running tours to the Centre.
'We were going exploring,' he says.
And he wasn't exaggerating. From Melbourne they would drive up through western Queensland and down from Tennant Creek to Alice Springs. When he wanted something different he'd take the Oodnadatta Track and then the Stuart Highway. It was all bush track and sandhills. Just getting from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock took two days.
'We didn't always make it,' he says.
The weather would usually determine that. During floods they were often the only vehicle on the road. Except they weren't actually on the road - Bill would use the track and the trestle bridges of the old Ghan railway to get through.
His love of the bush extended to a fascination with the early explorers.
'I read all the journals of Burke, Wills, Giles and wanted to go there.'
He thought others might, too. He started a tour group at the Burke and Wills monument in Melbourne's Royal Park and took them all the way to the Gulf of Carpentaria. It filled him with even more admiration for those pioneers.
'I don't know how they did it in those days - straight from England, and walking.'
Trips based on explorers' journals became a feature of Bill King's Northern Safaris as they began to stretch boundaries with four-wheel desert cruisers. Tours between Alice Springs and Perth, Broome, the Kimberley, Darwin and across the Simpson to Birdsville were added to his schedule. If there was no road they'd follow a grader through.
In 1974 he moved the business from Melbourne to Alice Springs. Ansett would fly people in and Bill would pick them up in buses and show them every isolated corner of the Centre they wanted to see.
In 1975 he went to a travel trade show in Germany. Adventure wholesalers who had lost their African destinations due to the uncertain political situation were nervous about their futures. And Bill walked in with somewhere they hadn't thought of - outback Australia.
'It became embarrassing. I ended up with more people than I could carry.'
More vehicles, more staff, more trips to the UK and the USA, and Bill's business boomed. The Territory government had to form a Tourist Commission to manage the growth, and Bill was one of the first three Commissioners. He sat on the board of Yulara when the resort was built. He won a brace of tourism awards. He had taken a passion and made it his life's work.
'My mother had a saying about isolated places. She'd say it's not the end of the world, but if you stand on the verandah you can see it.'
Bill King has made it possible for thousands to share that view.