MELBOURNE: When workers in an Australian bus company checked their bank accounts after payday this week, they thought there was a mistake.

Instead of their usual salaries, they got hundreds or thousands of dollars more. Some had A$30,000 (S$40,000).

Others had A$100,000.

Some broke down in tears. Others called their banks to say there must have been an error.

But there wasn't: Their employer, family-run Grenda Corp, had decided to hand out A$15 million (S$20 million) in bonuses when it sold out to a buyer.

After operating for 66 years, the owners of the Melbourne-based firm wanted to thank their 1,800 employees for their years of hard work and loyalty, and felt they should share a large chunk of the profit from the A$400 million buyout.

Bus drivers, mechanics and clerks alike received an average A$8,500, with some receiving as much as A$100,000, depending on their position and years of service.

'A business is only as good as its people, and our people are fantastic,' explained the company's patriarch Ken Grenda, 79.

'This is to recognise that. We have had people here who are second generation, and one fellow in the same job for 52 years.'

But while he tried to downplay the generous gesture, local newspapers such as the Herald Sun and television stations went big with the news, showering praise and calling the Grenda family 'Australia's most generous boss'.

They also described the 'overwhelming' gratitude that Mr Grenda and his sons Geoff and Scott received yesterday. They were swamped by scores of e-mails and countless phone calls.

Mrs Etty Talauega was reduced to tears when she found out, and said she would use some of her bonus to help her children with their hip-hop dancing dreams.

'I really didn't expect this to happen,' she told Nine News television.

Mr Iain Beberidge, a 15-year veteran, said Grenda Corp was 'losing a great man'.

'Ken looked after his employees, he treated them like family,' he said.

'Every time he comes past the depot, he shakes everyone's hands, and says 'G'day'.'

The company has been bought by another transport operator, Ventura, and all its staff will get to keep their jobs.

Grenda had started with just four bus routes in 1945, and now operates some 1,300 buses around Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

'You only get there if you have good people,' said Mr Grenda.

His son Geoff, the chief executive, told Nine Network television that it was an 'easy' decision to make.

'We sat down and thought, 'How can we thank the people who have got us to where we're going to end up?' - and it was a fairly easy decision for us,' he said.

'We've had lots of loyal people over our 66-year journey and this was our way of rewarding the ones who are still with us.'

Employee Jeff Winfield said the new owners of Grenda would have a lot to live up to.

'Hopefully the new boss will get the hint,' he said.