Before the Hume Highway bypassed Goulburn in 1992, 23,000 cars travelled through the city each day. After the bypass opened, hospitality and service businesses closed as predicted. Against the odds, one service station in town increased its turnover. Anyone who needed jumper leads, a new fan belt or tyres in that era would go to Parlett’s.
Chris Parlett recalls the service station was one of the few in town offering driveway service for a procession of regular customers.
“To keep them as regular customers you gave them an account,” he says. “You had the doctor, his wife, and their kids, you sold fuel for all their cars, you serviced their cars, you put tyres on their cars because they knew they could come in and you would provide the service.
“The self-serves [stations] – which mainly catered to travellers who were no longer coming through – a lot of them folded. We picked up a share of whatever regulars they had.”
Seven days a week, Parlett’s would open from 6.30 am to 7 pm, and until 8 pm on Fridays. On a roster, they worked long hours on icy cold concrete through Goulburn’s weather extremes.
Chris and his brother Steve’s hands-on customer service was straight out of their father’s copybook. Bruce Parlett was a navy seaman who served in World War II on Corvette-class destroyers, and survived after two of them were sunk.
In 1946, after WWII, he caught a train from Sydney to Goulburn. His stepfather offered him a job with an old mate who owned a garage and bus company on the site of the current Goulburn Power Centre. When that man became too ill to continue, Bruce bought him out.
Chris remembers as a toddler, his mother, Jeanette, cooking dinner in an electric frying pan, and taking the pan with warm food to the service station for Bruce to eat. Bruce’s younger brother, Jim, joined the business, and in about 1958 the garage moved to the corner of Bourke Street and Clinton Street. A few years later, another brother, Alex, joined them.
They were hands-on in business for 38 years, adding a tyre retread service to the garage.
When he finished school, Chris finished an apprenticeship panel-beating course at Lowe’s Garage on Auburn Street, then left for a smash repairs workshop in Canberra.
He met his wife, Anne, in Canberra, married and in 1984 returned to Goulburn to work for his father.
Meanwhile, Steve became a plant mechanic with the Department of Main Roads on Robinson Street. He married Vicki and later worked in Lee Roebuck’s motorbike shop.
When Alex and Jim retired from the business, Chris, Steve and Bruce bought the Mobil service station from Keith and Helen Harvey. Bruce worked hard into his 70s, called himself the standby mechanic and showed by example how to overcome tough times.
Chris says the family and staff were multiskilled.
“Just about everyone who worked with us could do everything – driveway attendants could fix a puncture or put in a set of brake pads, or a new set of spark plugs,” he says.
Years ago, Chris put down some hot chips he was eating for lunch to complete an urgent car registration inspection, only to find the man who had asked him to drop everything and do it, was eating his chips. He still laughs about it.
Overall, he says Goulburn is full of genuinely good people such as grazier’s wife Fay Peden.
“Every time we did a little favour for her, she baked a homemade cake and would bring it in.”
Tired of dealing with oil companies, they sold the service station in 2004 and for a few years owned the Goulburn Power Centre next door.
In retirement, Chris and Steve work together on classic and competition motorbikes.
“I’m so lucky with Steve,” he says. “As well as being my brother, he is also my best mate and we have very similar interests.”