31 July 2023

Frank Nicastri took the high road in car wrecking industry

| John Thistleton
Join the conversation
Historic service station.

In 1959 Frank Nicastri, third from left with his wife Joan, fourth from left, opened the new Atlantic service station in Marulan. Two-year-old Tony Nicastri is in the foreground. While the family has lost track of some of the names of the others, the chef at left is Peter Salvi. He and his wife Palasa later ran a restaurant in Goulburn. Photo: Nicastri family.

Of all the experiences Goulburn businessman Frank Nicastri packed into his life, perhaps being the son of a sheep and goat farmer in Italy provided his best education.

Growing up in the Calabrian village of Castiglione Marittimo, Frank would take large cuts of freshly killed goat meat on the train to sell in the surrounding towns’ markets.

His ability to find a market and sell served him well after he immigrated to Australia in 1951 aboard the Hellenic Prince and changed the car wrecking industry in later years.

READ ALSO Sixty years on, Goulburn spray painter revisits the colourful journey

“He was a bit of a go-getter, that’s for sure,” says his eldest son Tony, who started pumping petrol at Marulan when he was 12 and only recently retired from the auto industry.

“Dad hated the image of the wrecking industry because so many yards, particularly in Sydney, were disgraceful pigsties,” he said. “He always wanted to lift the image,” he said.

A trip to America in 1979 opened his eyes to a hot-line networking system enabling wreckers to swap and trade secondhand spare parts with one another. On his return, he worked with Telecom technicians in Goulburn to introduce a similar network between wreckers in Cooma, Canberra, Goulburn, Sydney, Newcastle and Cowra.

It was a pivotal leap forward for the wrecking industry, with 100 yards at one stage, launched by a man who knew nothing about cars when he came to Australia. He had worked first as a ‘powder monkey’ at Warragamba Dam blowing up rock faces, then as a truck driver delivering lime from Marulan South to Berrima.

After seeing a new Atlantic service station at Marulan under construction he talked his way into acquiring the franchise which he opened in 1959. Later he left that site and started afresh across the road with an Ampol Service station from where he began to dismantle car wrecks.

Not only did Frank have the highest selling diesel station outside Sydney and Melbourne, he was one of the first with a television. “On a Saturday night when Six O’clock Rock was on a lot of Goulburn guys would come down with their girlfriends, get their hamburger and watch it at the service station’s cafeteria,” Tony said.

Frank learned English quickly, interpreting in the early days in his adopted Australia for other Italians. He launched new ventures including a motel at Marulan, befriended people and swooped on new business opportunities.

Five adults standing.

Linda, Tony, Joan, Frank and Ross Nicastri who all worked in the family’s wrecking enterprise. Frank had met Joan, from Glenbrook, through a mutual friend at a get-together at Wallacia. Photo: Nicastri family.

Opening a second petrol station on the Sydney Road in North Goulburn, he bought a large block at the rear and opened Frank’s Auto Wreckers.

As his wrecking operations flourished, he was buying up to 300 car wrecks a month. “He found a partner in Melbourne,” Tony said. “They started auctioning cars in Melbourne because we were buying such a large volume. He couldn’t dismantle all of them.”

Retail outlets for secondhand parts were opened in Goulburn and Fyshwick, Canberra, then Frank sold the ACT shop and established a huge 10-acre ‘pick a part’ yard in Sydney which Tony’s younger brother Ross managed at Smithfield.

READ ALSO How generations of Parletts beat the bypass

The two brothers had grown up in Marulan where they were forever tinkering with cars. “In our primary school days we used to have an old FC Holden which we’d run down the railway line access road between Marulan and Medway station,” Tony said. “In two years we did 2000 miles and it was only a mile and three-tenths long track,” he said.

Frank had his fun with cars too. Bill Martin who worked at his Goulburn service station revved up Frank’s enthusiasm for speedway and he eagerly worked alongside Bill to get a track established at Governor’s Hill. Among the other Goulburn Hot Rod members leading the charge for a speedway track were Des Keys, Roger Emmerton, Chic Thyne, Neville Burrows, Barry Grey, Noel Price, Harold Haynes, Hugh Granger, Len McIntyre and Maurie and Bob Christie. By 1971 they were ready to race. The launch meeting featuring 28 events drew an enormous crowd of 7000 people.


Tonya and Tony Nicastri visiting Blackheath. Photo: Nicastri family.

The Nicastris sold the wrecking business in the early 1990s and in November, 1993, while sleeping on the lounge at home, Frank died, having survived a heart bypass six years earlier. He was only 63.

“He was happy to work every day, even if the business was closed on a Sunday he would go in and do something,” Tony said.

Tony and his wife Tonya left Goulburn and later established their own wrecking business at Narellan which they sold in 2018. Tony continued working there part-time until earlier this year.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.