12 June 2024

The spark that turns Goulburn Small Engines into a little men’s shed

| John Thistleton
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man in his small-engine repair workshop

Peter Scott happily shares his knowledge on keeping chainsaws and motor mowers ticking over smoothly, and why the Canberra Raiders rugby league side is the best in the competition. Photo: John Thistleton.

As he slowly winds back his chainsaw and motor mower business, Goulburn Small Engines’ Peter Scott has one nagging concern.

Where will many of his customers go when their old motor mowers give up the ghost? They’ve come to his shop, on the corner of Citizen and Auburn streets, Goulburn, for years knowing they’ll get more than a fair go.

Most of them are pensioners. Peter knows they don’t have much money but need their motor mowers fixed. He charges them for a new spark plug, but nothing more.

“I don’t give product away, but give them the labour,” he said. “To me, their time and my time are the same. They are the guys that bring in an ice-cream container of tomatoes, and they are the best-tasting tomatoes.”

He said these values came from his time growing up at Bannaby in the Golspie-Taralga district, where farmers give one another a hand on their properties.

His father Arthur – also known as Scotty, as Peter is known these days too – managed properties for the Anglican Church and one year all proceeds were contributed to the bell tower project at St Saviour’s Cathedral in Goulburn.

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“When I was seven, my mum [Leila Scott] passed away and Dad was left looking after three boys under the age of 10, which is a pretty big job,” Scotty said.

“Dad worked from daylight to dark and after Mum passed away, pushed himself into a little bit more at work.”

The boys would do their homework after school at friends’ places and remain there until Arthur knocked off from work and collected them.

“That’s what I value about a community: when something happens, a community rallies around and helps people,” Scotty said.

Another major influence was Neville Smith, who owned the Goulburn Power Centre, where Scotty did his four-year mechanic’s apprenticeship. He stayed on for another five years.

“He was a great boss, good mentor, a hard man but he taught me the values,” he said.

”When Carol Smith [Neville’s wife] comes here, all the family shops here, she says, ‘Neville would be proud because you have those old-fashioned values’.”

After leaving the Power Centre, Scotty worked in various jobs for Warwick Burrows at BJ Hire, and then for Thiess Contractors as a labourer and truck driver on the Hume Highway bypasses of Gunning, Yass and Jugiong and on the Federal Highway at Lake George.

Injured at work, Scotty retrained on computers and later opened his own shop in 1988, sub-leasing space in Auburn Street from Bill Bourke, who was leasing the premises off Neville Burrows. When Neville sold the building to Tynan Motors, Scotty had a month to find new premises.

Few rent options were available. Real estate agent Jane Cabot showed him his current site, at the time occupied by a bike shop. The shop premises and attached home were for sale for $85,000. In earlier times it had been a corner store grocery, and later Fitzpatricks ran a wool shop there selling knitting supplies. He bought it in 2000 and the bike shop vacated the premises.

Scotty had a confident outlook, servicing chainsaws in winter and mowers in summer. His clients included numerous farmers, the council and woodcutters and gardeners.

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“The way I look at it, every house has a whipper snipper and a mower and most people have a chainsaw, so you’ve got the best of three worlds there,” he said.

“For the first 10 years I was driven, everything went well, I was dealer of the year for STIHL for NSW, and that’s huge – 400 dealers,” he said.

Working 12-hour days for most of the week, employing two other staff, he would try taking Sunday afternoons off after spending the morning on his bookwork. The relentless workload put a strain on his health and in 2011 he had a massive heart attack.

Jobs, machines and parts are still piled up around him, but he has made space for his mates and enjoys a yarn as much as he does his time on the tools.

At times, Goulburn Small Engines runs more like a little men’s shed.

“‘House of wellbeing’ someone called it the other day,” Scotty said. “He said if you are not feeling good, you come down here, you make us laugh, we go home happy.”

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