Since the 1940s the Watson name has been at the core of business endeavours in Maleny. Most known to present day locals is Watson’s Garage, emanating history from its antiquated building. Writer, Gay Liddington, went to hear more about this family with an impressive work ethic and illuminating memories of times gone by.
By Gay Liddington
Walter Leonard Watson was renowned for his entrepreneurship from the time he and his family, wife Christina with children Doug, Dawn, Thelma, Neville and Glenda settled in Maleny in 1944.
Glenda Braden, youngest of the five, remembers those early days. “We lived in a storeroom/shed about 20 feet square, seven of us including four teenagers and me a schoolgirl. It was owned by Maleny Motors and used to garage their hearse. They moved the hearse out and we moved in. The building is still there, down the lane that leads to the rooftop carpark. It later became Maple Street Mart.”
After living in cramped conditions for almost two years Walter Watson purchased Rosedale, the home of Mr and Mrs A. Cooke on Maple Street.
A man of vision, Walter extended the building to create a gentleman’s boarding house later known as Maleny Lodge providing accommodation for the likes of bank managers and teachers. This was managed by wife Chris, a charming hostess who made boarders feel at home. Son Doug said that his mother was a friend to everybody.
Glenda adds: “Mum didn’t cater meals. Boarders always went to the café at night. It was where Peace of Green is now situated.”
While Chris ran the boarding house, Walter busied himself with the local goods transport business, taxi and bus service he purchased in 1944. It was located across from the current Cooke Park.
During the summer months picnic bus excursions to Caloundra Beach were highpoints for hinterland locals. Dances and balls were also an integral part of the social calendar throughout the late 1940s and ‘50s.
Imagine a 1937 Bedford truck converted into a bus winding its way around the precarious mountain roads. Watson’s buses serviced the area from Conondale to Glasshouse and all stops in between to ensure merrymakers arrived at their function and then safely home.
“Dad used to drive the taxi, a 1939 Vauxhall. When the blokes were away at war, he’d bring the ladies into town to do their shopping detouring via the boarding house to drop off the kids. Mum happily volunteered to babysit. Shopping done, the taxi would come back, pick up kids, then take them all home,” said Glenda.
When Walter Watson bought their house from the Cooke family there was a paddock next door. This is where Walter, Doug and Neville built the present garage and workshop in 1954.
“Dad was one of 12, never went to school but the teacher came around every six months. He ended up building three houses in Maleny but never had a lesson in carpentry.”
Glenda celebrated her ninth birthday at the boarding house and lived there for 13 years until her marriage to Kevin Braden in 1957.
“I was 16 when I met Kevin on the dance floor at Conondale. He asked me for the last dance and we’ve been dancing ever since.
“We also used to go to dances at Witta. The building is now the Witta Recreational Club hall but back then there were no walls, all open air and rather chilly in winter. When we had kids, they used to lie on a blanket under the seat.”
In the ‘70s, continuing the Watson family tradition, Kevin and Glenda went into the business of driving school buses: Conondale to Kenilworth high and the Conondale-Cambroon primary school run. This stretched over a period of 30 years. A bus shelter at Cambroon was named in their honour.
Glenda continues the family story: “My mother died suddenly in 1958, six months after my wedding. She was in her early ‘50s.
“After that time Dad divided Fig Street into eight blocks, four on each side. He and the boys with a little help from tradesmen built two houses using handmade bricks, one for Doug and the other for Nev. Those houses still stand today.
“The family home was sold in 1959 and Dad passed away three years later.”
The business of W.L. Watson & Sons continued. Doug and Neville managed the garage and as people acquired more transport, they diversified into school buses, general cartage including furniture removal and operated the Maleny-Landsborough mail run for 30 years.
“The boys also delivered molasses for stock feed locally, north as far as Bundaberg, out to the Darling Downs and south, down around the northern rivers region.”
On hearing Glenda’s story, the industriousness of the Watson brothers supported by their wives is beyond comprehension. Apart from their mechanical workshop and bus runs, there was a period of time when Doug made molasses tanks and truck bodies. It seems there was no job too big or too small…welding, spray painting, panel beating, while Nev drove the trucks and kept track of finances.
Watson’s Garage reached its 50-year milestone in 2004. Doug and Neville retired after 45 years in business but retained ownership of the garage and workshop. Neville died in 2011 passing it on to Doug who sold the premises in December, 2017.
The Watson business savvy continues in the Maleny community: Nellie Finley, Glenda’s daughter owns Nellie’s Creative Hair Design and employs five locals. Neil Braden bought the school bus run, Ahern’s Road to Conondale school in 2017. Maleny Motor Trimmers is owned by Doug’s son Brian with wife Joy.
Since those early beginnings when a family of seven cramped into a shed off Maple Street, four generations of the Watson family have grown and flourished following in the footsteps of their patriarch, the enterprising, Walter Leonard Watson.