The man behind the mechanic
Writer Gay Liddington met David Woolston 20 years ago when new to Maleny and seeking a mechanic. Over the years they’ve bantered about cars and family. However, it wasn’t until his recent departure from business, Range Auto Centre and subsequently, this interview, that she discovered the layers that maketh the man.
Education presents in many guises. Imagine a child of the early ‘70s on excursions with his dad looking for canoe trees around Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. Imagine the teenager accompanying his father to Stradbroke Island to share time with Kath Walker, author, artist and activist, at her property Moongalba, ‘sitting-down place’.
The youngest, with three siblings, David was born in 1963. He grew up in Aspley on the north side of Brisbane, a carefree childhood.
I fancied David followed in his father’s footsteps when taking up the wrench but was sidelined by the response:
“Dad was an optometrist. He had an interest in anthropology which began in the 1930s and continued for the rest of his life. He was highly regarded as an authority, in particular, North Queensland Aborigines.”
In 1969, Frank Woolston along with artists, Percy Trezise, Ray Crooke and Dick Roughsey, undertook a research mission to Cape York. It is obvious that David’s father had a great impact on his life as he recounts the stories with pride.
“They went on adventures in search of cave paintings and also looked for the Hell’s Gate Pass which was the shortcut to the Palmer River Goldfields.”
Blended with anthropological adventures and fascinating visitors, David continued his formal education.
“I finished Grade 10 in Brisbane but during that year, an opportunity arose to do a mechanical apprenticeship in Maleny. Mum and Dad brought me up on Saturdays so I could try it out and the owner, George Moffatt, could check me out.
“I moved here before Mum and Dad and lived at Maleny Guest House near Watson’s Garage, for $25 a week board.
“I was 16 and had to fend for myself including meals. Everything was cooked in a Sunbeam Frypan. A hunk of meat every night and, when you chuck in the frozen peas, make sure you put the lid on because I found out it’s like popping corn.”
David likened his introduction to Maleny in 1978 to The Eagles song, New Kid in Town.
“I wasn’t a local, so early in the piece when my boss wasn’t watching, I had a visit from a couple of fellas who told me to stay away from their girlfriends or watch out!”
Wilson’s Garage, later known as Koala Maleny, is now The Marketplace café in Maple Street. David recounts working for George Moffatt.
“George was a pretty hard task master. We’d fix anything from wheelchairs to bulldozers. It was a typical country garage where you had to be able to repair anything, not just replace parts like we do these days.
“I worked three years then completed the fourth at a Toyota dealership in Brisbane. I learnt a different set of skills but really missed Maleny. At the end of my apprenticeship, I came back, started doing mechanical repairs from a shed in Coral Street and fixed cars for $10 an hour. It was 1982.”
Three years later at the age of 22, David’s life took a downturn. He finished the day’s work and drove his Corolla into the street where a drunk driver’s F100 hit David’s vehicle head on. He recalls the accident:
“Injuries led me to close up shop, sell my equipment and convalesce at Mum and Dad’s place. It was back in the days when you didn’t have income protection or insurance. The payout took years to sort out.”
A couple of years healing and repairing cars from the backyard, David began again.
“The shed was the first built in Lawyer Street. It was November 1990 when I moved in and rented. Eventually, I was given an opportunity to buy the place, which I did.”
During my association with David, I heard he played drums in a band. My mechanic? Really? Another layer to explore.
“When I was a teenager, I met a couple of guys who played and we thought it a good idea to get a band together.
“Drumming gave me a hobby separate from cars. The guy I played with as a teenager, guitarist Dan McNamara, he and I still play together. We have a band, My Cat Nellie, and love doing local gigs. Our thing is playing classic rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s – a good melody and great guitar riff.
Dan’s cousin Kate became David’s wife in 2003 and the two created a blended family.
“Kate helped me with the business. I couldn’t have done it without her. She’s a people person with the bubbly personality and I’m the quiet, reserved guy. It works.”
Aware they are the proud owners of a 1955 split screen Kombi and David, like his dad, was a Holden man, I enquired.
“Kate always had a passion for old Kombis. To me, air cooled Volkswagens were evil. I didn’t want to be part of it but the split screen Kombi is a classic. I like the idea of a challenge and so, we bought it. The restoration process took several years.
“It’s a stunning car. Kate has made it her business interest while I stay in the background and keep the car on the road. ‘LoveDubs’ is hired for weddings and functions.”
Departure from business presented David with an opportunity to continue restoring classic cars and motorbikes. He mentioned his 1970 VF Valiant Coupe which signified the beginning of a collection of Valiants and adds: “Anything with a chrome bumper, not plastic!”
A down-to-earth, quiet achiever, David Woolston cites a significant aspect of his ‘retirement’. “We still have two teenagers at home. And now, I get to drive them to school and have conversations which I was never able to do. And to be here on school holidays, just to be around. That’s what’s important.”
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