Thursday, August 11, 2016

Onns motoring into retirement

The Onns making news in this week's
issue of the Derwent Valley Gazette.
AFTER nearly four decades in the fuel business, Richard and Janet Onn have sold their well-known petrol station on the corner of Burnett St and Pioneer Avenue.

For most of that time the station operated under the BP banner until the Onns leased the site to cut-price operator Liberty Oil in 2003 and spent the next eight years running a successful tourism business. The United Petroleum brand was adopted when Mr and Mrs Onn resumed the running of the petrol station in 2012.

The business was transferred to new owners early last week and Mr Onn noted that the price at the petrol pump had dropped already. The new owner has other sites in Howrah and Sandy Bay and in partnership with United Petroleum would be able to match anybody’s petrol price, Mr Onn said. “This will be a great benefit for the local community,” he said.

The Tasman Bridge disaster of 1975 played a role in Mr and Mrs Onn relocating from Bellerive to New Norfolk. Mr Onn was the foreman for Warwick Motors, the well-known Nissan-Datsun dealer of the time, with a large team under his direction. With the Tasman Bridge out of action, the company established a small depot on the Eastern Shore, from where Mr Onn could look after the Datsun clients on that side of the river. But it wasn’t the same and before long Mr Onn started looking about for a business of his own.

New Norfolk’s BP service station was available and the couple took over the lease in October 1976. They eventually bought the business around 1980. At that stage New Norfolk was still very well served by seven full-service petrol stations. BP, Golden Fleece and Caltex all had Burnett St frontages, Ampol was on the corner of High and Stephen streets and Alvin Eiszele ran a Shell station in Humphrey St. Across the river, on Hamilton Rd, there was a Mobil opposite the bridge and the Shell Eagle on the corner of Back River Rd.

Like those throughout Tasmania, New Norfolk’s petrol stations operated on the roster system which meant closing at noon on Saturday and not reopening until Monday morning unless you were “on roster”. “It was all about service in those days,” Mr Onn said. “Checking tyres, oil and water, cleaning windscreens and identifying any little problems early on,” he said.

The Onns won several awards for operating the best service station in their category and always prided themselves in having one of the cleanest sites around. While still establishing themselves in the business, the couple enjoyed strong support from customers from the Hydro villages. “They would come into town and fill up on everything, fuel and food, and some of those same people still come in now,” Mr Onn said.

Those early customers might also have been drawn in by the big corporate promotions of the day, including the Smurf figurines sold exclusively via BP petrol stations. “Kids would come from everywhere for the Smurfs, it was a magnificent product,” Mr Onn said. That promotion also required Mr Onn to do duty in a Smurf costume, walking up and down High St. “We also had watches, silver-plated and gold-plated, for $3.99 and $4.99. We sold hundreds of them,” he said.

Mr and Mrs Onn were surprised to learn
how many New Norfolk people were
members of the RACT.
More recently, the promotion offering discount fuel to RACT members had also been very successful. Despite the increased custom generated by the RACT partnership, Mr and Mrs Onn and their staff continued to offer driveway service and always had time for a chat. “A great part of our clientele would be wanting a bit of conversation — some would stay for half an hour or so,” Mr Onn said.

Under its new owners the service station will have extended hours from 6am-6pm. Casual staff will stay on and Derwent Valley Auto Repairs will continue to do business from the property.

Richard and Janet Onn have no plans to leave New Norfolk and having raised their two sons here, will now have more time to spend with their grandchildren. Janet will still be heard as a volunteer announcer on community radio station Tyga-FM.

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