Bendigo family business Doherty's Garage to close after more than 60 years

The mechanic shop at 7-9 St Andrews Avenue, in the heart of the Bendigo CBD, is a red-brick island in a sea of parking bays and office buildings. 

It could not be more different to the thoroughfare on which Alf and Dorothy Doherty built their garage in 1954, when cattle trucks would line the street and corner pubs still stood proudly nearby. 

Unlike the changing skyline, the Doherty family have been a constant in this neighbourhood, with one of the couple’s five sons, Howard, still operating the shop today. 

But with both parents having passed away, and with Howard nearing retirement, Doherty’s Garage is about to go on the market.

It is the end of an era for the family. All five of Alf and Dos’ sons became mechanics, learning tricks of the trade from their fastidious father.  

“He had one standard, and that was perfection,” Howard, 62, said.

His brother, 56-year-old Cliff, agreed. 

“He always drummed into our heads that if you do the job right, [the customer] will come back,” he said. 

Alf’s overalls were as clean on Friday night as they had been on Monday morning, the brothers remembered. 

The patriarch’s reputation meant people travelled from as far away as Geelong and Swan Hill to have their wheels straightened and balanced, jobs for which the garage was especially renowned. 

The business now services third-generation customers, people the brothers will miss when the doors close in December.

“It’s been here a long time, been here since before I was born,” Cliff said.

“There’s a lot of history.”

A lot had changed in the car trade since Howard first cut his teeth here as an apprentice mechanic, including the price of a service. 

Original signs from the building’s facade, items Cliff keeps in his shed at home, advertised wheel alignment for just $9. The same process would cost a customer $50 today.   

The world had also become a “throwaway society”, Howard lamented, with car parts replaced instead of mended. 

It was diagnosing and fixing a car problem he would miss most when he hung up his tools for the final time. 

But like the Doherty’s presence in Bendigo, some things stayed the same. 

An original wireless is still attached to the wall of the garage. Howard still uses some of the same wheel alignment tools he cleaned for his dad decades ago. 

The sixty years of cars to pass through the family garage were also a source of fond memories: a Raywood man’s 1926 Bentley, the bulging body of an FE Holiden, the Chevy Nova that rolled out of the shop on Monday morning. 

Memories of the men’s parents would also live on after a sale was finalised. 

“They were together all the time,” Cliff remembered. 

“I never saw them fight.

“They worked bloody hard to provide for seven kids.”

Second shot at acquisition 

LOOKING AHEAD: Cliff, Howard and Robert Doherty will part with the family garage business later in the year. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

LOOKING AHEAD: Cliff, Howard and Robert Doherty will part with the family garage business later in the year. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

If the City of Greater Bendigo buys Doherty’s Garage, as the building’s owners believe could occur, it will not be the first time a local government has tried to acquire the site.  

Cliff Doherty remembered council planners in decades past telling his father, Alf, they wanted to acquire the property. But the family elder delivered planners a stern refusal.

“[He said], ‘Maybe it’s time you picked up your clipboards and used the door for the last time’,” Mr Doherty recalled with a smile. 

But he was comfortable with the council again showing interest; its municipal headquarters were just a stone’s throw from the garage.   

“I think council are probably the one’s for whom it would be most beneficial if they did acquire it.”

The last car will roll out of the garage in December.