Holden staff hurt, gutted but still proud

When car maker Holden closes its Elizabeth assembly operations next week, the remaining 900 workers will leave the South Australian plant for the last time.

Some have jobs to go to, others don't.

Some will call an end to their working life and others will gamble on opening their own business or take a chance on a move interstate or even overseas.

But they all walk away with their heads held high, knowing they produced some of Holden's highest-quality cars in the final months of the company's manufacturing life.

AAP spoke to three workers about the fateful day in 2013 when the learned of Holden's plans, what went through their minds at the time, what they've done since and what they hope to do in the future.


Surprisingly, Paul Smedley is not angry or bitter about Holden's decision to close.

Others have asked him if the federal and state governments should have done more to save the company and to save the car manufacturing industry but it's a discussion the plant quality manager chooses not to join.

That's partly for his own wellbeing.

"There's no point in being angry about it," he said.

"When the announcement was made, yes, it hurt. But I'm just moving on."

Mr Smedley has worked for Holden for the past 16 years and while he has already secured a position in the defence sector, he chose to stay to the end.

"Being in a leadership role, I wanted to be here to see the last car built," he said.

"If I left earlier it would have felt like the captain deserting the sinking ship. It didn't feel right to leave."

But that doesn't mean he didn't take the announcement to heart.

"You felt like you'd been kicked in the guts. It was horrible," Mr Smedley said.

"But people pulled themselves back together very quickly.

"At least that gave people certainty. At least we knew we had four years of employment and plenty of time to progress to something after Holden."


After 19 years with Holden, Peter Allison expected to spend the rest of his working life with the car maker.

The technical manager said the hardest part of Holden's decision was going home to tell his wife and children he was going to be out of a job.

"It was pretty tough. We had a pretty good idea what was going on but it was very nerve-racking," he said of the announcement.

"Then having to take that news home was really tough to deal with."

When he finishes next Friday, Mr Allison will relocate to Muswellbrook, NSW, to work in BHP's Mt Arthur coalmine.

His family, including his three children, will follow next year.

He said he'd been lucky to find what he believed was the right job for him to continue his career development but admits it might not be so easy for others.

Mr Allison said it could be tough for anyone wanting to stay in Adelaide's north where the job market was challenging, to say the least.

He will also miss his colleagues at Holden who he said had an incredible passion for the work they performed.

"If we're not Holden fans, we're car fans. Building cars is what we love," he said.

He also looks at his forced change of job as a life lesson for his children.

"I've come to learn it's just a part of life in Australia," he said.

"It's been a good opportunity to show my kids that if you want something in life you may have to go and chase it."


When she finishes next Friday production line worker Heather Sinclair has no job to go to.

It's a double whammy for her family because her partner also works for Holden and also faces an uncertain future.

But instead of searching for work in Adelaide, the pair will head for Queensland, hoping for a fresh start but still unsure what they will do.

Ms Sinclair said that like most of her colleagues she was initially shocked by Holden's decision to close its assembly operations.

"We'd hear the rumours but we all hoped it wouldn't happen," she said.

"When they actually made that announcement we all stood dumbfounded, hoping it wasn't actually real."

Telling her children was also "a bit scary".

"I think we hadn't really absorbed it properly to start with. It was kind of surreal," she said.

"But when we actually got that end date, that's when it got real."

Ms Sinclair has worked at the Elizabeth factory for the past 14 years but her partner is a 30-year veteran.

Their move to Queensland is partly the desire for a change and partly for health reasons because she suffers from asthma.

But she's also mindful of the just how difficult it's become to find work in the area.

"I look at all the houses going up for sale, you see this change that's happening," she said.

"I guess that's the worry in the northern suburbs about not having the employment here.

"We're all fighting for the same jobs."