“Walk this way” our tour guide, Frank, says.
We were being conducted on the last public tour of the Holden factory in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth.
Frank goes ahead and we follow through the administration building.
Past rows and rows of empty desk and vacant offices we walk. Like tombstones and crypts in a cemetery, it is a visually compelling reminder that jobs at all levels and all occupations have been eliminated by Holden’s factory closure.
From the almost empty administration building we walk across a concrete road and into where cars are being made.
At least until, October 20, 2017.
The closure means the end of car making in this country, we all know that.
The reasons are many, and have been well documented elsewhere, and will continue to be dissected and used as business cases for university students to debate in years to come.
Suffice to say that there is enough blame to go round for all parties to be ashamed.
Despite the end closing in, Frank is upbeat about Holden’s future and he’s a wonderful guide.
He knows how Holdens are made, intimately, having been at the place for almost two decades, starting “on the line.”
He answers every question our group asks.
We are allowed to visit two main production areas: body building and the final assembly line.
The body building is in two stages.
First is the press shop where flat plates of metal are stamped into familiar shapes.
Then it all goes to the body shop where it is welded together by robots.
Each car goes off to be painted and then fitted with wiring and a dashboard.
On a separate line the front and rear suspension assemblies are constructed.
We rejoin the process where the fully-built dashboard is inserted into the car by a robot, via the front windscreen opening.
“We are the only car factory in the world that does it this way,” Frank says.” Everyone else puts them in through the door opening.”
And then we come to Frank’s favourite part of the operation. “It is where a car is really made.”
It is a part of the line that is no more than 20 meters long, but it is the heartbeat of a Holden.
From under the production line floor come fully built engines attached to their transmissions. They are joined to the assembled front and rear suspensions and from above the body is lowered.
A car is born.
From there, and this is someone’s new car now, the seats and trim are added.
At the end of the line the cars are driven off and given a short test, including a honk of the horn.
What is demonstrably clear to everyone on the tour is the extensive amount of technology and robotics that are applied to building a Holden and are contained within a Holden.
Frank describes it all this way: “Holden is really a technology company, applying different technologies in order to provide a product to the consumer. It just so happens to be a car.”
And suddenly the tour is over.
We walk out of the production building into bright sunlight and Frank promises us a sneak peak at a rare collection of Holden heritage.
He takes us to a conference room into which all manner of memorabilia from around the Elizabeth site is being collected and displayed.
Set out around the room is a staggering array and variety of artefacts, from the important to the mundane, including office equipment and factory tools from the last six decades, a cut-away Tr-Matic transmission that was used to train apprentices, photos, files, scale models of Holdens, moulds for emblems and badges and technical drawings. There is even price board from the cafeteria, circa 1990.
Looking at this collection it is hard not to feel sad for an era now past.
It is hard not to feel angry that it is all coming to an end, and that so many livelihoods will be impacted.
It is hard not to feel that if the politicians had played less of a blame game, had been a more visionary and shown the leadership we expect of them – the situation might have been different here in Elizabeth.