Street Machine - - Contents -

As Ford Aus­tralia winds down lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing, we talk to those most af­fected – the work­ers

BRIAN Makin is a Ford lifer. He’s spent nearly 42 years do­ing his best for the Blue Oval in Aus­tralia in a va­ri­ety of roles, start­ing with an ap­pren­tice­ship when he was just 17 years old. But when he fin­ishes with Ford, so too Ford fin­ishes as a man­u­fac­turer in Aus­tralia. How does he feel about that?

“Re­ally bad. Yeah, I uh – I get a bit choked up,” he says, be­fore tak­ing a mo­ment to com­pose him­self.

“The thing that con­cerns me is that, yes, [some] peo­ple are trans­fer­ring to other ar­eas of Ford and they’ll be suc­cess­ful,” he con­tin­ues. “But ob­vi­ously other peo­ple will leave Ford, and my con­cern is for their wel­fare and their op­por­tu­ni­ties for em­ploy­ment in the dis­trict or else­where.

“I just know the im­pact of Ford and man­u­fac­tur­ing has had on this coun­try; it will leave a big hole.”

Nowa­days Makin has a long ti­tle that es­sen­tially means he is one of the most se­nior blokes at Ford’s Gee­long man­u­fac­tur­ing site. He joined in 1975 and will exit this month, aged 59. Be­fore him, his fa­ther started at Ford Aus­tralia in 1941.

But af­ter Oc­to­ber, so much that Makin has worked for and loved won’t be there any­more. The gi­ant presses will cease stamp­ing. The en­gine blocks will no longer be cast. No more trucks will ar­rive to ship the parts up the high­way to Broad­mead­ows for assem­bly, as they have done for 56 years.

The last Fal­cons and Ter­ri­to­rys will come down the assem­bly line and then – noth­ing. Ex­cept mem­o­ries.

Twelve months from now, it won’t only be Ford de­part­ing, as Holden and Toy­ota close their plants and the au­to­mo­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try as we know it in Aus­tralia will no longer ex­ist.

“The skills we have as a coun­try are go­ing to di­min­ish,” Makin says of the im­mi­nent clo­sures. “That leaves a big hole for me, be­cause as a coun­try, we’re go­ing to re­duce our ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

Makin’s an­guish is easy to un­der­stand. As a Gee­long boy born and bred, he knows the Ford fac­to­ries have stood on the Mel­bourne road in the city’s east since early last cen­tury, sturdy ev­i­dence of Ford’s power and pres­tige and Gee­long’s vi­tal­ity as an in­dus­trial hub and em­ployer. This was the first home of Ford Aus­tralia, and where it built its first cars lo­cally.

But in­side the of­fice build­ing where we meet, there are rows of empty cu­bi­cles and am­ple ev­i­dence of an era now gone. There are posters of rac­ing Fal­cons win­ning at Bathurst. Now Ford doesn’t even spon­sor a team.

“I re­mem­ber all this of­fice area be­ing full of peo­ple. But with tech­nol­ogy and re­duced vol­umes, things have changed,” Makin muses.

“I’ve got no idea how many peo­ple have been em­ployed on this site or over­all by Ford Aus­tralia. Hun­dreds of thou­sands? They are peo­ple who may have worked here for a month and some for 40 years. It’s

[been] an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney and it’s just sup­ported so many lives along that jour­ney.”

Among them is Nick De Gior­gio, whose fa­ther worked at Ford in Gee­long be­fore him and then took his son in for an in­ter­view in 1989, five years af­ter he’d re­tired. Nick got the job as a press op­er­a­tor the next day. In a 25-year ca­reer he rose through the ranks in the stamp­ing plant to be­come a team leader.

He says the place was buzzing at its height; a heav­ing mass of char­ac­ters and cul­tures from all over the world, which all left their im­pact on him. “You’d meet a lot of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties. You’d learn more about peo­ple there than you did any­where else [in terms of] their cul­tures and all that,” he says.

“We didn’t think [the clo­sure] was go­ing to hap­pen,” he con­tin­ues. “We just thought it was go­ing to keep go­ing. We heard all the ru­mours but they never seemed to come true,” he says.

But he changed his mind when he met Bob Graziano, the Amer­i­can who ar­rived to be­come pres­i­dent of Ford Aus­tralia in 2010. “The first im­pres­sions we got from the way he spoke to us just made us think he’d come to shut us down,” De Gior­gio says.

Of course, whether that is true or not is some­thing only a few peo­ple in the higher reaches of Ford could know. But De Gior­gio doesn’t hold that against the com­pany. Mar­ried with two young kids, he took a pack­age and left in 2015 to start up his own courier busi­ness.

“All the help we needed, they gave it to us and I just utilised that to my

ad­van­tage,” De Gior­gio says. “They prob­a­bly of­fered more sup­port than they should have done, and they did it for ev­ery­one.”

Luke Mc­sev­eny has also moved on. Af­ter nine years at Ford as an en­gi­neer, he left in 2014, only months af­ter the clo­sure plan was an­nounced. He says his ca­reer high­light was be­ing part of the team re­spon­si­ble for re­in­stalling the V8 en­gine line at Gee­long af­ter the pur­chase of Ford Per­for­mance Ve­hi­cles in 2012, some 30 years af­ter the last V8s were built there.

“That was beau­ti­ful,” he smiles. “We had to cre­ate a qual­ity con­trol sys­tem us­ing noth­ing we had ever done pre­vi­ously, be­cause ev­ery­thing else be­fore was high-cost and [re­quired] me­chan­i­cal in­ter­lock­ing pro­tec­tion to avoid er­rors.

“We went from that to this one guy just build­ing his own en­gine on a trol­ley. We de­vel­oped this ipad in­ter­face so ev­ery guy got an ipad and they went through tak­ing a cou­ple of hun­dred pho­tos of ev­ery en­gine in the build process and had to tick off ev­ery con­trol.

“That was fun; build­ing a V8 is one of the nicer jobs. I’ve got one out there with my sig­na­ture on it.”

That em­pha­sis on qual­ity and in­no­va­tion is some­thing Boris Zaroje un­der­stands. He came to Broad­mead­ows with his fam­ily from Croa­tia when he was 13, joined the Broad­mead­ows assem­bly plant in the body shop in 1976, and has worked al­most all his adult life for Ford. Through a va­ri­ety of roles he has been fo­cused on the im­prove­ment of ve­hi­cle assem­bly ever since.

‘Broady’ looks to have changed lit­tle since the first XK Fal­cons rolled out in 1960. A se­ries of low, flat, white build­ings stretch across an of­ten windswept plain, bounded by the Hume High­way to the east and a rail­way line to the west. Hun­dreds of gleam­ing Fal­cons and Ter­ri­to­rys sit wait­ing for trans­porta­tion to deal­er­ships and their own­ers.

But it will soon be over, some­thing Zaroje is philo­soph­i­cal about. “On 7 Oc­to­ber, I’ll ex­ceed 40 years and four months work­ing at Ford. I leave on 14 Oc­to­ber,” he says. “If I look at the 40 years of ser­vice, that in it­self is a mile­stone. If I look at what Ford means to me, it is a whole lot. Will I con­tinue to love Ford? The an­swer is yes. Af­ter 40 years it be­comes part of you, whether you like it or not.”

Love of Ford is some­thing Suzanne Mc­conchie never had a choice in. She is one gen­er­a­tion of a fam­ily that bleeds blue and has known lit­tle else ex­cept work­ing for Ford at Broad­mead­ows. In her fam­ily there are two brands of car: Ford and Junk.

Her grand­fa­ther worked there for 25 years, her fa­ther for six months and her brother for six years. She met her hus­band Pa­trick at Ford be­cause he also worked there. He still does, as does Pa­trick’s brother.

An en­gi­neer and for­mer mem­ber of Ford’s grad­u­ate pro­gram, Mc­conchie joined the Blue Oval 13 years ago. And like Brian Makin, she has shed her tears. The day – 23 May 2013 – when Graziano called the Broad­mead­ows assem­bly plant work­force to­gether in the staff can­teen to tell them man­u­fac­tur­ing would end in three years’ time, she couldn’t hold back.

“On that day I cried a lot,” she re­calls. “I re­alised I wasn’t go­ing to achieve my goal of be­ing the first fe­male plant man­ager, be­cause that job was no longer go­ing to ex­ist. My plan for the next 10 years was gone. I was like: ‘What am I go­ing to do now and what are all these peo­ple go­ing to do now?’ I’ve of­ten won­dered about the first Mon­day af­ter they leave; they have been com­ing here for 25 or 30 years and they wake up and don’t come in.’”

Now Suzanne and Pa­trick are hav­ing their first child and he or she will be born into the Ford ways too, as both par­ents are amongst the 160 staff to move from man­u­fac­tur­ing to Ford Asia-pa­cific En­gi­neer­ing.

This is very much the sil­ver lin­ing in the dark cloud that is the clo­sure of Ford’s Aus­tralian man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tions. Come 2018, Ford will be Aus­tralia’s big­gest au­to­mo­tive em­ployer, with 1100 de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing em­ploy­ees spread across Gee­long, the You Yangs test­ing ground and at Broad­mead­ows, where the old HQ build­ing is cur­rently be­ing con­verted to of­fice space for the prod­uct de­vel­op­ment team.

“In July 2014 I got a job in prod­uct de­vel­op­ment,” Mc­conchie re­counts. “I’d worked for 11 years in man­u­fac­tur­ing, but I re­ally wanted to work in de­sign. But I wouldn’t change it; I learned so much about how to build a car. I’ve worked in sheet metal, I’ve worked in trim, I’ve worked in fi­nal, I’ve worked in qual­ity, I’ve worked in prod­uct lo­gis­tics. So now I’m mov­ing into prod­uct de­vel­op­ment with much more knowl­edge of how a car is built, ver­sus those who have only ever done it vir­tu­ally on a com­puter.”

As much as her new fu­ture ex­cites her, Mc­conchie is con­scious of the clo­sure that has to be dealt with first. Her baby is due the week be­fore, so she prob­a­bly won’t be there to watch the fi­nal Fal­con be com­pleted.

“I kind of feel re­lief that I won’t be here,” she ad­mits. “There has to be a last car – then the empti­ness. That’s just weird.”

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