Death Of Holden

I was looking forward to reviewing The Death Of Holden

I have many fond memories of my own family’s Holden. It looked like this except the body was metallic silver:


We went everywhere in that car – family holidays, drive in movies (remember those?), cricket on Saturday mornings, church on Sundays, visiting our grandparents. Three of us in the front and three in the back. It was one of the few cars big enough for a family of 6. And then later in life, I learnt to drive in “the Premier” and drove it around until I got my own car………

Ahh, but you see………I am doing it…….I am getting sentimental. I am emotionally invested.

Globalisation knows no emotion!

“The Death of Holden: The end of an Australian dream” will appeal to you if you:

  1. are South Australian;
  2. voted for Nick Xenophon in the last Federal election; or
  3. enjoy a good rant!

The author grew up near the GM Holden plant at Elizabeth in South Australia and that has no doubt influenced his views. Not that there is anything wrong with that! One has to have a keen interest in a topic to write a non-fiction book. Royce has certainly done a lot of research, but I think he might have got a bit carried away. I heard him on Adelaide radio (yes, here at Duffy we go all out to give you the words behind the words) explaining that he wanted to “capture the moment”. As a history-lover myself, I get that. But the author gets into a bit of a spiralling death roll…….and delves into pretty much everything else that has closed down in or around South Australia over the last 50 years……

Royce is not the only South Australian who has this tendency. My message to South Australia: GET OVER IT!

The author takes us into the lives of people who have (and who haven’t) worked for Holden over the years. Don Ellis worked for Holden for 27 years and retired in 1983 just before automation kicked in. Nick Pettina began as an apprentice fitter and turner and as technology enabled Holden to make things more efficient, he began fixing and maintaining the robots on the assembly line before he got out retrained himself to work in the aged care industry. Steel Nugent was “The Canteen Guy” at the Elizabeth plant. Nathan Rout-Pitt has a PhD in genetics research, has never worked for Holden but presumably qualifies because he lives in South Australia. He has found it tough to find work in his field since the government cut research funding in 2014.

Of the people who have worked for Holden (and possibly who haven’t worked for Holden, but live in South Australia) the author writes:

“They were men and women of substance. They woke up each morning, slid into their car and went into work where they did their jobs. Every day, without question. They earned their living, took care of their families as best they could and contributed to something bigger than themselves. At the end of the day, they had something to show for their labour. The plant was their place and there they mattered.”

Mmmm. Couldn’t you say this about anyone who has to go to work every day? Don’t we all have to deal with change?

Even at Holden, people like Nick Pettina had to embrace new technology. In its relatively short life, the technological changes at Holden were transformational. The author quotes Nick himself:

“We used to have tours of people that would come through and you would show them around the plant. And by the time they would walk out, they would go, wow, I didn’t realised there was so much involved in building a car. I didn’t realise it was so high tech.”

But the transformations which came were never going to be big enough to save Holden. Perhaps the most telling statistic in the book for me is that in the year 2013 when Holden announced its closure, China made a little over 18 million vehicles. Australia made 210,538……..

I was looking forward to reviewing this book because, not unreasonably I don’t think, I wanted to learn more about Holden before it, um……died. But Holden is only half the story of this book. The author also highlights the closure of Mitsubishi, Toyota and Ford, the travails of the naval boat building projects in South Australia, Alinta’s closure of its coal mine at Leigh Creek, the Royal Commission into a nuclear industry for South Australia, working for the dole and then in a chapter entitled “This is not a Complete List”, he lists 20 other employers who have cut staff in South Australia since 2014.

Then he ventures over the border into Victoria to maintain the rage against the closure of Alcoa’s Port Henry aluminium smelter in Geelong. The “little guy” profiles continue. My favourite is about a guy called “Abs”. Abs lives in Broadmeadows, home of the old Ford factory. He is 22 and from what I can see, his only connection with Holden is that he drives a beat up old Ford Laser. The author says:

“If the Ford factory were still hiring, he’d be there tomorrow, Abs says. He’s not big on Ford but he loves cars and he’d heard the plant paid well. A job making cars would be better than what he’s been doing the past few years and maybe he could have started an apprenticeship so he’d know a trade. It would have made for a better life than eking out an existence working cash in hand in the residential construction industry wasting time with bosses who exchange broken promises for an honest day’s labour. It would have been a path towards joining in the shares prosperity that has so far defined Australian life.”

So I was wondering how interviewing a young guy who says he might have worked for Ford (although he reckons he doesn’t like Fords) IF they were still around, makes any particular point…….but Abs says he might do a mechanics course and work for himself. And if I was to take a positive message out of this book, I think the message for young people today would be (and these are my own words…..because Royce gets himself into a bit of a funk): Get educated. Get trained. Keep learning. Be nimble. Think smart. Embrace change. Dream. Work out what you are good at and do it. Do it as best you can, but accept that you may have to do something different in the future and you might have to do it somewhere else. If you get a PhD in genetics research and live somewhere outside Adelaide, unfortunately it is very likely that you will eventually have to move to get work in that field.

But the other message is: Don’t forget the little guy. Some people really struggle with change through no fault of their own. Royce quotes an app developer towards the back of the book: “Guys popping rivets on cars and driving trucks aren’t going to be working in start-ups. They don’t even have the networks to get those jobs.” Personally I don’t think it is impossible, but I see how it could be difficult.

Globalisation and disruption are taking us on a journey. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all fit in the car……….and wouldn’t it be great if it was a Holden……like the Monaro on the cover…….there I go again………


Any Holden or car nut should have a read of The Death Of Holden. Buy from Booktopia now!