The people behind the cars
Closure of General Motors Holden at the end of 2017 marked the end of motor vehicle manufacturing in Australia and the end of an era for several communities.
A social history of Holden is the latest project of our humanities researchers, in collaboration with a team from Monash University.
The three-year study interviews former Holden employees about their working experiences for an oral history project to be housed at the National Library of Australia.
'People, Places and Promises: Social Histories of Holden in Australia', will paint a picture of Holden workers and workplace culture, and the places the factories were located.
It gleans insight from people who worked at Holden’s Adelaide and Melbourne-based factories, in Woodville, Elizabeth, Dandenong and Fisherman’s Bend, between 1945 and 2017.
Delving into their memories will unearth the remarkable history of the company and its workers, putting them and their community at the centre of the story.
Holden was one of South Australia’s largest private employers and a linchpin of the state’s manufacturing sector, according to lead researcher Associate Professor Paul Sendziuk.
“Holden’s final factory closure evoked grave concern for its workers and the hundreds of smaller component manufacturers and local businesses that figuratively and literally fed its factory and workforce,” he says.
“The role that workers and working-class communities played in Holden’s business warrants thorough investigation, as does the effectiveness of the company’s attempts to help its workforce transition to new jobs.”
One of the interviewees, Stewart Underwood, started at Holden at 16, working at its Woodville and Elizabeth plants for more than 40 years.
He had emigrated from England and joined a cosmopolitan workforce that included British, Greek, Italian and Polish migrants, both men and women.
“We worked hard but had a good time too. We were proud of the cars we built, even at the end. Holden’s last Australian car was its best,” he says.
General Motors Holden, the National Library of Australia, the National Motor Museum and Australia Research Council are supporting the project.
Professor Jennifer Clark
Head of School - Humanities
School of Humanities
Faculty of Arts