Finding Closure - The End Of Tonsley Park
7 May 2008
The end of manufacturing at Mitsubishi's Tonsley Park plant in South Australia meant the loss of 930 jobs. John Carey uncovers exactly what went wrong, and meets the workers preparing for an uncertain future.
Bec Durbidge isn’t crying now. She’s wiped the tears from her cheeks, but her face still wears sorrow’s signature. The closure of the place at which she’s worked for most of the past 12 years is about to become very, very real. The last car body ever to pass through Tonsley Park’s paint shop will soon arrive. When the Mitsubishi 380 has been sprayed with its coat of platinum silver by Durbidge and the other paint shop workers, that’s it.
The end of a car factory doesn’t happen suddenly, bang, just like that. Instead, closure moves through the place slowly, like a creeping, deadly disease, with activity closing down in exactly the same order that a car is built up.
Already the giant $25 million press, bought specifically to stamp the Mitsubishi 380’s one-piece body side, has ceased its foundation-shaking thump. Yesterday sparks flew from robot welders for the final time, as the last body was built. Over the next 10 days or so, vehicle-assembly group workers will have their turns, as the last 380 made spends seven minutes at each of the production line’s 152 stations. After that, the last car will be given its bill of health by the small crew working in the final check area. Today, though, it’s Bec Durbidge and the paint shop people watching the car on which their jobs depended disappear.
Wearing the paint-shop worker uniform of baggy, blue, anti-static overalls, the 30-year-old is every bit as much a product of the Adelaide factory as any of the 1.5 million-plus cars made here since it was constructed back in the 1960s. Her parents only met because they both worked at the plant, back in the days when Chrysler was the name on the sign beside the gate.
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