Ford’s manufacturing facility in the northern Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009, making it 57 this year.
Today, the birthplace of the iconic Falcon, and the surprise-package Territory, will close its doors for good.
In 2009, the future showed promise, and the factory had even benefited from a wider $230 million investment to introduce the diesel-powered Territory and four-cylinder EcoBoost Falcon models – albeit at the expense of an earlier plan for the Focus small car to be built here.
But, while we can only guess at how successful an ‘unprofitable’ Australian-made Focus might have been, the EcoBoost Falcon hadn’t achieved any sales wonders for the company, either. By the end of 2012, the company’s legendary large car had dropped out of the top 20 sales charts. (The diesel Territory proved more compelling, luckily for Ford.)
The first Falcon rolled off the Broadmeadows assembly line in 1960, well before EcoBoost engines and the Focus were even a talking point. Th XK and its successors helped the Falcon become the longest-running continuous model line in Australia’s automotive history.
Recently, we had the opportunity to meet some of the people of the Broadmeadows facility. We wanted to hear their stories.
Expecting heartbreak, despair, uncertainty and anger, we instead encountered love and understanding for a company that has played such a major role in the lives of so many people, for so many years.
So, rather than focusing on the saddening aspects of what today represents, we’ve chosen to give Ford’s local manufacturing operation the send-off it deserves.
Note: although production at Broadmeadows has now ended, we’ve chosen not to use the past-tense in describing the roles of the people below.
Tony is a manufacturing team leader at Broadmeadows Plant 2, and has been working for the company since 1989.
At Ford, Tony is responsible for material planning and forklift drivers. Originally a hairdresser by trade, Tony decided to make a career change in the late 1980s, when he was made redundant at his previous job.
Luckily, his older brother was already working in Ford’s purchasing department, and got him a job as a storeman.
“I rang him up one day and I said ‘look, I got made redundant at my hairdressing job, so I need a job’. I thought I’d just change my career path for the short term, and 28 years later I’m still here!
“I started off in the Capri days, in 1989. When I first started, it was a bit daunting because it’s a complete career change from hairdressing.
“A highlight was when they brought back the GT Falcon, in the old BA days. I still remember picking up one of the bodies and taking them to the research centre when they were going through the development for the GT to go around Bathurst. They showed me around [the centre] – you [generally] can’t walk in there, as a rule.”
“Ford’s been great to me, it’s helped me out financially and done the right thing by me. It’s been a really great place. The people have been phenomenal to work with.
“I’ll miss the friendships I’ve made throughout the years. It’s like they’re part of your family. I’m sure I’ll keep in touch with the majority of people I leave behind.”
“I am intending to get back into mobile hairdressing, looking after the elderly, people [and kids] living with disabilities.”
“The other thing I’m going to do between haircuts, I’ve gotten into a bit of a hobby of restoring cars”.
“I’m in the middle of restoring my XA GT, and I have a few Austins as well – everybody laughs about that because they’re completely different [types] of cars.”
“My dad had an Austin A60 from brand-new I’ve kept that in the family, and I’ve got another six Austins as well; some Austin 7s, and a little 1927 Austin Butcher’s Van, so between doing haircuts I’ll tinker in the garage and play with my little hobby toys!”
Tony’s dream car would be an Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT – one of his mates just took delivery of one.
Andrew has been working at Ford for 22 years, and currently serves the role of Paint Operations maintenance supervisor at the Broadmeadows facility.
Joining the company in 1994 as a 22-year-old, he started in body repairs, before becoming a quality assurance inspector, and then working in the Body Dimensional Control Centre.
“I came to Ford thinking initially I’d be here for a year or so and then look at doing graphics at uni. One year turned into five, then turned into ten, and then so on.
“I started in body building, the metal finish area. I [then] got into panel repair, dings and dents, any imperfections that may have happened during the production process.
“I was involved with the launch of the BA Falcon and the Territory, in 2002 and 2004. I was part of the body launch team – [making sure] it’s a smooth transition from the previous model to the new model.”
“Seeing 480 to 500 cars go out the door [a day], that’s hard to comprehend. It’s a pretty amazing place.”
“For me, seeing the new model in the early stages and then seeing it come out, that’s always a highlight.
“I did a cut-away section of a car years ago that was at the front of the plant on display, like an exploded diagram basically, through the pillars and doors. I was proud to have that piece out the front of the plant.
“Another highlight was our ‘drive day’ we had at the proving ground, which is the test track down at the You Yangs. I drove a range of cars, from the Fiesta ST, then the Focus ST, G6 E Turbo, XR8, and basically drove them well.
“I was also involved with the Falcon Fanatics, it was an online commercial for [the] XR8 with Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert, down at the Avalon Airport.
“We had a [circuit] where people formed the racetrack, and Mark Winterbottom drove between us. Then we got an XR8 out and put it through its paces up and down the airstrip, so that was another good day.
“I like the G6E Turbo, good all-rounder, good performance, good features. The XR6 and XR8 Sprints, I think both are legend cars. I drive a Territory currently, and that’s a great car.
“I did my father-in law’s car, I actually put his name on the underside of the car, welded it on. I suppose it put a security mark on it.
From October 10, Andrew will move on to a new role of design studio fabricator at Ford Melbourne Design Centre, where he will work with aluminium, clay, plastic and 3D printing on prototypes for future Ford models.
Richard has been working at Ford for 46 years, and currently works as a process engineer at the Broadmeadows factory.
His father also worked at Ford, and between them they have completed over 75 years of service with the company.
When the Broadmeadows plant closes, Richard will retire from his professional career.
“I’m currently the longest-serving employee in manufacturing. I started here as an apprentice when I was 16-and-a-half, as a fitter and turner.
“I thought it was a big jungle when I came here, there was no technology in those days, people everywhere. I thought I was going to get lost the first day I walked in the place because it was so damn big.
“There’s been many highlights. I suppose working on a lot of programs like the GT F program, the Sprint program that was done not so long ago.
“The GT F was a magnificent thing. We did a lot of the work to make sure that whatever they did in FPV we brought the same processes into Broadmeadows.
“There was a guy getting the very last GT before the GT F started, and the guy that ended up buying it was one of the guys that worked in the program’s office, and it was his father’s car – he got the very last one.
“I asked if we had permission to sign that vehicle, so in the back of the deck lid, where they put the cover on, we got all the people in the FPV area to sign their names to it. That’s never been done before.
“I got a picture of everyone signing the sheet and the group of people, and then we covered it up and we didn’t tell the person that was getting the car.
“Later on when the guy got delivery of the car, after a couple of weeks he told his dad to look under the cover and he saw the whole signing and now he’s treasuring it for life.
“All the contents in my job is to turn around and take it to production and make sure production can do the job, if it needs tooling to be made or fixtures to be made so they can put those items on the vehicle, that was my job.
“Over the years I’ve met many, many people. I mean I’ll still keep in contact with a lot of them, but you’re not coming to work every day. And, when I finish, that’s going to stop.”
“I’ve gotta buy a caravan, and buy another car to tow it. Mainly the winter months we’ll get out of Melbourne and get in somewhere it’s warmer.
“I’ve got five grandkids at the moment, actually the fifth one is coming next week.
“I’m probably going to join the Men’s Shed, and get a bit of work out of that. Probably will do a bit of charity work, we haven’t decided what or where at this stage. We don’t want to do absolutely nothing.
Once he retires, Richard also plans to take some holiday time overseas and catch up on some work around the house.
A senior process coach in Plant 2, Boris has been working at Ford since 1976.
He has also performed numerous roles during his time with the company, and even took an overseas assignment to Chennai, India, where he helped establish new body construction tooling and processes.
“When I left school I wanted to undertake a mechanical apprenticeship.
“I got into Ford, applied for the job, and got into quality assurance. That further developed to where I actually had 57 inspectors working for me in the body shop at the time.
“In 1989 I was promoted to a supervisory role in quality control, so I got on a salary. I did that for another year, then I pursued process engineering into tooling and quality.
“I got into teaching for about 18 months, Kaizen methods, which were waste reduction processes. Then I became a launch coordinator on behalf of body [shop] for the new vehicles.
“Then I had a short stint in Chennai, in India. Went to set-up their body shop, tooling and processes.
“Upon returning, I looked after production parts of body shop, before I got the guernsey to go up into Plant 2 and manage that as an assembly plant. It’s been a long time.
“I was a bit shellshocked when I walked into the body shop back in 1976, and I was faced with about 700 manual operators in one shop. It was like a Victoria scenario, honestly I’ve never seen so many people at any one time.
“Diversity of people is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, because I’ve been exposed to every nationality you can think of. On one of our in-plant offices there are, I would suggest to you, 52 different national flags that we have posted on the wall.
“Now if you asked me to nominate 52 nationalities, I wouldn’t be able to. Diversity is a wonderful thing.
“I have won the President’s Award for quality imperatives. At the time, as part of the recognition of that, I met up with Allan Moffat, for whom I have built many racing cars in my time, and went around the proving ground with him in a car at some enormous speeds. It was quite a highlight.
“And you can’t take away the fact that I’ve done 40 years of service with Ford Motor Company. So that’s obviously a highlight, something that maybe in the near future nobody will be able to get there, I would assume, because the whole scenario is changing.
“Ford’s been very good at… if you’re willing, they will provide you a step so you can improve your status. They’ve provided training, progression, and so forth, throughout my 40 years of service.
“The current FG X Falcon, the quality levels and the emphasis placed on the quality in that vehicle and the design, has no equal to anything we have built in 40 years. So I reckon, FG or FG X, definitely one of my favourites.
“In the 40 years that I’ve been with Ford Motor Company obviously, secretly, there may have been a few initials that may have been welded onto the suspension towers for associates and friends and what not.
“There’s a lot of stuff we have built, I’ve built cars for the family and I’ve built cars for friends, I [gave them] a personal touch.
“I have had the privilege of coaching many young graduates that have come onto the scene. Now, you talk about funny moments and there’s this one thing that comes to mind when you ask about something funny.
“We need to tear down, physically break apart, every weld on a car to evaluate its effectiveness. Now this particular graduate came in, saw me doing that, like 3500 welds we had to pull apart, physically destroy absolutely every panel.
“Once we had done that, the graduate in particular said: ‘well what are you going to do with all of that?’ and I said ‘I’ll get the metal finishers now to straighten that up so we can stitch it back up again’, and his jaw dropped. He couldn’t believe I was actually going to join that back together and sell it to somebody.
“You can tell people that are not in the know anything you want to tell them and they’ll look at you, and almost believe the crap that you give them!
“I’ve got people [here] that I will forever hold dear in my heart. I will miss the hustle and bustle of manufacturing.
“It will take some time to get it out of your bloodstream.
“Fortunately for myself, I’m 59 years of age, I can retire. With a provision, because I have never retired before, so I don’t know how long that is going to go.
“But if I get itchy feet, potentially I’ll look for something else.”
Post-Ford, Boris plans to enjoy his early years of retirement travelling Europe, caravaning up the east coast of Australia, heading on a cruise through New Zealand, Hawaii and Bora Bora, head on a three-week drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and take on the infamous Nullarbor Plain from South Australia to Western Australia.
Suzanne has been working at Ford for 13 years, and currently serves the role of studio engineering manager at the company’s Design Centre. She and her husband have just started a family, welcoming their first child in October.
She has strong family ties with the Blue Oval, even meeting her husband Patrick while on the job.
“I did a product design engineering degree, which was a five-year course, and in the fourth year of my course you had to do a year of work.
“I had to go back to uni for my fifth year and I stayed at Ford part-time.
(My first memory of the job) “Probably going shopping with mum to buy clothes because I was going to be working in a factory. Mum was like ‘you need to have really daggy clothes because you’ll be working with all men’, and so I had these hideous jeans and this brown horrible shirt, like full shirt, it was disgusting.
“I’ve got a big family tie to Ford, my grandfather worked here for 25 years, then my brother worked here for six, my dad worked here for six months, I met my husband here, and his brother works here as well.
“I went back to uni, finished my fifth year, and then I applied for the graduate program. Most graduates would apply for a few jobs, I only applied at Ford, like all eggs one basket. I only ever wanted to work at Ford.
“A highlight of my career would probably be meeting my husband, I don’t really have a choice about saying anything else… (It should be noted here that Suzanne was joking!)
“The first car I worked on was the Territory. The very first Territory launch was when I started, and I was responsible for the liftgate. Like, that was my part.
“So I feel like that was the very first bit that I had a hand in, so that was cool. That’s probably my favourite car that I’ve worked on.
“I’m most connected to the Falcon. The Falcon is the family favourite, you know what I mean? Because we’ve had Falcons forever.
“In this current job that I’m in, and the car that we’ve just been working on – I can’t tell you what we’ve been working on – on the seat in that vehicle I pushed really hard for these couple of features. The engineering team is in China now, but my job is between the designers here, that say ‘we want it to look like this’, and then the engineers, that are mainly in China, are saying ‘you can’t do that, it’s not possible’.
“I’m in between, trying to convince them that it is possible to do what the designers want. So, on this seat for this unnamed car, for weeks, on these couple of features, I was like ‘we can do it, stop saying we can’t’.
“I feel like when that car comes out, I’m gonna be like ‘I’m so proud’, and it’s only the back of the seat!
“It sounds like such a cliché, but it really is like a family. Even today the guys that are here, I haven’t worked here for like two years, but I know these guys, I know probably 90 per cent of the people by name in the factory.
“I avoid walking through because I’ve worked in every department, the only team I don’t really know is paint and that’s where my husband works, so they see me and they’re like ‘oh hi’ and I’m like ‘I don’t know who you are (laughs)’.
“But walking through the factory takes more than an hour or longer, you want to say hi and you know them all.
“Boris is here, and Andrew, and I started working with them when I was 19, when I started. And Boris’s son started as a graduate with me, he’s just showing me photos because he moved to Perth a few years ago. We all know so much about each other.
“There’s some that I’ll keep in touch with, but not all of them. It’s weird, you’re just never going to see them again.
“And now we’re having a baby, so they’re all like ‘oh when’ and blah blah blah. It’s due on the first of October. I’ve got a year off, and then I’ll go back to my job.
“Because Patrick works here as well, we were both potentially going to lose our jobs. We had a dream that we wanted to have our own shop, so we opened our own shop in October last year and we ran it on weekends.
“It’s a café, but just coffee and cake, and furniture and artwork because we like making stuff. And we’ve got lots of creative friends that made stuff as well.
“Then Patrick found out he had a job like eight weeks ago, so we closed the shop for now because working seven days was really hard considering I’m having a baby. So we’ve decided to close and maybe we’ll open next year or something.
“There’s one guy every Christmas, he puts on his Santa suit and gets on this buggy and he drives around all the production lines like ‘ho ho ho Merry Christmas!’, like it’s just so random.
“I would say more than half of the people here don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s so multicultural, and yet he just drives it and everyone would love it every year. It’s just so funny.
Suzanne is taking a year of maternity leave to care for her new arrival, before returning to her role at Ford’s Design Centre late next year.
From all at CarAdvice, we thank the hard-working and positive people above for sharing their stories with us.
We wish Tony, Andrew, Richard, Boris, Suzanne and all of their workmates, all the very best for the future.
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