The erecting shop at Hillside in October 1925, with a
variety of locomotives under construction. Photo from
Retired engineer Lex Smith (83) intends to be front and
centre in the rank and file of campaigners at the Save Hillside
public rally in the Octagon today.
Mr Smith said he was one of many Dunedin workers, who had got
their first break in the engineering industry, at the
He served his apprenticeship as a fitter at the South Dunedin
engineering outfit, before he started work as a welder and
got his first taste of being part of a trade union.
Save Hillside campaigner Lex Smith (83) is an advocate of
the South Dunedin workshops, where he learned his
engineering skills during an apprenticeship in the 1940s.
Photo by Linda Robertson.
Hillside was one of the "biggest and best" training
grounds for engineers in New Zealand, he said.
It was these skills and the training opportunities for future
generations of workers which would be put at risk by the
continued outsourcing of rail manufacturing contracts to
overseas suppliers, Mr Smith said.
"There is far more to it [this issue] then the loss of just
40 jobs," Mr Smith spent 11 years at Hillside, before he
secured employment as a chief engineer with a variety of
organisations around the lower South Island.
A meeting of Hillside workers in 1974. Photo from
He was in charge of engineering details at hospital
boards, freezing works and Lincoln University, before he
finished his career with the New Zealand Coal Research
Working at Hillside was about more than just a job, he said.
"It was like being part of a family. Everyone looked out for
When he started work at Hillside in 1941 the outfit had 1200
employees, although 11 years later when he moved into his
first chief engineer's role, the workforce had dropped to
Mr Smith recounted his experiences to a packed crowd at the
Cargill Enterprises Hall, last month, when a first public
meeting was called to help launch the Save Hillside Jobs
campaigns. If the chance arises at today's rally, Mr Smith
said he would speak up again.
"I'm always willing to stick my hand up to rally the troops,"
the former Hillside union delegate said.
While he acknowledged much of the campaign in support of
Hillside was "preaching to the converted," the challenge lay
in convincing "ordinary New Zealanders there is so much more
at stake than just workers losing their jobs".
New Zealand industry, skills, and training opportunities,
were being lost, Mr Smith said.