Hillside worker from first day to last

By Rosie Manins

Roger Parsons removes his work boots for the last time yesterday. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery
Roger Parsons removes his work boots for the last time yesterday. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery

Marking 50 years of work at the Hillside foundry, Roger Parsons yesterday poured the last KiwiRail cast on site before heading to his local for a beer.

The 65-year-old started as a Hillside moulding apprentice on February 7, 1963, aged 15.

He took redundancy when KiwiRail announced its partial closure of the South Dunedin workshops last year and finished yesterday; the last day the foundry was operated by KiwiRail.

"From here on, it will be Bradken's foundry," Mr Parsons said.

KiwiRail recognised his 50 year's service four working days ahead of the anniversary, taking into account Mr Parsons' accumulated holiday leave.

He was given a replica New Zealand DX class locomotive, framed 50-year service certificate, $500 Mitre 10 voucher and a redundancy package.

Mr Parsons remembered what his first fortnightly pay of GBP11 was spent on.

As an apprentice, he walked home with a worker nicknamed "Unc Johnson", who usually waved him off at the end of Forfar St. But pay day was different.

"I went to head home and he said 'where are you going?'.

"He took me to the pub for a jug of beer and told me I had better buy a bottle to take home to my dad, which I did.

"Dad went berserk, which he should've I guess, because I was just 15 years old and the drinking age was 21."

It was on his father's instruction he became an apprentice, although no other immediate family members worked at Hillside.

"We had a farm and my dad told me he didn't care what I did, as long as I did an apprenticeship. After that, it was up to me, and I just stayed here."

"I can honestly say I have never gotten up in the morning and said 'I didn't want to go to work'," Mr Parsons said.

He would miss the people at Hillside and said it would feel strange to not routinely enter the workshops.

Mr Parsons had seen many workers come and go and had survived mass redundancies, during which he had applied for his job four times.

The most challenging and exciting project was casting three massive turbines for the Huntly Power Station in the early 1990s.

"We had to cast underground because the turbines were so big, each weighing about 20 tonnes.

"Pouring 10 tonnes of molten metal at a time through ceramic tubing under your feet was pretty exciting."

Mr Parsons also enjoyed helping Hillside apprentices and said it was sad the institution had come to an end.

Now retired, he planned to buy a metal detector and spend some time "in the hills", when not fishing or playing golf and darts.

"I don't think I'll be bored," he said.

- Otago Daily Times

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