This 50’s Holden Special sat splendid in the summer sun this weekend at Long Reef north of Sydney. Polished and perfect, many Australian’s would look at a car like this and feel a little heart flutter of loving nostalgia. I felt that same flutter when I saw it. How could I not stop, snap a few photos, and reflect on the history this 60 year old machine has seen.
But this weekend, as I walked around this car, admiring it, I felt something else. I felt sad. I felt sad because Holden is leaving us. Although the Holden brand will remain, and although the company itself insists it is here to stay, for the country and for the 4,000 workers employed in Holden’s manufacturing there is little illusion that Holden is leaving.
Now, I’m not a Holden guy, or even really car guy. The sadness I feel isn’t connected to some deep passion for the automobile and all that it has come to symbolise. Nor am I particularly patriotic when it comes to local manufacturing. I understand some countries have competitive advantages over others in making certain things. What I do care about, ponder, philosophise over, and why I think I am sad about the passing of Holden, is history. And in particular the ‘story’ part of history. I care for the nostalgia, the folklore, the iconography of things, of people and of countries.
To me the departure of GM Holden (and Ford who are leaving in 2016) is the end of a story. The full stop on an Australian narrative. The end of the ‘yes we can’ post war manufacturing build, The end of the Summer Surf Wagon, The end of the Australian Muscle Car, the end of manufacturer dog fights on Mount Panorama, then end of the family driving holiday. The automobile as an idea is wound deep in the fibers of our collective memory. Most obviously the story of the Holden and Ford rivalry, but also the fabled toughness of the Toyota Land-Cruiser owes plenty to it’s achievements here in Aus, and there are others.
The question is, if the machine is not made here, after being so for so long, does the narrative still hold? Will the romance carry? Can this strand of our history, that we have cared for and curated in the past, continue in the future unbroken? As I walk around the beautiful blue car, under the midday sun, I feel sad. I feel sad because I don’t think it can.