Pukeuri workers remember early days for women at plant

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Sisters Margaret McKenzie and Joyce McDougall are looking forward to the centenary celebrations of the Alliance Pukeuri plant at the end of the month.

Both were among the first women to be employed in the plant back in the 1970s. Mrs McDougall, 90 next month, was 51 when she started working at the plant in 1974 on the tables at the end of the chain.

“Women had started the year before but it was still fairly new,” Mrs McDougall recalled yesterday.

“Some of the men didn’t like women being there, but in the end, they enjoyed it.

“The thing that hits you first is the smell and noise but it’s like a big family once you’re there.”

In 1977, Mrs McDougall’s sister Margaret joined the workforce at the plant and they often they worked alongside one another.

“She had to do what I said,” Mrs McDougall joked.

Mrs McKenzie said the desire to earn some extra money was her incentive to start working at the plant.

“In 1977, our oldest son was getting married in Australia. I thought to go there and take my daughter, I’d need to get money.

“Garth came home one night and said, ‘right, you’re starting at the works tomorrow.'”

Mrs McKenzie’s husband Garth was employed in beef smallgoods at the plant.

“The first day was a real eye-opener. It was the smell that got you first, and working so close to one another.”

However, Mrs McKenzie persevered and came back the next season. In the end, she stayed for 17 years, retiring aged 65 in 1994.

Mrs McDougall remained at the plant for 10 years, retiring in 1984. Her late husband, Colin, had worked in the plant office. All three sons have also worked at Pukeuri – one is now an economics lecturer in China, another an artist and former political scientist. One son is still at the plant, as is a grandson and a great granddaughter.

Mr McKenzie, 87, had two stints at Puekuri – the first after he came out of the air force at the end of World War 2 when he worked in the freezing chambers, and then for 17 years in the beef smallgoods, until he retired at 60.

“You’ve got to be able to take a bit of flak at times,” he said, “but I enjoyed my days there”.

Mrs McKenzie has an album of photographs from her time at the plant, which has on the front, ‘My Happy Days at Pukeuri”.

Both her and Mrs McDougall said they ended up being treated as ‘mums’ by some of the younger workers.

“It gives you a broader outlook on life, working there,” Mrs McKenzie said.

A week of celebrations

A reunion for past and present Pukeuri employees will start the week-long centenary celebrations for Alliance Pukeuri on Friday, February 28.

A centenary dinner and book launch will be held on Saturday, March 1.

Centenary entrance gates will be officially opened on Wednesday, March 5, while an exhibition of the Pukeuri plant history will be held at the North Otago Museum.

A centenary golf tournament on Sunday, March 9, will close the week-long event.

By CHRIS TOBIN