ONLY a select few people can say they've had the same employer for 50 years, but now, Frederickton's Susan "Gai" McDonald can count herself among their ranks.
Since she first clocked on at the Smithtown Nestlé Factory in 1971 at the age of 16, she has held a few different roles, but she still fondly recalls her first job with the company.
"At 16 years of age, I worked in the Canister Room where we made the cans; I worked on the machine that melded the lid to the tin and put the foil on," she said.
"That was my favourite job; we worked hard, it was a lot of manual labour in those days making the cans from scratch.
"I enjoyed my work there until we stopped making the cans here at Smithtown."
Gai has watched the factory grow and evolve for five decades, and can recall when the old office had a tea lady, a phone exchange with a maze of cords and plugs, and when the measurement units were changed from pounds and ounces to kilograms and grams.
Some of the most significant changes though, came with a shift in societal norms.
"In the old canteen, the boys sat on one side, and the girls sat on the other," Gai said.
"Back in those days when a woman got married, society expected that they would leave their job, then some women decided to challenge that and continued working after marriage until it became the norm.
"It took a long time for expectations to shift, but I'm thrilled to see more and more women joining the Smithtown team."
Some of Gai's best memories though, are of the small things, a coffee and a chat with a colleague, watching the mountains to the west, and of course, some good natured sporting contests.
"I remember the good times everyone had at the inter factory sports weekends where other Nestlé factories such as Gympie and Smithtown would compete in all sorts of sports like Golf, Footy, Netball," she said.
"I used to catch the school bus to and from work. Not long after I started working here we had a flood and the bus driver let us out at Second Lane in Kempsey because the bus couldn't get through the flood water.
"I had to walk home along the railway lines to Frederickton."
Gai's milestone is something to celebrate, but she says there are plenty of others at the factory worth noting as well.
"My brother Gordon worked here for 47 years and my best friend June worked here beside me for 46 years," she said.
"Nestlé has been operating at Smithtown since 1921, taking over a milk processing plant that first opened in 1896.
"The team were due to celebrate the centenary this year but unfortunately COVID has put a hold on our celebrations for now, but hopefully we can do something in the near future."
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