The day we visited Petone’s Griffin’s biscuit factory to see how New Zealand’s favourite sweet treats were produced is one I’ll never forget. As I discovered to my delight, nothing beats the experience, taste and texture of a Griffin’s Swiss Creme freshly rolled, baked, filled and packed on the assembly line right in front of you.
But our visit in December 2008 was bittersweet. It was no coincidence we were there on the final day of operation for the factory after 70 years in the community – we’d come to collect the solid brass biscuit molds and ephemera the company was gifting to the Petone Settlers Museum collection, and we saw the last biscuits roll off the production line.
After being presented with the molds and learning more about Griffin’s’ proud history in the region, we donned showercaps and white lab coats and were ushered into the factory to watch Gingernuts, Swiss Cremes and Super Wines being produced from start to finish.
The carefully measured mixes were kneaded, rolled, cut, stamped and transported into the precision controlled oven. By the time it took one biscuit to pass from the beginning of the oven to the end, it would be cooked to perfection. The biscuits were cooled and sorted and the Swiss Cremes were filled, then everything was packed, sealed and boxed, awaiting shipment to hungry mouths around the country.
We witnessed the end of an era in Petone that day. Most of the people we met – some of whose families had worked at Griffin’s for generations – would not be a part of its future as the company closed its doors for the last time and moved north.
That day, not only did we receive historic items for the collection and the crispest Swiss Cremes we’d ever tasted, we gained an appreciation of how important these factories are to the communities they support. My family and many others owe a huge debt to local industry – from my grandparents who ran the last surviving Chinese laundry in the country to relatives who worked in factories producing everything from handkerchiefs to bread, right through to my brother who builds, maintains and services precision machinery at another Petone factory to this day.
Even the factory my brother works for – a worldwide company with a long history – is downsizing and one day will likely quit Petone. It’s sobering to think the only reminder of Petone’s rich industrial history may one day be an assortment of items donated to museum collections. I know many families will hope that day doesn’t come too soon.
Bev Eng, Collections Manager