Stepping back into the shed: Westfield Freezing Works, 1916-1989

"Westfield workers turned a place which was often physically strenuous, monotonous, hot, cold, bloody and smelly work, into a workplace of whānau, camaraderie and whanaungatanga."
- Ross Webb, “Your Livelihood is on the Line” Freezing workers in Aotearoa New Zealand, 1973-1994. University of Auckland, 2015.

For many workers in the meatworks industry one of the main things they enjoyed is the sense of working as part of a large family. This was very much the case at the four large meatworks in the Westfield area of Auckland, R. & W. Hellaby, AFFCO (Southdown), Auckland City Abattoirs and Westfield Freezing Company. Eunice Te Rangiuaia refers to this in her interview about her time working in the cannery at Westfield Freezing Company.

Eunice Te Rangiuaia – Games and the cannery

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The ‘Stepping back into the shed’ exhibition was held between October and November 2019 at Māngere Arts Centre - Ngā Tohu o Uenuku. It celebrated the people, place and community of Westfield and acknowledged the closure of the Westfield Freezing Company 30 years ago in 1989 and the closure of the Westfield train station two years ago.

Whites Aviation. Aerial photograph of Westfield Freezing Works, including the factory of Fletcher Building Ltd. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS-1803-00824.

With the concurrent closures of the other meatworks and local manufacturing industries during the late 1970s and 1980s the landscape now gives no clues to the industry which employed over 5000 workers at the peak of the season. With the exception of the Auckland Meat Processors, which still operates on the former Auckland City Abattoir site, most other evidence of this huge industry has disappeared.

One remaining, is this sculpture with two plaques on the corner of Vestry Drive and Great South Road, Ōtāhuhu.

Image courtesy of Sharon Smith, 13 Nov 2019.

The sculpture takes the form of a ‘meathook’and contains the original foundation stone laid by The Right Hon. W.F. Massey PC in 1916, and the foundation stone for the Westfield Park Business Estate, officially opened by the Prime Minister The Right Hon. James B. Bolger, 10 March 1995.

Another reminder of this industry is the Westfield Freezing Company archive donated by Michael Sanders in 2014. Michael Sanders, former General Manager at Westfield Freezing Company – rescued their business archive from site just before demolition. He donated the archive to Auckland Libraries in 2014.  It contains business registers, ephemera, and objects such as advertising signs, with photographic material making up the bulk. As such, it lent itself to being displayed as a photographic exhibition, with the voices of the community providing context and heart.

Malcolm (Rae) Rankin - Four meatworks

The description of the area by Rae Rankin helps us to envisage what the area used to look like in the 1940s.

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Max Beesley - Stock trains at Ōtāhuhu railyards

Former Southdown work Max Beesley describes the all important Ōtāhuhu Railway yards, where the stock arrived from farms, and were taken into the respective works.

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David Lange - Workers in 'Otahu'

Former Labour Prime Minister and Ōtāhuhu local, David Lange paints a picture of the neighbourhood where he grew up. He worked at the Westfield Freezing Company as a student.

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Aneta Jean Hart - Moving to Auckland for work

The meatworks formed the backbone of employment for workers from neighbouring suburbs. It also was a key employer of Māori who moved to Auckland for work during the ‘urban drift’ in the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s.

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Sammy Saluni - First shift and the uniforms at Hellabys

People from Britain, Europe and throughout the Pacific migrated to Aotearoa and many settled in Auckland and took up employment in the industry.

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Bill Daniels - The beef chain and the fellmongery

Lots of people worked at Westfield Freezing Works as students during the summer holidays. Bill Daniels has some tales to tell.

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Bill Daniels - Unions and Lord Vestey

And we cannot finish without the mention of the important role that the unions played in the industry.

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The exhibition acknowledged the placemaking legacy of Westfield in Auckland through social and industrial histories. Thanks to the Māngere Ōtāhuhu Local Board and the staff at the Māngere Arts Centre - Ngā Tohu o Uenuku, the exhibition was held in the south, where this history was made.

Author: Sharon Smith, Heritage Collections


  1. I really like what you have don here I have memories of going to the butcher shop out the front of the westfeild works meat was cheap one of my best mates grandfather was a laboratory technician there we sat down 1 day and he showed me some of the recipes that were used for ham and bacon although he passed away many years ago to my knowledge the family still hold these recipes

  2. Glad to find this site. I worked on the roofs in the area recently and I saw old factories that are still there although sitting empty. Makes me wonder of the times past and the people that use to work in these places

  3. I used to work on the beef chain in 1986, kind of miss the job, everyone had their job to do, a team of 600-800 workers, been unemployed for the past 5 years now, anyway all the best to the workers who are out there.

  4. I wandered the Boiler room and electrical storerooms as a teenager during the demolition of Westfield freezing works in the 90's. Managed to keep a blueprint plan showing the complete layout, some buildings dating to the 1920's were on plan. Saw the model trains and works layout in the main offices too. Amazing to see.
    I remember the soap factory although it was a car wreckers and was demolished soon after. Great memories as a kid exploring our industrial backyard.

  5. I am the only one in my whole family that never worked at the Abbie's as they used to call it.
    Walked the floors at 5 years old in the early 80s.
    Used to drop mum off to the Abbie's and carry on to Industrial Waste / Waste Care as it is today where dad worked. Only across the road from where he used to work in Hellabys. Some fond memories of the Abbie's though. Remember getting paid a lot of money from all the butchers just for being there in the canteen party 🤣 Meat was cheap from their own butcher shop. Scotch fillet steaks were the rage. I miss those days.


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