Not many people entering the workforce today could imagine themselves still in the same field six decades later, but for Mick Collins that is a reality.
After starting as a labourer as a 15-year-old, the Melton man this year celebrated 60 years working for the Victorian Railways, and now sits alone as its longest-serving employee.
He said the railways had become like a family over his time but it’s a journey that nearly didn’t happen.
“Mum and dad wanted me to go to night school to become a butcher. But I’d wag [school] so they said ‘You better get a job then’,” Mr Collins said.
“So, at 15-and-three-months I started as a labourer in the Jolimont Workshops in 1959, before moving to the North Melbourne locomotive yard in 1960.
“I worked with two fitters to start, Eric and Jimmy. They looked after me like family.”
Before he knew it, he was in the top class of 17-year-olds learning what was required to qualify him to ‘work the footplate’ – the spot on the train where the driver and fireman stood.
This was strictly for those 18 years or older, until demand for more drivers in 1960 gave keen youngsters like Mr Collins the opportunity.
He soon went on to become a qualified steam, diesel and electric locomotive driver, and has seen the industry change with the technology over several decades.
“I remember when the VLocity trains first came in and for a moment thinking ‘How am I going to do this?’,”he said.
“But the stations hadn’t moved, the lines were the same and it was just the speed that was different.
“Because you have your experience and your grounding, it’s natural. You just take notice of the changes and lock it in.”
Now 75, Mr Collins has no plans of slowing down yet.
“I’ve watched the Melbourne skyline transform from nothing in 1959, to the State Theatre appearing as a real sight to behold, and now the beautiful picture it is today,” he said.
“I like what I do. It’s been a great journey – I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”