Nola Larkin - Flinders Ports
HR & Risk Support Officer
When I finished Year 12 in 1995 I was really unsure of what career I wanted to pursue. I didn't necessarily want to work on the wharf but my father worked there and when an opportunity came up I put my name down. I was called for an interview and before I knew it I had started my traineeship at the age of 17.
The traineeship lasted two years and was great in that it trained us in pretty much all areas of operation from containers coming in to the more clerical operation of the wharf. I was a P Plater when I first started so my first bit of training of all things was to drive a manual car before starting on a small forklift. From the small forklift I progressed to heavy forklift to straddle carrier.
What I liked about working in the port was the mixture of activities, as well as lashing containers on ships, which is great at keeping you fit by the way. I probably drove a Straddle Carrier every day for 5 years. I then moved into areas around the import and export of cars into Port Adelaide, before taking a more clerical role in later years and later becoming a grade 6 yard equipment controller.
I certainly think I've had many career highlights throughout the years. Probably finishing my traineeship, achieving all my licenses and qualifications, working on the wharf for 17 years is itself an achievement. I was especially proud of becoming a Grade 6 Equipment Controller, which is probably the top of the clerical rung.
When I started my traineeship I was the only female out us 8 trainees, they had just finished installing female toilets in the lunch rooms before I started. Due to the historical perceptions of I suppose all manual labour, the port did not have a high percentage of female employees. Sometimes you do feel you have to prove yourself twice over but at the same time you got to have a tough skin, and this will get you far. While many years ago it could certainly have been labelled a boys club, the culture has changed, young entrants are more aware of cultural and personal sensitivities than those that may have been employed 20 years ago. Back then the culture was you did not dob on your colleagues but it was important for people to know there is a line that should not be crossed as I'm sure existed in all lines of work.
Working at the port I used to get many surprised looks when I told people I was a Straddle Carrier operator. I'd go into the shops in my steel cap boots and people would ask what it was I did. I would say I work on the wharf and they would respond with but you're not big enough or have tattoos! I definitely found it funny how people would react.
If I was to offer advice to someone who wanted to follow in my footsteps I'd say just go for it, work your hardest and just relax at the end of the day. There may be some people who don't believe women should work on the wharf, though the vast majority would disagree with this assumption, don't get caught up in the politics. At the end of the day there are a lot of people who are willing to support you. As a woman you may have to prove yourself more than anyone so make sure you are willing to give everything a go and don't back down from any challenge.
Due to the operating shifts of the wharf, the wharf may not be the most family friendly option for young families. I did take some time off to raise my children. When a position opened up in the head office I was only too happy to apply considering my well rounded knowledge of the business and am certainly excited about the opportunities that will come from this line of work. Though after 17 years on the wharf I must say I do miss the daily excitement and the drama from there.