Saturday 17th Nov, 2018

THE GRILL: Keith Wilks

Photo: Ian Ackerman
Photo: Ian Ackerman

What does your current role entail?
As the executive manager operations and infrastructure, I have a very diverse role. I manage a team of 54, which delivers port operations and infrastructure services.

On the operations side, we manage and maintain the port’s shipping channel through 24/7 vessel scheduling, hydrographic survey and maintenance dredging. We also manage eight common user berths which service a diverse range of non-coal trades. Our wharf officers assist with the safe berthing of and play a critical role in environmental and security compliance. Our Cargo logistics area closely coordinates marine and landside activities to achieve the most efficient cargo operations.

On the infrastructure side, we maintain a diverse portfolio of assets including 792 hectares of land. We also build new infrastructure to ensure the port is positioned for growth and future trade. The infrastructure team provides engineering, project management, maintenance supervision and procurement services.

What prompted you to choose a career at sea?
At the start, I think it was bit of idealism and escapism. But the marine industry gets in your blood and it becomes a passion. I enjoyed my time at sea.

I sailed both internationally and on the Australian coast with both ANL and ASP Ship Management. I experienced different types of vessels including containers, Ro/Ro, passenger ferry, crude and product tankers. My favourite class of vessel was self-discharging bulk carriers sailing around the coast. While they were not very glamorous, the hard work meant there was great comradery. The hands-on cargo handling also helped in my transition to a port role.

What brought you into shore-based roles?
I wanted to be involved in the commercial world. Having the ability to mesh together an interest in business and the marine industry through a shore based management role has been very rewarding. When it comes to ports, the ship is only one element of the equation. What makes port operations so interesting is the diversity of elements to get the cargo across the land-sea interface.

What are some career highlights?
Rounding both capes and seeing ice bergs on an Australia/Europe round trip; sailing the Suez Canal; working on the first Spirit of Tasmania; transitioning to a shore based role; supporting the Pasha Bulker salvage as the local Svitzer port manager; and helping the Port of Newcastle transition to a private commercial port operator.

What was your very first job?
My first job was as a deck cadet for ANL. My first ship was the Australian Venture, an ANL container ship.

If you were able to name a vessel, what would it be and why?
To name a vessel I think you need to pick a theme and carry that theme throughout your fleet. The cruise brands and tug operators tend do this very well. Traditionally in Newcastle, vessels involved in the port have been named after people who have heavily influenced the port and its development.

What’s your favourite cuisine or meal?
At the moment I am rediscovering the joy of Italian cuisine. But at home I cannot go past the classic pork roast.

Do you have any hobbies?
Saturday morning park run – I am a recent convert to running.

What’s the best thing about living and working in Newcastle?
You can have it all. You are no more than 45 minutes away from everything. A city lifestyle, great beaches, Hunter Valley vineyards, Port Stephens and Lake Macquarie.

What’s an ideal holiday for you?
My current ideal family holiday is cruising. We recently did a 14 day New Zealand cruise which was great. Other cruises I would like to do include Sydney to Singapore via the Great Barrier Reef, and the Western Mediterranean.

Are there any social issues you feel strongly about?
To be part of something bigger. To have a thriving community you need employment and the port plays an important role in that.

If you or someone you know would like to be a future subject of The Grill, please email

From the print edition March 23, 2017

Send this to friend