PORT officer Ruby Peterlin is the youngest member of the Port Authority of NSW team in Port Kembla. When she looks back on the past few years of her life, it’s a rapid progression from high-school graduate to port authority trainee to her now-permanent role as a port officer. She studied through the thick of covid, and she’s earned maritime qualifications and a place on the pilot boats as a deckhand.

“I’m just helping with the transfer of pilots and making pilotage and shipping happen within Port Kembla,” Ms Peterlin said.

“My role as port officer is just working as a deckhand on out boats and doing other bits and pieces – little duties around the harbour such as approving permits and checking our navigation lights at night. I do a bit of maintenance on our emergency response equipment, making sure that it’s all ready to use and in good condition.”

To put this into perspective, Ms Peterlin is 20 years old. In 2022 she received the Young Achievement Award at the DCN Australian Shipping and Maritime Industry Awards. As a young First Nations woman thriving in a challenging industry, Ms Peterlin was commended for her enthusiasm for maritime, her extraordinary attributes and for paving the way for women, Indigenous Australians and the younger generation.


Ms Peterlin was exposed to the workings of Port Kembla through her father, who was once also a port officer for Port Authority of NSW and is naturally thrilled with her career choice. Ms Peterlin can’t imagine not working near the water, and learned early on that she doesn’t belong behind a desk.

“I grew up just down the road, so I’ve always been around the ocean and this sort of environment,” she said.

“Everyone else was going to uni to be in nursing or law, and I was just not into that stuff. I didn’t really want to go to uni. I didn’t want to sit in an office. I did get a traineeship as a receptionist, and learned that wasn’t for me … I’d rather be doing hands on stuff.”

Ms Peterlin said she has received a great deal of support from the people in her life and from her team, but she remembers the transition into the industry as a daunting one. Women and younger workers are still vastly outnumbered.

“It’s got a family sort of feel to it,” Ms Peterlin said.

“But it was still daunting because I thought, alright, there’s no one my age and no one of my gender here. This is new … but the team we have here, they made me feel comfortable and they’ve really taken me under their wing and helped me out as much as they can.

“I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to help me out.”


The Port Kembla family grew briefly not long ago when Ms Peterlin’s younger sister came in for a week of work experience. She was able to gain sea time for her coxswain course, but also left with an understanding of the port, shipping and her older sister’s role in it.

Ms Peterlin said there is a place in the maritime industry for young women and encouraged those with any hesitations to just go for it – she assured them there’s no harm in trying.

“There will always be someone there by your side to help you out. You know, it’s a very welcoming industry – from what I’ve experienced anyway,” she said.

“It’s such a great industry to jump into, and if you have that opportunity, take it, because we need more females in this industry. So, if you’re a young female, just go for it. If you don’t like it, you can always change, but if you have that opportunity, take it.”

And as for Ms Peterlin’s next steps, she’s looking forward to settling comfortably into her new permanent role after a couple of fast-paced years.

“It’s just been immaculate timing for all this. I can’t believe how fast it’s moved,” she said.

“I’m very comfortable where I am now, and just being able to wake up and love what you do, that’s a great life for me. So, you know, I’m happy to stay where I am for as long as I can.

“But … a small goal of mine would be to progress to our ship port officer role, which is the skipper of our boats. Hopefully, that will be soon. I’m undergoing training at the moment for that, and almost signed off for it.”

Out of all the memorable shifts in Ms Peterlin’s exciting job, the one that stands out most for her is the night the ocean lit up with bioluminescent algae while she was out on one of the boats.

“It was just beautiful to see that fluoro blue water with a bright, full moon in the sky. And I thought, wow, this is our job. This is what I do for work.

“I think my favourite part about this job is working on the water and seeing all those amazing things. You see dolphins jumping out right next to you, you see whales sticking their tails out and jumping. It’s like, people pay to do this, and I’m getting paid to do this. I’m so lucky to be in this job that I have.”

This article appeared in the November 2023 edition of DCN Magazine