His workmates refer to him as the Oracle, and for good reason.
For 47 years Port Taranaki has been Keith Dawson’s second home, and for much of that time he has been documenting the comings and goings at the berths as the company’s shipping officer – no ship comes in or goes out of port without his knowledge.
Not surprisingly he has been the port’s go-to man for shipping information both past and present – names, dates, tonnages, lengths, histories ... you name it, Keith can provide the answer.
Today Keith retires, and as he leaves Port Taranaki for the last time, a 30,000gt tanker-sized amount of knowledge will go with him.
Since answering a 1970 Harbour Board advert asking for an administration officer, the sea, ships and salt air have dominated Keith’s working life.
“I always had a great interest in ships and the sea, which developed from my Dad’s interest. We were always at the port looking at ships – real interesting ships in those days. Working at the port was the ideal job – my interest became my work and it’s been a great environment to work in,” he said.
“Before I left school I had considered going to sea as a radio operator, but actually started my working career in the motor parts industry for four years before obtaining the position with the harbour board. There has always been great camaraderie here at the port and excellent working conditions. You don’t work this long at one place if it hasn’t been enjoyable, and I can say it certainly has.”
Following a stint as assistant pay master, Keith moved into general administration before finding his home as shipping officer in the early 1980s. Aside from maintaining the historical shipping log, Keith’s work has involved invoicing for ships, cargo, contracts, and land and property charges, and he has assisted the pilots with shipping planning.
At 68 and the longest-serving current employee at Port Taranaki, Keith has been part of, and witness to, a lot of changes in the life of the port.
“When I first came here the Harbour Board was in the middle of constructing the Blyde Wharf complex on reclaimed land. There have been a lot of changes since, from the containerisation of the port through to the discovery of oil and gas and the Think Big projects of the 80s that brought the Motunui methanol plant and the Kapuni urea plant.
“Port Taranaki has done well over that time to adapt and evolve and I know it will continue to do so,” Keith said. “If you have a customer who wants to use the port you’ll go out of your way to help them, and I think Port Taranaki does that very well.”
Over 47 years there have been numerous stories to tell, from police chases around the wharves and skinny dippers frolicking off Ngamotu Beach, to the characters he has worked with who “kept the place lively”, and the enjoyment of watching thousands of kids swim, bike and run in the Weet-bix Kids’ Tryathlon, held annually on the foreshore in front of the port’s main administration centre.
Port Taranaki chief executive Guy Roper said Keith’s knowledge and passion for his job had been invaluable and he would be missed by his colleagues and the shipping agents and customers he had worked alongside.
“Keith is a true professional and has been a hugely important part of the port’s changes, growth and success over the years. We will miss his knowledge and friendship but we wish him all the best in a well-deserved retirement,” Guy said.
In retirement, Keith plans to indulge in his love of tramping and develop his interest in photography and, with wife Jenette, intends to discover more of New Zealand and travel further afield. He is also looking forward to spending more time with his adult children – son Mark, and daughter Anna who is returning at the end of the year to get married after four years overseas.