A female first mate in the Gulf of Carpentaria’s northern prawn fleet is proving women have what it takes to thrive in the male-dominated industry.
Nadine Adams began her prawn trawling career as a cook a few years ago, but she has moved out of the kitchen since then and during the recent tiger prawn season was controlling operations on the deck of the FV Ocean Thief, which is part of the Austral Fisheries fleet.
“The skipper’s in the wheelhouse most of the time so I’m the person down on the deck making sure things happen the way they should be,” Ms Adams said.
“I was kind of itching to move on from the cook’s position, because I’d done it for a couple of years and learnt what I could there.”
Matching the men’s strength and stamina
Even though it is strenuous physical work, Ms Adams said the biological differences between herself and the male crew members had not proven to be a barrier.
She said the long hours, lack of sleep and the occupation itself, which includes handling tonnes of boxed prawns, can break anyone regardless of gender.
“I’ve seen grown men cry you know,” she said.
“A lot of people come on and they try their hardest but they’re just not cut out for it and we have to go and drop them off.
Resolve to navigate rough seas
Ms Adams has plans to climb the ladder even further, to become a skipper, but she concedes she has had to prove her worth every step of her fishing career.
“I found that a lot of the guys have that stereotypical view of women even though they are young and have their own minds and stuff and it’s just that old-school mentality,” she said.
However, the former Londoner believes women also have a role to play in breaking down gender stereotypes.
“It’s the girls out there that aren’t actually going and doing these kinds of jobs in the first place and if you don’t try, you don’t know,” she said.
Relationship adds to the challenge
Ms Adams’ partner, Robbie Phillips, is the skipper of Ocean Thief, which she said provided an added challenge to balance the work with the power dynamics of their relationship.
“There are times where the pressure’s on and there’s not a lot of sleep going around. It can be tricky, but you just have to be patient with each other and at the end of the day on the boat he’s the boss so I have to respect that,” she said.
Mr Phillips admitted he had his reservations about having his girlfriend as his first mate but said it worked out well having two women on the crew.
“To have two females on board is unusual but Nadine worked her way from being the cook to the first mate so we had to replace her job as the cook and now we’ve got quite a pleasant little crew,” Mr Phillips said.
“It takes a lot of the aggression out of the boat but in saying that, Nadine’s probably one of the most aggressive people on the boat and that’s why she’s so good at her job.”
He said to change the attitudes of a male-dominated industry women definitely have had to prove themselves.