Steve Newton – Celebrating 50 years of service with Svitzer!

Monday, 28 February 2022

Today, 28 February 2022, marks 50 years of service for Svitzer Fremantle employee and institution Steve Newton.

A long and rewarding career

As a young teenager fresh out of school, Steve was encouraged to get a trade by his father who was a marine engineer and worked on the altimeter dredge which was the beginning of the Port Hedland Port as it is today.Steve’s father was a great mentor and instilled in Steve a passion for engines. Steve had the honour of being the first apprentice employed by Prince Launch Service at the Port of Fremantle in February 1972.
“I was offered a job as a trades assistant with the Prince Launch Service while I was at high school,” says Steve. “After 18 months I was offered an apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic and I was hooked.”
One of Steve's pay slips from the beginning of his career circa December 1973
For apprentices like Steve, it meant learning everything about diesels and gearboxes. He worked on Rolls-Royce, CAT, Perkins, Cummins, Lister, Detroit and Volvo and had to be able to rebuild Allison and Borg-Warner, twin-disc gearboxes, and repair generators, which meant having a working knowledge of electronics as well as mechanics.Prince Launch Service would go through several corporate owners – including Elder-Prince Marine, Stirling Marine and Adsteam Marine – before entering the Svitzer portfolio in 2007. During this time, boat-building in the Australian marine industry was increasingly being conducted offshore. However in the 1970s Prince was still a ‘one-stop shop’ marine services company, which constructed and maintained boats as well as being an operator of tugs, pilots, crew boats, landing barges, working boats and crane-barges.
“I derived great satisfaction from my job of receiving a worn out engine from the boats, stripping it down, rebuilding it to new specifications, testing it on our home made dyno tester, then spray painting it making it look like new. Sometimes this work entailed cutting a hole in the deck or a side of the hull, which was always challenging when the vessel was on charter. We called that “job and finish”, sometimes entailing working around the clock. This is not often practiced by contractors today. Another challenging and very tricky job was changing propeller shafts during tides. These were great days”.
When Steve’s manager came along to announce the company had won a new contract, he would advise that all hands on deck were required as employees had to build the boat to a deadline or penalties would arise. Steve derived great satisfaction seeing sheets of steel arrive and then fabricated into all types of working vessels.Yet, following almost half a century working on boats up and down the West Coast, Steve has done as much looking at a road as he has at the sea. Because of his expertise across all engine types, Steve was the trouble-shooter for the Prince fleet which operated from Bunbury in the south of WA to Port Hedland in the north (and later Darwin).
“I was always on call,” says Steve. “The owner would call me in the middle of the night, or pull up while I was mowing the lawn on a Sunday. I had to drop everything and go.”
The Tug Elgin Steve helped build in 1985 to service the Port of Bunbury

Prince’s didn’t have spare or back-up boats – if there was a problem with power, Steve was sent in to fix it. Which entailed a Holden 1-tonne ute, a diesel engine on the tray, and a boilermaker beside him in the cab.

“We’d wait for the boat to come in, and we’d be straight into it,” says Steve. “The boilermaker would be cutting a hole in the deck and I’d be below disconnecting everything and dealing with the fluids – it wasn’t the job you wanted in the middle of summer.”

The old engine would then be craned-out and the new one craned into place and set-up while the boilermaker returned the deck to normal. Then Steve would conduct a quick sea trial and have the boat ready for its next trip.

On the Barrow Island landing barges – which have three or four engines – Steve and his offsider would bring piston and sleeve kits on-board, roll the failed engine on its side while the barge was running its routes, and rebuild the engine at sea. When there were propeller problems, Steve and his boilermaker – if they were in the north of the state – would run the boat onto the sand and wait for the tide to go out. They’d replace the prop and couplings – and often the gearbox – before the tide came in again.

Steve would become the Workshop Supervisor of the Port Hedland office, and on returning to Perth he would later be made the assistant to the Marine & Technical Manager for WA dry-docks including Karratha, Fremantle and Darwin. In 1992, he was given his current senior role at Fremantle and says he’s in awe of the new boats that Svitzer operates.

“The V16 CATs in the new tug make a lot of power – it’s 70-tonne bollard pull,” says Steve. “The big change from my early days is the amount of electronics on the new vessels – probably ten-times the amount that we had to deal with in the seventies.”

When asked if he could go back to the beginning of his career what advice he would give himself, Steve says “work smarter – not harder” and to never knock back assistance when offered.

Whilst Steve is looking forward to retiring in the near future, he says he will miss his work mates and the work commute along the coast via Cottesloe (but he won’t miss the 28 sets of traffic lights!).

Steve on the deck of the Tug Biggada after he rebuilt the engine and it was on sea trials. This was one of the tugs Steve helped build during his apprenticeship, and it is still working in Kwinana today. Steve is not surprised the Biggada is still working given the quality of the workmanship, including wooden boats, of that time

The Svitzer Newton

In a testament to how well Steve is regarded by his work colleagues, when Svitzer commissioned a new tug for its Fremantle operations in 2018 and asked employees to decide its name, Steve’s name was put forward and came out on top in a poll.

“I was surprised and humbled by the naming of the tug after me. I myself had voted for Svitzer O’Connor, I had no idea my name would be popular. It’s probably quite fitting; I got the salt in my veins when I started out in this job, and the Svitzer Newton tug just extends that passion. Svitzer organised a great day for the christening, especially when all my friends and family could celebrate a remarkable day with me.”

Svitzer Newton
Svitzer Newton

Congratulations Steve on the incredible milestone of 50 years service with Svitzer! Your incredible expertise, dedication, professionalism and values are appreciated by the company and all of your colleagues!