Wray Watts is a Tasmanian native, born on February 29, 1960 (a leap year kid, so really only 15 years old), who embarked on a remarkable journey through the forestry industry that spans nearly five decades. His career is characterised by an unwavering passion for his work, exceptional organisation skills, and a pragmatic approach to getting things done. With 46 years’ experience in the forestry industry, including a remarkable 35-year tenure with NW Forest Assets in Surrey Hills, Wray’s contributions leave an indelible mark on the field.
Wray’s journey commenced in 1978 when he joined the Forestry Commission of Tasmania as a trainee technical forester. Over the years, he served in various roles for organisations such as AFH, APPM Forests, North Forest Products, Gunns, and Korda Mentha receivers, before finding his place at Forico.
His remarkable ability to supervise contractors and extract the best work from them set him apart in the industry. Wray’s knowledge of freehold areas, notably Surrey Hills, was unparalleled, and he was a key figure in the early grassland management efforts alongside Fred Duncan. He became the first AFH employee to adopt the Grassland Management Plan in the late 1990s and played a pivotal role in organising the inaugural Grassland Field Day in 1999.
Wray’s colleagues admire his reliability and efficiency, notably Ian Ravenwood, who attested to Wray’s exceptional ability to compile maps and information for requests from Gunns Head Office in Launceston without fuss.
Ian, who was appointed Plantation Manager’ after the nursery had been commissioned, said Wray, along with his colleague Trevor Docking (Doc), became the ‘dream team’.
“It was my first routine operational role after years in research and I knew I had a heap of weaknesses and skill deficit and had to trust the experienced operational staff in our group. I had unwavering faith in both Doc and Wray and the area managers, and I was never let down.”
Ian said Doc and Wray complemented each other perfectly, with “lots of different skill sets but with overlap where it mattered”.
“I marvelled at how quickly both could analyse an operation issue and issue the right instruction. Both were great at managing fires in real-time. I’d have been a ditherer if it had been left to me – thank God it wasn’t!” Ian said.
The dream team’s skills also extended to IT, with Wray the information expert dealing with real-time data.
“I’d pass a request on to Wray and he would blow my socks off at how quickly he could analyse complex data and email me a report in short order.
“Head office was always impressed when they received it – sometimes on the same day as the request. I always confessed that it was in fact Wray’s skills that they were seeing in action.”
Wray with Minister Ellis at a NW Network Breakfast
According to Ian, Wray also provided GIS (SPARQS) skills and a skilled ability to interrogate the wood supply system.
In addition to his office-based work, Wray also managed zoned forest areas, covering more kilometres annually than anyone else on the team. It was this steadfast commitment and expertise that made Wray an invaluable asset to the organisations he served.
One winter afternoon, Wray introduced Robert Onfray to Surrey Hills by involving him in marking streamside reserves in a cut-over myrtle forest. Despite the cold, wet, and miserable conditions, Wray’s dedication shone through as he diligently conducted the task, exemplifying the challenging realities of working in the bush in the north-west.
Beyond his professional life, Wray is a family man, married to Sharon and the proud father of two sons, Sam, who is pursuing a career as a Major in the ADF, and Jake, who has found success in the self-employed construction industry. Looking ahead, Wray had exciting plans. He intends to move to the Sunshine Coast to be closer to Jake and support with his building projects. Wray also aims to continue part-time work from a remote location with Forico, providing valuable support to the Plantation Ops group. Additionally, he aspires to more overseas travel and assisting his children in their life journeys.
In his well-deserved retirement, Wray looked forward to enjoying his hobbies, which include bushwalking, improving his fitness, kayaking, woodworking, and land conservation. And he even entertains the idea of learning to surf. Wray Watts, with his dedication, expertise, and passion for the forestry industry, undoubtedly leaves an enduring legacy that will be remembered and celebrated for years to come.