November 23rd, 2020Ray Spencer – Creswick’s own forestry pioneer
He is a highly regarded forestry academic, has created policies that still guide Victoria’s land management frameworks today and has taught hundreds of Australia’s professional foresters.
Often, when driving through the region he reminisces about the local forests of years gone by and gets concerned with the current state of our forests. But that’s a story for another day.
Ray’s work history is as extensive as it is impressive but behind these achievements is a husband and father of three sons whose greatest honour was the opportunities he was afforded as a young forestry student at the then Victorian School of Forestry in Creswick.
Creswick owes much of its beautiful forested setting to the early pioneering foresters. In 1872 close to 6000 hectares of land was reserved for Ballarat and Creswick State Forests by the legendary John La Gerche who became Victoria’s first forester.
Fast forward 81 years and a young man born in Ararat with a curious mind and a love for the natural environment started at the Victorian School of Forestry in Creswick.
“I was always interested in agricultural science and also thought about becoming a commercial artist. But I was lucky to be accepted into the forestry school given it was extremely competitive – only 12 intakes each year,” he said.
“The first year was very science- and academic-based and in the second and third years there was a lot of practical work. We wore our green forestry school blazers with pride. We had our own football team and because of the school I was able to meet my wife,” he said.
It turns out that Ray had arranged for a group of students to attend Ballarat to give blood and a young medical scientist from Newlyn was on duty. A few weeks later they attended a ball (Barbara can still recall the aqua organza dress she wore) and the following day Barbara attended her first footy match to watch Ray.
It wasn’t long after they married that their life became one of regularly relocating for forestry postings to places many of their friends had never heard of.
Because of Ray’s excellent results at the forestry school, (Dux 2nd and 3rd years) doors started to open.
Ray’s ability to make things happen had him earmarked for promotion. He worked for the Forests Commission Victoria as an inventory and remote sensing specialist before a senior planning role with the fledgling Westernport Bay Environmental Study and then assistant director with the Town and Country Planning Board.
Ray said the experience he gained outside forestry taught him how to navigate the political nature of authorities and competing interests which he later applied as a Principal Research Scientist working on National Forest Policy in Canberra.
He was instrumental in developing the concepts and methods of supplementary aerial photography in light aircraft for monitoring and mapping forest changes including fires. Ray continues to be internationally recognised for his work in this area.
Ray completed his Honours Degree at Melbourne University in 1967 where the top students from Creswick were sent. A Masters degree followed, then a Masters in Regional and Urban Planning in England and in 1997 he was awarded a rare Doctor of Forest Science. In 1980 Ray became a senior lecturer at The University of Melbourne.
“At that time there were only two nationally-accredited forestry schools. The program highlighted the important roles of science and judgment in natural resources management. Those who choose a path in forestry are true environmentalists, despite rhetoric to the contrary.”
While his career path has seen him work and study in Europe, the United States and Canada and he has spent the best part of 30 years travelling the world as a forestry expert, Ray and Barbara have always called the Central Highlands home.
“I’m so proud of what I did over the years and I couldn’t have done any of it without Barbara by my side.”
With a career rich in opportunities and recognition, many would describe Ray as a true local living treasure.
And a little extra…Ray’s youngest son Lachlan followed in his father’s footsteps inspired by the work of his father and a love for the environment and people. Lachlan has a passion for forestry and has forged his own reputation as a senior leader in Australia’s forestry and forest product sector.
Above, Ray with pooch, Bam
Below, Ray in the Australian bush in the 1990s
Words: Narelle Groenhout