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Sir Raymond Alfred (Ray) Ferrall (1906–2000)

by Eric Ratcliff

This article was published online in 2023

Sir Raymond Alfred Ferrall (1906–2000), journalist, company director, and educational administrator, was born on 27 May 1906 at Launceston, Tasmania, only child of locally born Alfred Charles Ferrall, grocer, and his Victorian-born wife Edith Maud, née Oliver. His father’s corner shop in the transpontine suburb of Inveresk faced the estuary of the North Esk River and the Queen’s Wharf, then still crowded with steam and sail. In later life Ray, as a product of that humble suburb on the river flats, would embrace his ‘Swampie’ heritage. After attending Monsieur Henri’s private school and Invermay State School, he was sent to board at Launceston Church Grammar School. He demonstrated an aptitude for sports, winning several prizes including colours in cricket, rowing, football, and athletics. Despite having also secured awards for essay writing, he believed that ‘scholastically I was a non-event’ (1996, 16). He was a prefect (1923 and 1924) and school captain (January–June 1925).

On leaving school Ferrall became a junior reporter with the Launceston Daily Telegraph. In 1928 the newspaper succumbed to the economics of publishing in a small city and the looming Depression. Although he was offered a job at the rival Examiner, his father insisted on taking him into his growing wholesale grocery business. He kept his hand in by writing sports reports for the Hobart Mercury, and later penned character pieces for the Examiner. On 10 June 1931 at St John’s Anglican Church, Launceston, he married Lorna Lyttleton Findlay. He was selected as a batsman in the Tasmanian cricket team for the 1933–34 season and captained the team against Victoria in 1935.

From office boy to shipping clerk to commercial traveller, Ferrall was sales manager by 1936 and a director of A. C. Ferrall Pty Ltd by 1942, initiating a commercial career that few in Tasmania could match. ‘In those days the conventional wholesalers of Tasmania were of some economic weight,’ he later wrote (1974, 43). He sat on the board and was chairman of numerous companies embracing not only wholesale provisions (his paternal firm developed the Four Roses brand), but eventually fruit and vegetable export, wines and spirits, drapery, timber, hardware, insurance, trusteeship, and banking, as well as print, radio, and television media. Among them was Ludbrooks Ltd, a department store that had diversified into mining and other enterprises. After the takeover of that firm in 1975 he was replaced as chairman by the businessman Christopher Skase. Under Skase’s direction, the company, renamed Qintex Ltd, borrowed heavily and dramatically expanded its holdings. Qintex collapsed in 1989 and Skase notoriously fled the country. Ferrall, who had left the board in 1983, admired Skase’s acumen, but deplored his lack of probity.

Politically, Ferrall had been a member of the local branch of the United Australia and Nationalist Organisation in the 1940s and later in life described himself as a Tory. He unsuccessfully stood as an Independent candidate for the Legislative Council seat of Launceston in 1950, arguing that his business background had trained him to make decisions purely on the merits of each case. In a similar manner his valuation of people had not depended on their politics or their religion; his friendships spanned the political spectrum. One of his longest and most profitable business partnerships was with a staunch Labor supporter, Thomas O’Byrne, brother of Senator Justin O’Byrne.

The Tamar River, with its bustling maritime activity, was an integral part of Ferrall’s daily life. He had completed the cadet phase of his compulsory military training (1920–24) with the Citizen Naval Forces. After acquiring a yacht in 1932, he became familiar with the complex Tamar estuary. In 1944 he was appointed as a warden of the Marine Board of Launceston (later Port of Launceston Authority). He served several terms as deputy before being elected master warden in 1959. Presiding almost continuously until 1980, he oversaw works to remove half of Garden Island (near the mouth of the Tamar), allowing larger ships access to deep-water port facilities at Bell Bay and moving much of the interstate trade downstream. He was also part of a small group of ship-lovers that met weekly at the home of the maritime historian G. W. Cox; their joint researches led to several publications, including his own book, The Story of the Port of Launceston (1983).

Civic minded in his approach to business, Ferrall took on administrative roles in local organisations, among them a football league, camera club, and cricket association. He served on the board of his old grammar school for forty-three years from 1932 (chairman 1950–58, 1965–69). Public appointments also included chairing the Northern Tasmanian Development League (from 1944), presiding over the Launceston Chamber of Commerce (1961–62), and serving as an associate commissioner of the Hydro-Electric Commission during the 1970s. In 1976 he was invited to chair the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education council and oversee its move from Hobart to Launceston (where a satellite campus operated); he refused the salary but accepted the task. Through his personal diplomacy combined with forceful administration, the relocation was accomplished in 1981 and the college renamed as the Tasmanian State Institute of Technology.

In later years Ferrall’s writing expanded beyond newspaper articles. In 1976 he published a light satirical novel, Idylls of the Mayor, which—while not a roman à clef—embodied insights on manners and morals, and public life in a small city. Other monographs included recollections of his time as a journalist, biographical sketches of notable Tasmanians, and the lively memoir 90 Years On (1983). His last publication was a pamphlet conveying his views about personal health, his own robust constitution being demonstrated when, in his late eighties, he physically thwarted a burglar.

Appointed CBE in 1969, Ferrall was made a freeman of the City of Launceston and knighted in 1981, and awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the University of Tasmania in 1999. He was widowed in 1987, and on 30 July the following year at the Grammar School chapel he married Sallie Sinclair Barnett (née Thyne), a charity worker and founder of the Motor Neurone Disease Association of Tasmania. In his eighties he was elected president of the Northern Tasmania branch of the Association of Independent Retirees (1993). Survived by his wife, and the two sons and two daughters from his first marriage, he died on 1 June 2000 at his Launceston home and was cremated. A ship lift at King’s Wharf and a building on the northern campus of the university were named after him.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Beever, E. A. Launceston Bank for Savings 1835–1970: A History of Australia’s Oldest Savings Bank. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1972
  • Cox, G. W., and R. Withington. A Hand on the Helm: The Life and Times of George Weymouth Cox 1902–1992. Sydney: Estate of George Weymouth Cox, 1993
  • Examiner (Launceston, Tas.). ‘A Great Community Leader.’ 2 June 2000, 4
  • Ferrall, R. A. Partly Personal: Recollections of a One-Time Tasmanian Journalist. Hobart: Cat & Fiddle Press, 1974
  • Ferrall, R. A. 90 Years On: A Tasmanian Story. Launceston, Tas.: Regal Publications, 1996
  • Launceston Church Grammar School. Information from archival records. Copy on ADB file
  • Paterson, Jai. Knights of the Road: The Commercial Travellers’ Association of Tasmania. Launceston, Tas.: CTA, 2006

View the list of ADB entries written by Sir Raymond Alfred (Ray) Ferrall

Additional Resources

Citation details

Eric Ratcliff, 'Ferrall, Sir Raymond Alfred (Ray) (1906–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ferrall-sir-raymond-alfred-ray-32139/text39714, published online 2023, accessed online 20 April 2024.

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