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Raymond Leslie (Ray) Rocher (1932–1994)

by Glenn Mitchell

This article was published:

Raymond Leslie Rocher (1932–1994), Australian Rules footballer, company director, and building organisation executive, was born on 28 September 1932 at Deloraine, Tasmania, third of four sons of Tasmanian-born parents Thomas Trinder Rocher, schoolteacher, and his wife Athanie Emily, née Webb. He also had a younger sister, whom his parents adopted in the mid-1930s. In 1944 Ray was awarded a scholarship to attend Burnie High School, where he won the Janice Bromley special prize for most improvement in commerce, and was a member of the school’s successful junior relay team and a house captain. In his final year he was awarded trophies for cricket and football.

Rocher’s football brought him significant attention because of both his skills and his size. When he was picked in 1947 for the Tasmanian State Schools team for the schoolboys’ football carnival in Perth, one newspaper called him ‘Tasmania’s giant schoolboy’ (West Australian 1947, 5): at fourteen he was six feet three inches (191 cm) tall and he weighed thirteen stone three pounds (84 kg). As a full forward, he was devastatingly effective in school football and later in first grade competitions. In his first year of senior football at age sixteen, playing for Wynyard, he kicked the most goals in Tasmania’s North-West competition. He maintained his interest in football and cricket—he would later play in Perth and then for Balmain in Sydney (captain-coach 1962–64) as well as for the Epping cricket team.

Eschewing a career as a professional footballer, Rocher began working for the Tasmanian branch of the Australia-wide building company A. V. Jennings Industries (Aust.) Ltd in 1950. This was the beginning of a long career in the building industry. In 1953 he was transferred to Perth, and on 9 January the following year he married Margaret Una Wyatt at St John’s Church of England, Devonport, Tasmania. After five years in the west he moved to Adelaide as State manager for Jennings, and then to Sydney in 1964. He left Jennings in 1967 to become New South Wales manager of the Perth-based project-home company of T. S. Plunkett Pty Ltd. This job was short-lived and in 1970, with two partners, he opened his own business, MPS Constructions, which took its name from the initials of the three men’s wives; he was its managing director until 1974.

By this time, Rocher had found what was to become the focus of his life’s work: the Master Builders’ Association of New South Wales (MBA). Having joined the association in 1964, he was appointed to its council of management the following year. Among other council work, he chaired its committee on the importance of licensing for builders. In the boom years of the 1970s, he was keen to preserve the reputation of the building industry and the MBA. His work on this committee, underpinned by his reputation from his time with Jennings, saw the MBA appoint him its executive director in 1974. This office allowed him to develop ideas he had long held about the building industry in a modern society, especially the importance of the role and training of apprentices and the licensing of builders. He also defended the view of MBA members that the organisation should protect employers’ rights to determine employment matters. He assumed office at a challenging time for not only the MBA but also the building industry. The New South Wales branch of the Australian Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) had begun imposing ‘green bans’ on building work and challenging the authority of the MBA. When Norm Gallagher, the federal secretary of the BLF, supported by developers and the MBA, encouraged the federal executive to take over the State BLF, the resulting decline of green bans and support for developers did not bring peace to the industry.

In 1990 the New South Wales government established a royal commission into productivity in the building industry. Examining the building unions, private contractors, and peak bodies such as the MBA, the commission criticised the MBA over tendering practices and for its handling of an apprenticeship scheme; it recommended that the State government have no further dealings with the MBA until it was restructured. In response to these findings, Rocher resigned in June 1992.

On the football field, Rocher was a fearsome competitor. Away from football, he was a skilful and often persuasive negotiator who always knew that despite the adversarial nature of football and trade negotiations, he had a loving and supportive family at home. He supported a number of charitable causes. He helped supply accommodation to parents whose children were being treated at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Camperdown, and he assisted in rebuilding Nyngan after floods in 1990. That year he received the MBA’s Florence Taylor award. He died on 21 May 1994 at Strathfield and was cremated, survived by his wife and their two daughters and one son. His younger brother, Allan Charles, also held a senior position in the building industry, as president of the Master Builders Association of Western Australia (1973–74). Later he was one of a small group of parliamentarians elected to both the House of Representatives (1981–98) and the Senate (1977–81).

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Boyd, Brian. Inside the BLF. Melbourne: Ocean Press, 1991
  • Burgmann, Meredith. ‘Builder at Centre of Union Storm.’ Australian, 12 August 1994, 15
  • Burgmann, Meredith, and Verity Burgmann. Green Bans, Red Union: Environmental Activism and the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 1998
  • Elder, John Richard. A History of the Master Builders Association of NSW: The First Hundred and Thirty Years. [Maraylya, NSW]: [John Richard Elder], 2013
  • Mitchell, Glenn. On Strong Foundations: The BWIU and Industrial Relations in the Australian Construction Industry 1942–1992. Sydney: Harcourt Brace, 1996
  • New South Wales. Royal Commission into Productivity in the Building Industry in New South Wales. Final Report. Sydney: Government of New South Wales, 1992
  • Rocher family. Private collection
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘A Building Industry Leader.’ 20 July 1994, 6
  • West Australian. ‘Mark for the Giant.’ 6 August 1947, 5

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Glenn Mitchell, 'Rocher, Raymond Leslie (Ray) (1932–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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