Jack Watson, AM
1916 - 2001
He was only 41 when he became Registrar General for NSW; but it was a necessary appointment
to cross a generation gap, and Jack Hayward Watson, who has died aged 84, served in the
position for 20 years.
Watson took up the post on July 1st 1958. He had joined the Public Service in I933, which
made him a member of an elite group of officers who had been recruited when Public Service
jobs were scarce and particularly attractive.
In 1937, when he was only 20, he gained his LLB from Sydney University and was admitted to
the NSW Bar.
Watson's progression within the Registrar General's Department was swept off a predictable
career path by World War II. He began military service with the 2nd AIF in September I941.
He ended the war as a captain in the Australian Army Legal Service, participating in war
crimes trials in New Guinea and New Britain.
He returned to the department and in I957 was appointed as examiner of titles. Within the
year he became department head.
The selection of a comparativety young registrar general was dictated by the demographics of
the department and by the problems which it faced. Because many of the senior staff has been
recruited in the departmental growth spurt before World War I, they were due to retire and
it was necessary to cross the department's generation gap to find a new head. Watson stayed
for 20 years and guided his staff through that much-needed revolution.
Watson accomplished myriad projects and masterminded many changes to existing systems. He
successfully managed a surge in the suburban property market in Sydney in the 1960s, brought
about by immigration and other factors, when record numbers of subdivision plans and land
dealings were registered. As demands for housing increased, the introduction of the strata
title proved a groundbreaking concept.
Watson addressed the shortage of space and storage in the Registrar General's Office by
shedding branches not concerned with registration of land ownership. His concern for
production, storage and accessibility of records of ownership for the public as well as his
staff propelled him to the creation of a smalier, loose-leaf style of cerificate of title
known as the "new form register" in 1961.
He also rationalised the department's huge plan collection through computer and microfilm
technology and developed the Torrens Title Index to enable efficient searching of land title
Most importantly, he turned his attention to an initial project to computerise the Torrens
Register. In Watson's own words the project called for "courage, flexibility, imagination
and innovation". NSW would go on to have one of the most advanced and efficient computerised
land title registers and systems of land registration in the world.
The Registrar General's Department under Watson successfully coped with a massive increase
in business by changing its procedures and embracing new technology. He laid the foundations
from 1958 to I977 when the department was held together and driven forward by his immense
energy, interest and dedication.
Hayward [sic] also held posts on the Public Service Board, the Metric Conversion Board, the
Fish Marketing Authority and the Board of Fire Commissioners.
Away from the Public Service he gave generously of his time to the Presbyterian Church (and
its institutions, such as the Scottish Hospital), the Scout movement, the Masons and Rotary.
- Mark Matchett