Chris Oxenbould grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney and would regularly take the Manly Ferry as a boy into the city. “The best days were when the swell was up and the waves were crashing over the bow of the Ferry. We would take the ferry to Circular Quay and back just for the thrill of the ride, and often without a ticket.”
In years to come, the idea of crossing the Harbour came to inspire varied emotions as he was farewelled from and welcomed home by the Harbour on his many deployments with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).
Chris served in the RAN for 37 years. A navigation specialist, he rose the rank of Deputy Chief of Navy, Maritime Commander Australia and Chief of Naval Personnel by the time he retired in 1999. His career included command of the Royal Australian Navy Fleet and the Australian Task Group during the first Gulf War following periods as Captain of the destroyer HMAS Perth and the frigate HMAS Canberra. Among other duties he is now a Director of Harbour City Ferries.
His early appreciations of the human responsibilities of the armed forces came from his entry to the Navy. He joined in 1962 with a reference from Brigadier Sir Fredrieck ‘Black Jack’ Galleghan, a family friend who from 1942 was the commanding officer of the Australian prisoners of war at Changi, Singapore. Reportedly a stern man, Galleghan also had a fierce reputation for his attempts to maintain the well-being of his fellow POWs.
Chris’ first overseas deployment took him to Singapore, inspections of the war ravaged ports of Tokyo and Hiroshima and meetings with colleagues of Galleghan’s captors – former members of the Japanese Imperial Forces. “I was struck” says Chris, “by the damage and impact of the war at that stage just over twenty years ago.”
Over the next 30 years, Chris served in the Navy in ships based at Sydney Harbour.
“Every time we left port for a long deployment there was a sense of anxiety and excitement among the crew. You were never quite sure what was going to happen to you whilst you were at sea, or what was going to happen your family and friends whilst you were away.”
Undoubtedly, the best moment of any deployment was returning to Sydney Harbour. We would follow the same channel as the Manly Ferry as we entered the Harbour and rounded Bradley’s Head. And then the Harbour would open up in front with the beauty of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Relief would sweep through the ship, for we were home and safe, and our loved ones would be there on the shore.
“Whenever I take a ferry now, I recall with great fondness my time riding the Manly Ferry as a boy and the times that I returned to port with the Navy. It is one of the finest harbours in the world and continues to be an inspiration and sanctuary for locals, visitors and service personnel from around the world.”
As the commemoration of the 100 years of Gallipoli landings come to be held, Chris also reflects upon the many other bravely fought and successful battles that live in the shadow of the events at Anzac Cove.
“The achievements of Australian soldiers on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea and countering the Japanese forces at sea and in the air as part of the Battle for Australia 1942-43 are also very significant to our history. The soldiers on the Kokoda Track were poorly equipped and the initial front comprised militia forces. In rugged terrain and against a highly formidable opponent, they successfully stopped the Japanese and prevented the invasion of Australia. I hope one day these men and their comrades at sea and in the air are recorded the same recognition as the men of Anzac Cove.”