Rear Admiral Christopher John Oxenbould

Deputy Chief of Navy (1997 - 1999)

Christopher John Oxenbould was born on 19 November 1946 in Cremorne, Sydney and educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore). He entered the RAN College as a junior entry Cadet Midshipman in 1962. Oxenbould initially struggled with academic studies and repeated his second year of training. He graduated from the college in September 1966, was promoted Midshipman and went to sea for training in the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (1966-67) and the frigate HMAS Derwent (1967) during which time he served in Australian and New Zealand waters as well as deploying to Southeast Asia and Japan during May-July 1967. Oxenbould was promoted Sub Lieutenant in September 1967 and went to Britannia Royal Naval College, in the United Kingdom, to undertake professional naval training courses during 1967-1969.

Upon returning to Australia in mid-1969 he undertook courses at HMAS Waterhen, in Sydney, before joining the training ship HMAS Anzac for bridge watchkeeping training. During March-April 1970 he served in the Chilean Navy sail training ship Esmerelda during her visit to Australia as part of the Captain Cook Bientenary celebrations; after which he returned to Anzac and was promoted Lieutenant in May. In October 1970 he joined the Daring Class destroyer HMAS Duchess, as an Officer of the Watch, and served in her until July 1972 in Australian and Southeast Asian waters; including escorting the fast troop transport HMAS Sydney into Vung Tau Harbour, South Vietnam in April and May 1971.

He proceeded to the United kingdom in September 1972 where he completed the Royal Navy Principal Warfare Officers Course during 1972-73; sub-specialising in navigation. After returning to Australia he was appointed to the destroyer escort HMAS Torrens, in November 1973, as the navigation and operations officer. During his time on board the ship operated in Australian and South West Pacific waters including service as the escort ship to the Royal Yacht Britannia during the Royal Tour of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), the Solomon Islands and Bougainville in February 1974. During July 1975 - April 1976 he served on the staff of the Commander Australian Mine Warfare and Patrol Boat Forces based at Waterhen. He then joined the guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart, in April 1976, as the Navigating Officer and took part in her deployment to the United States for US Bicentennial activities in New York. As part of this deployment Hobart circumnavigated the world.

In November 1976 he returned to the United Kingdom to undertake the Royal Navy Long Navigation Course and upon returning to Australia he became the Navigating Officer and Officers' Training Officer in Duchess which was now the RAN's training ship. Lieutenant Oxenbould then served on the staff of the RAN Navigational School at HMAS Watson and was promoted lieutenant commander in May 1978. He was appointed Navigating Officer of the tanker HMAS Supply in January 1980 and during his year on board the ship took part in Exercise RIMPAC 80 in Hawaiian waters, during March, various exercises in Australian waters and deployed to the Indian Ocean as part of an RAN five ship task group in September. He undertook the six month RAN Staff Course, at HMAS Penguin, graduating in July 1981 and returned to Watson where he was the Course Officer for the inaugural RAN Long Navigation Course. Oxenbould was promoted commander on 30 June 1981 and served on the staff at Fleet Headquarters during 1982-1984 as the Fleet Plans Officer.

On 29 March 1984 he was appointed as the Commanding Officer of the guided missile frigate HMAS Canberra and during his time in command the ship served in Australian waters as well as deploying to the South West Pacific, Southeast Asia, Japan and the Indian Ocean; the later deployment as part of a force shadowing a Soviet Union naval task group. He relinquished command of the frigate on 17 December 1985. He was promoted captain on 31 December 1985 and posted to Navy Office, Canberra to the Naval Plans & Policy Branch where he was part of the Dibb Review Team into Australia's future defence posture and capabilities.

Captain Oxenbould studied at the US Naval War College during 1986-87 and on his return to Australia served as the Director Naval Force Development at Navy Office during 1987-89. He was given his second command appointment on 1 June 1989 when he took command of the guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth. During his time in command the ship completed an extensive refit, in December 1989, followed by sea trials in Australian waters and a deployment to Southeast Asia and Japan in mid-1990. Captain Oxenbould relinquished command of Perth, in Singapore, on 28 September 1990. After returning to Australia he was promoted commodore (with seniority backdated to 30 June 1990) and appointed as the next commander of the RAN Task Group to operate in the Middle East following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990.

Commodore Oxenbould, and his staff, embarked in the destroyer HMAS Brisbane in October to commence work up training prior to deploying. Brisbane and the frigate Sydney sailed from Australia on 19 November and on 5 December 1990 Oxenbould took over as the commander of the RAN Task Group (CTG 627.4), in the Arabian Gulf from Commodore Don Chalmers, RAN who had commanded the initial RAN force deployed to the Northern Arabian Sea. The new RAN Task group consisted of HMA Ships Brisbane, Sydney, the tankers Success and Westralia and Clearance Diving Team 3. On 17 January 1991 combat operations commenced against Iraqi forces and ceased on 28 February once Kuwait was liberated with RAN units undertaking many and varied roles; particularly the clearance divers who were operating ashore in Kuwait. For his service in the Middle East Commodore Oxenbould was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), in November 1991 “for distinguished service as the Commander of the Royal Australian Navy Task Group both during and after the Gulf War.” He was also awarded a US Bronze Star Medal and the Saudi Arabian Order of King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz (3rd Class).

Left: Commodore Chris Oxenbould with members of Clearance Diving Team 3 at Kuwait in 1991. Right: Commodore Oxenbould receiving the Saudi Arabian Order of King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz (3rd Class) from the Saudi Ambassador in Canberra.

In May 1991 he was appointed as Director-General Naval Policy & Warfare in Navy Office. The following year, in September, he became the Director-General Joint Operations & Plans within the Department of Defence. Oxenbould was promoted rear admiral on 4 December 1993 and became the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Personnel) responsible to the Chief of Naval Staff for the many issues affecting personnel such as recruiting, retention, training and conditions of service. In April 1995 he was appointed as the Maritime Commander and held this important position until February 1997. While in command of the fleet he was also dual hatted as the interim Commander Australian Theatre for the Australian Defence Force during 1996-97; as the ADF took more positive steps towards joint operations.

The fleet was busy during his time in command with several activities with foreign navies such as Exercises KAKADU, AUSINA, AUSTHAI, TASMANEX, CASSOWARY, KANGAROO 95, STARFISH 95, SINGAROO, NEW HORIZON and RIMPAC 96 to name just a few. The frigate HMAS Melbourne also deployed to the Arabian Gulf for Operation DAMASK VIII during April - September 1996. Perhaps the highlight of his time in command was the dramatic January 1997 rescue, by HMAS Adelaide, of two yachtsmen (Tony Bullimore and Thierry Dubois) whose yachts had become disabled in the Great Southern Ocean. The planning, coordination and conduct of this long range and difficult rescue thrust the RAN onto front page news across the world.

On 19 February Rear Admiral Oxenbould was appointed as Deputy Chief of Navy. His two and half years in this position saw the RAN increase its operational focus particularly in support of peacekeeping activities in Bougainville as part of Operation BELISI, Southern Ocean fisheries patrols (Operations COSMO, DIRK and STANHOPE), the ongoing commitment to Operation DAMASK (with HMAS Melbourne deploying to the Arabian Gulf during May - August 1999) and the build-up of naval capability in the light of worsening civil rights abuse in East Timor during 1999. He also had to contend with the serious repercussions for the navy following the tragic fire on board the tanker Westralia, on 4 May 1998, in which four members of her crew died. Rear Admiral Oxenbould retired from the RAN on 2 August 1999.

A keen sailor he has completed several Sydney to Hobart yacht races and during 2000-01 was the Chairman of the Sydney to Hobart Race Committee. He was also the Executive Director Infrastructure Co-ordination Unit in the New South Wales Premiers' Department in 2000-01 and later Chief Executive Officer of the Newcastle Port Corporation during 2002-03. From January 2004 until March 2008 he was the New South Wales Maritime Chief Executive except for the period January-July 2006 when he was acting chief executive of Sydney Ferries, in a caretaker role, to oversee the corporations operations and assist with the recruitment of a permanent Chief Executive Officer. He has also been a member of the Yachting Australia National Safety Committee and is on the Board of Governors for the Sir David Martin Foundation.

At a 'Clear Lower Deck' on Thursday 13 April 1995, the staff of Maritime Headquarters welcomes the new Maritime Commander, Rear Admiral CJ Oxenbould, AO, RAN. Admiral Oxenbould had just completed an 18 month term in Navy Office Canberra as the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff Personnel - Navy (ACPERS-N). He was welcomed in as the new Maritime Commander by the outgoing Maritime Commander, Rear Admiral DB Chalmers, RAN.