Brian Bede Aloysius Oxenham
In just eight days, 22-year-old Brian Oxenham played his first match for New South Wales against Queensland in 1939 and was selected to tour the British Isles with the Australian touring team.
Born on 8 December 1916, Oxenham attended Saint Ignatius College, Riverview in Sydney, where he excelled at rugby and athletics, where he won the GPS 880 yards championship. After school, he studied medicine at Sydney University. A powerfully built flanker at 6 feet tall and weighing 13 stone, he had played a few seasons with Sydney University, winning a premiership in 1937, without suggesting that he would be a serious threat for the tour.
Although blessed with size, speed and stamina, Oxenham was slow to develop. He was an exceptional athlete with a distinct turn of speed over 100 yards yet could break two minutes for the half mile.
Late in the 1939 season with a Wallaby tour of Britain looming, Oxenham suddenly blossomed and rocketed into contention for the tour. A number of outstanding performances with an increasingly dominant Sydney University side brought Oxenham to the attention of the State selectors and he was chosen for the Sydney team to meet Country. In a superb loose forward display, his anticipation and backing up for Sydney against Country in his first representative game, matched anything seen in Sydney that year and, with it all, he found time to put his full weight into the scrums. His long, diving tackles impressed and he scored a try and had a hand in three others. This form earned Oxenham a trial in the New South Wales side to meet Queensland.
In this game, Oxenham showed up well against the Queensland loose forward trio of Boyd Oxlade, ‘Cracker’ McDonald and Bill McLean – all of whom were front runners for the tour. When the Australian team was announced to play The Rest in the final tour trial a week later, the selectors showed their hand by naming Oxenham in the Australian team. Early in the match, Oxenham injured his shoulder and left the field. This may have been a blessing in disguise because the Australian pack was badly beaten by the Rest and two forwards in the Australian team - Jack Gibbs and Graham Cooke - missed selection for the tour. However, Oxenham was one of four flankers chosen for the tour and it capped a meteoric rise for the Sydney University medical student.
On board ship, the tourists were a happy bunch.
Oxenham was a member of a committee along with Vic Richards and Andy Barr appointed to administer a camera club with a view to pooling all negatives taken by players on the trip to maximise the photographic material for all players. The scheme worked so well that each player received a huge bundle of photographs of the tour. Like his compatriots, Oxenham was disappointed to find that war had broken out when they arrived in England.
The players enjoyed a brief visit to Twickenham’s hallowed turf and a lavish cocktail party at the famous Savoy Hotel before returning home. En route to Australia, the tourists stopped off at Bombay and all of the players who had not previously represented Australia turned out in the green jersey against the local team. This was Brian Oxenham’s only match for Australia. The three months that the players spent on board ship and in England built a spirit of friendship that lingered on long after the war for those that survived that dreadful conflict.
Oxenham always found time to keep up with his Sydney comrades and, when in Queensland, he would catch up with Wally Lewis in Brisbane and Stan Bissett in Noosa. Brian Oxenham died on 10 April 1995 in Sydney and was buried according to Roman Catholic rites.