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Remembering of Jeff Oakley

Vale Jeff Oakley

14.2.1947 -  6.12.23


As Dr Charles wisely pined this morning on SKF Jeff’s death from lung cancer is proof that life is not fair.

Jeff grew up in working class South Melbourne and his grandmother took him to the Bloods’ game each weekend. He remained a loyal Swans supporter despite playing for the Collingwood juniors while at Tech College.

 Jeff undertook his plumbing apprenticeship in the days when the apprentice was dropped off at a site with a mattock and spade and told to dig a trench from here to there and we’ll pick you up at four! After this backbreaking work he went to his beloved athletics training with the great Pat Clohessy. He spoke of sandhill repeats! So if Jeff has ever advised you on training regimes it will have included stairs or hill repeats, walking, cycling or running, he was tough. Jeff’s favoured event was the 3000 metre steeplechase and he just missed the cut to represent Australia for the 1968 Mexico Olympics. At that time Jeff was also in the top 30 fastest registered marathon runners on earth!

Jeff needed to get out of the city so he and his beautiful wife Sandra took a job managing the Mathers’ (shoes) family farm in rural Victoria where he was jack of all trades, there was little to which he couldn't turn his hand. He fell in love with horses and did many Horseback trail rides in the Victorian High Country and later on in the Northern Rivers.

Ever restless Jeff and Sandra packed their young family; Jacinta and Kane, into a caravan and headed north, eventually setting up in Byron Bay. Jeff eventually got a plumbing job despite the suspicion that his long hair created. Jeff and Sandra bought a property on Possum Creek Road and took the kids to end of the week drinks at the “Friday Hut” or into town to the Rails where the Byron kids would play while the adults washed away the week. Jeff loved a drink!

Sensing an opportunity Jeff and Sandra, with some business partners, built the first backpackers in Byron Bay: J’s Bay Hostel in Carlyle Street which they ran for many years before selling it to the YHA. A few years later they returned from their travels and built their next Backpackers opposite the Courthouse in Middleton Street. A council requirement demanded that the road be sealed. So these pavers between Espressohead and the Courthouse were laid at night by Jeff and Sandra. In latter years Jeff and Francoise could be seen having their morning coffee at Espressohead.  

Jeff’s greatest attribute was his genuine love of people. He was a wonderful husband and father, taking Jacinta on many horse riding trips and supporting Kane as a professional cyclist in Europe. He and Sandra completed many adventures including the Bibbulum Track.


Every backpacker that checked in felt his genuine interest in them, he taught me his remarkable knack of learning names so that when a guest came back in tomorrow he could greet them by name! It seems that everyone he met became a friend, Jeff didn’t have acquaintances but many friends. His recall was remarkable. He could pick up where you left off, how was the trip? How’s your job, family, running splits, bicycle, car, farm, horse, anything - he could re engage with anyone, on any topic with great passion.  Jeff was always organising a trip here or there, a restaurant meal, a coffee meet. He had a lovely home that he dropped into from time to time! Jeff was one of the drivers of the Saturday ride which used to start at his Hostel! I rang him once when we were here on holidays and naturally he invited me to join the ride, but said it was “just a candy arsed cruise in the hinterland”!! BS Jeff was one of the early members and sponsors of the BBCC.


 Jeff faced many adversities but was always one to look to the positive and the future. Jeff was heartbroken when he lost his beautiful wife, Sandra, after her struggle with cancer. He lost a lot of his capacity to walk freely, run and ride after a terrible bike crash put him in a coma, then a long period of rehabilitation during which he did all he could to restore his movement. Jeff used to ask his doctor what he had to do to get back running? His doctor told him that all the tests say that he should not be able to do what he is doing, so just enjoy your life in this new mode! So, with the wonderful Francoise, he set off on resort holidays, exclusive cruises and French wonderings. Francoise even got this jock to the ballet! Although she never quite got the AFL thing!


Jeff passed on Wednesday wearing his Asics running singlet with his Hoka running shoes at the end of the bed. Jeff told Jacinta and Kane that he wanted to be reincarnated as a Cockatoo, so every time you hear one of these energetic, gregarious birds you will know that Jeff is visiting and still interested in what you are doing. Goodbye my friend, you really did  live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. Long may you run.



And should we be sad for one

That for a short time

Shone so hard and bright

Who’s magic is eternal and

Forever shines a light

Be grateful for the gifts left behind

And raise a toast tonight


May the angels watch 

Over the ones you love

And bring them peace

May you rest within 

God’s reach

May we remember what set you apart

And may your song 

Always sing in my heart.

(written by P. Reidy - an Australian Poet)

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