Byron Shire resident Ian Oelrichs was a big man with a big heart and a huge intellect that was fired by a multitude of disciplines and interests. An urban designer and landscape architect by training, he was not restrained by his profession and made up his career as he went along.
He possessed a visionary strategic imagination, a passion for community and the environment, for good design and fresh ideas, a love of people and conversation, of food and fine wine, and a strong rebellious streak.
His energy and focus saw him involved in scores of groups and organisations in the region and around the globe – encouraging and mentoring individuals in coffee shops at home and guiding large enterprises at the United Nations.
Ian died on Sunday, February 24, two days before his 70th birthday, leaving his wife Claire and their two sons, Cooper and Dexter.
He was not a conservative in any form and beneath the public planner persona dwelt an ‘arty’ type who enjoyed performing in theatrical productions at university in Brisbane and who was gifted with pen and ink, a legacy perhaps of his father, an excellent draughtsman, whose conservatism a long-haired and Beatle-booted Ian frequently butted against.
But Keith and Betty Oelrichs also had a sophistication that was rare in Bjelke-Petersen’s fiefdom. They ground their own coffee and loved to entertain, and some of Ian’s gourmet tastes and fondness for socialising can be traced back to them.
A young Ian took some time to find his feet as a student, but was eventually inspired by the ‘defiant tutelage’ of George Williams in landscape architecture at QUT – and by Gough Whitlam’s passion for progress.
Within 13 years he was CEO of one of Australia’s largest landscape architecture firms and head of the landscape architects’ professional body in Australia.
In 2011 he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his commitment to the tourism industry and regional development.
Locally, he counselled mayors, MPs and fledgling professionals and headed regional development and strategic boards.
He helped establish the Sourdough Think Tank, the Business Pathways Mentoring program, the Design Advisory Panel, the Nature Tourism Taskforce, the Northern Rivers Rail Trail and Zero Emissions Byron, and supported Keeping Our Freedom Youth and the Northern Rivers Community Foundation. All of this was done ‘pro bono’.
Martin Brook of Brookfarm credits him with sowing the seeds of today’s successful regional food movement.
He was also active in a range of grand-scale projects internationally, from Jordan to Afghanistan, and the family’s Save Indonesian Endangered Species Fund.
Ian was a global personality, with personal invitations to meet President Bill Clinton and Hillary in the 90s and the King of Jordan last year. Yet he was essentially a sentimental family man who adored his boys and cried at sad movies.
Two nights before he died Ian hosted a “Pinot party” at home for his friends, with excellent wines and a range of superb cheeses.
‘He was on sparkling form,’ said one old mate. ‘As happy as I’ve ever seen him.’
A celebration of Ian’s life will be held at 3pm this Saturday, March 9 at Newrybar Hall. Dress code: colourful or floral. In lieu of flowers, Ian’s family has requested a contribution to the environment in Indonesia at www.siesfund.org/ian-oelrichs-forest.html.