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Glenn Robert James OAM

Devoted his life to improving outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians. 


Respected Elder and advocate for positive change. 

Uncle Glenn Robert James, a proud Yorta Yorta man, was born in Shepparton on 6 June 1946. He is the tenth child to Mary James (nee Hamilton) and Thomas Carey James. His roots are deeply embedded in the fabric of Yorta Yorta heritage. He lived his early years in Shepparton, where he attended Gowrie Street Primary School and Shepparton Technical School.

Uncle Glenn’s childhood was marked by companionship with his 13 siblings: Patricia, Clara, Roma, Letitia, Murray, Noeline, Carey, Elaine, Heather, Lance, Rhonda, Des and Julie.   

The Lemnos Football Club in the Goulburn Valley League is where Uncle Glenn first showcased his talents in cricket and football, alongside his brothers. The bond they forged on the field laid the groundwork for his enduring commitment to teamwork and community.  

Uncle Glenn's life took an unexpected turn when he was drafted into the Army in 1968, at age 22. Serving proudly for 2 years in Vietnam as a sapper with the 17th Construction Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers, he showed dedication and resilience in the face of hardship. The experiences he had during this period significantly shaped his outlook on life.

Upon his return in 1970, Uncle Glenn resumed his engagement with Lemnos Football Club. However, a broken jaw prompted a shift towards umpiring. He embraced this new role, joining the Goulburn Valley Umpires Association and umpiring country football. This role would become a catalyst for his lifelong commitment to enhancing outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians.  

Uncle Glenn, his wife and 2 daughters moved to Melbourne in 1973, a significant relocation for their young family. He completed a Bachelor of Education and a Diploma of Technical Teaching and also joined the VFL Football Umpires Association, beginning what would become a remarkable umpiring journey that saw him officiate 166 VFL matches between 1977 and 1985. He umpired the 1982 and 1984 VFL Grand Finals, with the former marking his historic distinction as the first Indigenous umpire for this event. He solidified his influence within the sporting community with the achievement of the presidency of the Victorian Football League Umpires Association in 1985.

On the field, Uncle Glenn was often confronted with hostilities and racism, however, his easy-going personality and infectious smile endeared him to players and officials alike. His enduring strength and pride in his identity set the stage for a paradigm shift.

Uncle Glenn's contributions as an educator over 36 years are outstanding. He imparted his knowledge of carpentry at Box Hill TAFE and Swinburne University, earning admiration for his ability to connect with students from diverse backgrounds. 

Over a period of 12 years, Uncle Glenn assumed a key role as a respected Elder on the Koori Children’s Court, embodying the qualities of empathy and compassion. His personal experiences and stories became instruments of advocacy, guidance and support for Koori youth navigating the complexities of the legal system. His genuine interest in their lives and encouragement to value identity, education and hard work, demonstrated his commitment to breaking barriers.  

As an Elder on the Koori Children’s Court, Uncle Glenn showcased resilience and optimism. His overarching message remained clear; to set goals, break barriers and seize opportunities.  

His impact on the Victorian Aboriginal community as an Elder and an educator solidified his status as a positive role model.  

Uncle Glenn also dedicated himself to the cause of recognising the service of Aboriginal soldiers. He became a member of the Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Committee, a group which is committed to publicly acknowledging the loyalty and honour of Aboriginal soldiers.   

Uncle Glenn's achievements continued to garner recognition with multiple honours including: 

1984: Named the Victorian Aboriginal of the Year 

1987: Awarded the Order of Australia Medal 

2000: Awarded the Australian Sports Medal 

2017: Nominated for Australian of the Year. 

In 2023, he was named the Sir Doug Nicholls Round Honouree by the AFL, further affirming his status as a respected figure in the Australian sporting landscape.   

Uncle Glenn is a trailblazer, leader, respected Elder and advocate for positive change. His story extends far beyond the boundaries of the football field; it encapsulates a life dedicated to breaking barriers, fostering understanding and empowering the Aboriginal community. 

Uncle Glenn exemplifies the transformative power of resilience, optimism, and unwavering commitment to one's culture:

Don’t let anyone or anything hold you back from doing the things you want in life. Be proud of your Aboriginality. Walk away from racism, those people are not worthy of you. At the end of the day, it’s about being happy, enjoying life and being a good person.’