Glenn James OAM
Yorta Yorta
Retired Sapper
17th Construction Squadron
Royal Australian Engineers
Vietnam Veteran

Australian Active Service Medal with clasp
Vietnam Medal
Australian Defence Medal
Anniversary of National Service 1951-72 Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal

1984 Victorian Aboriginal of the Year
1987 Awarded the Order of Australia
2000 Australian Sports Medal
2010 AFL Umpires Association – Umpires Hall of Fame
2017 Nominated for Australian of the Year
2017 Greater Shepparton City Council Sports Hall of Fame AFL Umpiring

2023 Sir Doug Nicholls Round Honouree by the AFL
2024 Victorian Government Aboriginal Honour Roll
2024 Glenn James OAM Scholarship inaugurated by the AFL

I grew up in humble circumstances, being one of 14 children, living in a commission house in Shepparton. When I was 22 years old I was conscripted to serve in Vietnam, but only after receiving three letters from the conscription office. The first notice demanded ‘the service of Glenn James’, but the second letter rejected me because I was Aboriginal. Then a third letter came, confirming that my service was needed. So, my sporting career was put on hold, and I joined up in June 1968 as only one of two Aboriginal men in our group who trained at Puckapunyal.  I served from May 1969 to April 1970 in Vietnam as a Sapper, in the Army Unit 17th Construction.  We got shuffled around like bags of sand, it felt like it wasn’t quite right for us to be in the army. Some of the guys took a while to get used to having an Aboriginal guy around them, but the camaraderie when you are out in the bush when people are shooting at you changes everything – then we all stuck together.

After returning, I  got myself a Bachelor of Education degree as well as a Diploma of Technical Teaching and taught apprentice carpenters in trade school at Box Hill Technical College and  Swinburne University for many years. I also taught woodwork and graphic arts at Box Hill Technical College in the 1970s–1980s.  I also visited inmates in HM Pentridge gaol providing support and educational assistance to them. I did go back to the game I love, becoming an Australian rules football umpire in the Victorian Football League. I umpired the 1982 and 1984 VFL Grand Finals and I was recognised as the only Indigenous Australian to umpire VFL or AFL football and umpired a total of 166 senior VFL games. I feel fortunate to be the fifth person to be named as an honouree during the Sir Doug Nicholls Round, joining fellow AFL greats Bill Dempsey (2022), Syd Jackson (2021 & 2020), Michael Long (2019) and Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer (2018). I feel lucky to have had the distinction of refereeing the VFL exhibition match between Richmond vs. Carlton at the 1982 Commonwealth Games, which is the only time Australian rules football has been part of either the Commonwealth or Olympic Games events. In 1985, I became the President of the Victorian Football League Umpires Association and was honoured with an Order of Australia in 1987, for my services to football and the community. I enjoyed commentating on the AFL for the National Indigenous Radio Service and I was a panelist on the Marngrook Footy Show on the National Indigenous Television. In 2008, I started working for the Koori Court in Melbourne as a cultural advisor. I served as a member of the Committee of the Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Service, which acknowledges and honours Aboriginal service men and women, past and present, every year on 31 May. On the 26th of June 2024, I was very honoured when the AFL announced the Glenn James OAM Scholarship in my name to be awarded to an Indigenous Talent Pathway Umpire who has demonstrated proficiency and potential as an umpire and been identified as having the capability and potential to umpire at an elite level in AFL and/or AFLW competitions.