Sir James Gobbo, AC, CVO, KGCSG – Requiescat In Pace
The Hon. Sir James Augustine Gobbo AC CVO QC (born 22 March 1931 – died 7 November 2021)
It is with great sadness that we report that Confrere Sir James Gobbo, AC, CVO, KGCSG, former President of the Australian Association and former Regent of the Subpriory of the Immaculate Conception, died this weekend.
Sir James, known as Jim to many, was born the second son of Italian migrants in Carlton in the midst of the Great Depression, yet rejoiced in both his Italian heritage and his Australian homeland. He rose to become Governor of Victoria – the first Australian state governor of non-Anglo-Australian background and the only Australian to hold the positions of President of a National Association and Regent of a Subpriory of the Sovereign Order of Malta, and Subprior of a Subpriory of the Venerable Order of St John.
Born in Melbourne on 22 March 1931, from the age of three he spent his early childhood living in Cittadella in the Veneto region of Italy before returning with his family to Australia a year before the commencement of the Second World War. He attended Melbourne’s Xavier College and was a member of the school’s legendary 1948 winning Head of the River crew. He gained entry to Arts/Law at The University of Melbourne and on graduation in 1951 was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, completing his legal studies at Magdalen College, Oxford. He left Oxford with a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Arts and a prestigious rowing Blue. After returning to Australia in 1957 he lectured at The University of Melbourne for five years before focusing on his career at the Victorian Bar, later becoming a prominent barrister and Queen’s Counsel through the 1960s and 1970s, ultimately being appointed to the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1978.
In 1982, the same year he was made a Knight Bachelor in the Queen’s New Year Honours List, the Fraser government approached him with an offer of a position on the High Court of Australia, an offer that Sir James selflessly turned down on the basis that the move to Canberra would be too disruptive to his family.
In 1994, Sir James retired from the Supreme Court and was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Victoria. In 1997 he was appointed by the Kennett government as Governor of Victoria, a position he held from 1997 to 2001.
Sir James’s numerous interests and commitments outside of the law included his involvement in the Italian community, particularly the Italian welfare agency known as Co.As.It. In 1959, he was one of the founding members of the ‘Immigration Reform Group’ which advocated for the abolition of the White Australia Policy. And in 1975 he was appointed to the Federal Immigration and Population Council by the Fraser government, where he proceeded to work to combat public prejudice of ‘boat people’ arrivals during the late 1970s. From 1982 he chaired the Multicultural Task Force and was instrumental in setting up the Australian Bicentennial Multicultural Foundation, which he subsequently headed from 1987.
Through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s he served on a great many boards and foundations, particularly to do with health and community welfare. He served as the Chairman of the Council of the National Library of Australia, of the National Advisory Commission on Ageing and of the Council for the Order of Australia. He was appointed Victoria’s first commissioner for Italy in 2001.
In 1988, Australia’s bicentennial year, Sir James was instrumental in establishing the Palladio Foundation, later to be renamed the International Specialised Skills Institute, which provides opportunities for Australian artisans and craftspeople to travel overseas to develop their skills.
The Catholic faith was always a deep source of spiritual support for Sir James and his reception into membership of the Sovereign Order of Malta in 1974 as a Knight of Magistral Grace provided him with a personal commitment to serve the poor and the sick, while defending the faith.
Sir James was one of the original 13 foundation members of the Australian Association of the Sovereign Order of Malta, who also included NSW Supreme Court judge Dennis Mahoney AO QC, surgeons Halley Beckett and Lionel Lockwood CBE, NSW Solicitor General Reginald Marr DFC QC, barrister William Deane QC, barrister and professor of law Prof. Daniel O’Connell, artist and portrait painter Paul Fitzgerald AM, noted antiquarian Dr Nicolai Savoy-Soubotian, Dr Ernest Kirby AM and Anne Kirby, as well as Ambrose Galvin and his sister Mary Moore. The first President of the Australian Association was Dennis Mahoney, while Sir James served as the Association’s second President, only stepping down on his appointment as Governor of Victoria.
In 1986 Sir James oversaw the establishment of Order of Malta Home Hospice Service (Victoria) Inc, to carry out visitation and in-home help services, later expanded to provide bereavement services and home visitation service for the sick and the elderly in Melbourne’s Inner East, which became Order of Malta Hospice Home Care (VIC) Inc (OMHHC). In 1998 he was instrumental in establishing the partnership between the Sisters of Charity Health Service Ltd, OMHHC and Melbourne Eastern Palliative Care, known as Eastern Palliative Care (EPC) Association. Today, EPC is the largest single provider of community and home-based palliative care services in Victoria.
Sir James was always a hands-on worker for the needy and was an early advocate for the Order’s winter Coats for the Homeless campaign. He staunchly believed that members of the Order should be on the frontline, whether in soup kitchens or handing out coats. On bitter Melbourne winter nights he was often to be found at well-known homeless congregation points offering coats and a chat to many of the city’s most vulnerable citizens.
In 2006 Sir James made the Promise of Obedience, binding himself ever closer to the Order that had become his spiritual home. Two years later, in 2008, he took on the role of inaugural Regent of the newly established Australian Subpriory of the Immaculate Conception and oversaw a growth in Australian, and later Australasian, members entering the Second Class of the Order.
In recent times, Sir James continued to play an important role in the life of the Australian Association, both as an executor of the estate of his close friend and confidant, Ambrose Galvin, and as executor and trustee to the estate of friend and spiritual companion Fra’ Richard Divall AO OBE, directing funds according to his friends’ wishes to support the work of the Order, especially in palliative care.
In all his endeavours, Sir James has always been thankful for the divine providence that brought him to Shirley, his wife of 64 years, and their five children. Shirley has been a constant companion and supporter of the works and activities Sir James has involved himself in, from the Bar to the Bench, supporting multicultural policy, the development of Co.As.It. and the International Specialised Skills Institute, to his activities and roles within the Order of Malta. He was extremely proud of their 13 grandchildren and more recently the birth of their great-grand daughter. He leaves to all of them a great legacy.
In 1993, Sir James was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for his service to the law, to hospital administration and to the community, particularly through the promotion of multicultural affairs. He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy in 1998, made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory, and a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 2000. In 1995 he was conferred a Doctor of Laws by Monash University.
For his service and commitment to the Sovereign Order of Malta, Sir James was promoted to Knight Grand Cross of Magistral Grace in 1982 and later conferred the Ribband (Sash) of a Knight Grand Cross in 2017. He was also awarded the Grand Cross of the Order pro Merito Melitensi in 2012.
In 2010, Sir James published his autobiography, Something To Declare: A Memoir.
Vale Sir James Gobbo AC CVO.