Umpiring has been a family affair in community football leagues across the country for generations. We know whom those families are when we think about our first foray into umpiring as youngsters.  

The VFL has also been a family affair.  The McMurray’s, father (Jack) and son (Jack), the Nash’s, uncle (Alan) and nephew (Neville).  The Deller’s, father (Bill) and son (Gavin).  The Pratt’s, brother (Brian) and brother (Harold).  The Brewer’s went one better, father (Eric), son (Alan), son (Graham).  Our current set of brother’s, the Dalgleish’s (Brett and Jeff) are included to name but a few.

One set of father and son, Jack senior and junior, the McMurray’s and three of our sets of brothers Reg & Keith Pawley, Doug & Robert Gilham and Brian & Colin Hood have been so dominant in our history they have been inducted into the AFLUA Hall of Fame.

We chose the Gilham brothers, Doug and Robert (Bob) to have a chat with about their careers.  They have been involved in our association since the mid 1950’s, and it is because of their involvement that our association is strong, steeped in history and tradition.  These two gentlemen are still going strong today and participating in our functions.

Born to Parents John “Snowy” & Dorothy Gilham, there were four boys Jack (dec.) Harry, Doug & Robert.  Douglas George was born on 16.09.1933 at Women’s Hospital Carlton and Robert Sidney was born at Ivanhoe Private Hospital on 20.04.1937.  They lived and grew up in Heidelberg.  Both boys attended Heidelberg State School and were excellent students and loved to participate in all sports, although they say, “not very well.”

Graduating from state school, in 1944, Doug moved on to Preston Technical School until 1949 when he started work as an apprentice with the Victorian Railways in Newport  and as work was very hard to come by just after the war, travelled from Heidelberg to Newport to carry out  his employment duties.  Meanwhile Bob had moved on from Heidelberg S.S. and in 1947 enrolled at Coburg High School.  Bob was some sort of a rebel as all of the other brothers had followed each other with their schooling & employment.  In 1952 Bob signed up with the Post Master General’s Department commonly known as the PMG as a technician in West Melbourne. 1955 saw Bob promoted to a cadet draftsman, but this did not last long because on the side he was doing night school where he graduated in a Real Estate Course and promptly left the PMG.  He became a Sub Agent with a Real Estate firm in Greensborough.

Meanwhile in 1953 Doug joined the VFL Reserve Grade list as a field umpire, and to his amazement attended the Postal Institute where there were well in excess of 600 other umpires. Doug tells me he applied for an umpiring position, as he was no good at playing football at the Macleod Football Club, even though he had the height he always managed to be where the ball was not. 

Things were looking good for the Gilham boys; in 1957 Doug was promoted to the senior list of umpires.  In 1960 he left Kodak to take up a Teaching Career at Watsonia Technical School.  He then convinced Bob that he should try out and become an umpire also.  Bob applied to the Reserve Grade as a field umpire. Bob was so small; everybody would ask Bob what horse he was riding on the weekend. They clearly thought he was a jockey.

Doug in his second year on the senior list was performing very well and receiving very good reports, and on the 26th July the umpires board saw fit to promote Doug to his first VFL. Reserve Grade Game Carlton v. Geelong at Princes Park. The following week Doug was sent to the Old Brunswick Street ground to umpire Fitzroy v. Richmond reserves. This was to be his last game in the city as so many of us have had it happen to them, Doug got sent back to the bush for more experience. 

Doug loved the games close to the city as on a Saturday night he would frequent the Heidelberg Town Hall a very popular Dance in the northern suburbs. This is where Doug met his wife Joan and they have 3 children, two girls Kerry & Gail and a boy John.

Bob has 3 children, two girls, Nerida and Sonya and one boy Peter Robert.

Doug tells me that his favourite umpire was “gentleman Jack Hayes”, in fact he modeled his umpiring on the way Jack performed to the extent that the pair were waxing the Kyabram & District Grand Final year on year off, and to this day Doug does not know how this happened. I asked Doug the name of the Secretary of the League, he declined to answer. Say no more!

Doug’s employment in teaching, saw him moved about the state, all with promotions, so from Watsonia Tech, to Wonthaggi Tech, to Kingsbury Tech, to Keon Park Tech, then onto Hawthorn Teachers College and finally to Richmond College of TAFE where in 1986  he finished up Assistant Director of TAFE training of 160 students, under the watchful eye of our own Graeme Patterson OAM.  Graeme was on the 2nd floor while Doug was relegated to the basement. 

Now in 1960, young Bob was selling ice to Eskimos in real estate, when a friend told Bob about a position with AMP as a real estate valuer.   Six hundred people had applied for three positions. Bob got the job passing his exams with flying colors, which meant both boys had obtained employment to their liking.

Come 1962, and you guessed it, we had two Gilhams on the senior list with the promotion of Bob to join his brother Doug, and the two set out to become involved in many of our Association affairs.

In 1966 Bob became part of a committee to run a night for Life Members at Nth Melbourne and as it was for ONLY Life Members, Past Members and other invitees it was decided to run the now infamous UPD (underpants derby). Every training track, Caulfield, Royal Park (Monday/Wednesday) Royal Park (Tuesday/Thursday), Intermediate Group, the boundary umps and the City Crew umpires all fielded relay teams of four.  Each team member had to drink a can then run a lap of the Nth Melbourne ground. This was the highlight of the night, as different tracks would back themselves against other tracks with side bets.  In the middle of winter we saw some very interesting sights and jocks.  Bob had the job of organizing the entertainment and later in the night the game of Two Up. Other committee members were responsible for the beverages and food. Oh those were the days!  “A BRILLIANT EVENING.”

Doug and Bob were right into the VFLUA committees. Doug served on both the Social & Executive Committees.  In 1972 he became President of the VFLAU and Bob the social side of our association, becoming the Social Secretary in 1971. (See Career highlights)  Both are Life Members and received Lifetime Achievement Awards.

In 1972 Bob did not see a future in field umpiring so he decided to give goal umpiring a go, heading back to the Reserve Grade list. Meanwhile Doug continued on until the 1975 season calling it quits after 17 years of mostly running around the bush.  There were two highlights in his umpiring career. Umpiring in Tasmania, even though his 3rd game there the big time umpire from Melbourne came into bounce at the start of the game and the ball slipped out of his hands, what an embarrassment!  The 2nd highlight was officiating at finals especially 2nd semi’s.  It didn’t matter how you umpired because the losing side had a second chance and your performance didn’t matter to them but it did to your personal pride. Now may I suggest that I consider Doug’s’ highlight, was when in the company of senior field umpire Frank Schwab the pair sat down and ate a five course luncheon at Ballarat and then went on to perform accordingly with both clapped off after their respective games, in a one umpire system. Well done.

The VFL were not going to let this very experienced man go to waste and promptly offered Doug a position as a country umpire observer, he jumped at the opportunity.  Three years later Doug was promoted to the city umpires observing panel.

Bob was performing well as a Goal Umpire and in1977 he was invited back on the senior list as a VFL senior goal umpire. It didn’t take Bob long before he was being considered for a senior final and then in 1983 the highlight of his umpiring career occurred when he was appointed to officiate at the VFL grand final between Hawthorn and Essendon. His second VFL grand final came in 1986 between Carlton and Hawthorn.  The following week the participating teams and umpires visited Japan on an Aussie Rules promotional tour.

You would think that Bob’s favourite umpire would be a goal umpire, but Bob considers his favourite to be grand final field umpire Jeff Crouch.  Not so much for his umpiring although very good, but the manner in which he conducted himself in running the Good Friday Children’s Hospital Appeal.

1987 saw the end of the Gilham’s officiating for the VFL. Doug retired as an observer at the top level and Bob from his goal umpiring. In 1988 Bob was appointed the VFL goal umpires coach.  A position he held for two years.  

In1994 both brothers along with Denis Rich and Bob Griffiths ran the Life Members Reunion for 10 years, before the group decided that the AFLUA should take responsibility for this event.  In 2008 both Doug & Bob were inducted into the AFLUA Hall of Fame as inaugural inductees.   Their service over many many years was invaluable.

So what next after football? Doug chose to take up lawn bowls and not surprisingly, brother Bob followed and the Ivanhoe Bowling Club were much the better for these two guys joining their ranks. Doug uses the rink as his exercise walking from one end to the other.  Nothing stresses him out for he loves the saying, “Out of your control, don’t worry”. He has a good sense of humour to the point I asked him the question, “name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know, to which he answered, “Find out for yourself, it’s a bloody secret!!!” He does get terribly excited when his bowl gets close to the jack though.  He did say to me that it has taken 80 plus years to put it all together. Doug spends most of his days at home looking after his lovely wife Joan who now suffers with mild dementia.

Doug has travelled all over the world, United States, Canada, Europe and New Guinea where he spent 7 weeks in Rabaul as a volunteer.

Bob on the other hand could not get umpiring out of his system and studied to become a lawn bowls umpire. It has taken 6 years to qualify and his accreditation calls him an International Technical Official.  It is the highest qualification awarded and allows him to officiate at Commonwealth Games and World Games. At present Bob runs tutorials and assesses new umpires and those needing accreditation, all this whilst spending two years as President of Ivanhoe Bowls Club and 5 years as Chairman. 

Bob loves to walk on the beach; he likes a good movie but worries about the crime level in our community. He also has travelled the world.  He got very excited when he reached base camp on Mt Everest.  He has also travelled to Europe, Asia and South America.   Thinking about memories brings on his sense of humour.

Recently Bob officiated as the umpire in the bowls blue ribbon event, the Australian Men’s Single Title.  It doesn’t get much better than that in Australian lawn bowls. 

We wish both boys a safe and healthy retirement although they are both heavily involved in their lawn bowls as this keeps them active.

It’s been a pleasure talking to and writing about the Gilham brothers umpiring careers.  I hope you enjoyed it as well.

Graeme “Wizzer” Fellows


1933 – Born to John “Snowy” and Dorothy Gilham at Womens Hospital Carlton.

1953 –  Applied and Accepted to the VFL Reserve Grade Umpiring List.

1957 – Married Joan at St John Church. of England,  Heidelberg .            

         –  Promoted to the VFL Senior List.

1958 – First VFL Reserve Grade Game, Carlton v. Geelong at Princes Park.

1964 – Appointed to Third VFL Reserve Grade game. Fitzroy – Brunswick St Oval.

1966 – Awarded Life Membership of the Macleod Cricket Club, 20 years Service.

1966 – VFLUA Social Committee.  

1968 – VFLUA Life Member. 

1969 – VFLUA Executive Committee.

1971 – VFLUA Lifetime Achievement Award. 

1972 – VFLUA President

1976 –  Accepted on the Panel of Country Umpires Observers.

1979 – Promoted to the City Panel of Observers (9 years until 1987).

1991 – Joined the Ivanhoe Lawn Bowls Club.

1994 –  Organized the AFLUA Life Members Reunion for 10 years

1998 –  Elected as President of the Ivanhoe Lawn Bowls Club for 2 years.

2008 – Inducted into the AFLUA Hall of Fame – Inaugural Inductee.

2010 –  Officiated as Chairman of the Board at Ivanhoe Lawn Bowls Club.

Doug’s Umpire statistics;

3 VFL Reserve Grade games; 5 VCFL Grand Finals (2 Kyabram & District, Bairnsdale & Dist. Tyrell League and Tatiara League).  34 VCFL  Finals;  294 VCFL games including Finals;  14 Metropolitan League;  8 State Schools Mid Week;  5 Tasmania North West Union; and 1 Inter-league game;              Total appointments  325.


1937 – Born to John “Snowy” and Dorothy Gilham at Ivanhoe Private Hospital.

1958 –  Accepted onto the VFL Reserve Grade list.

1962 – Promoted to the VFL Senior List (11 years as field umpire).

1966 – Organizer of the now infamous Life Members Reunions at Nth Melbourne.

1969 –VFLUA Social Committee.

1970 – Awarded first Grand Final in field – Southern Mallee Reserves at Woomerlang.

1971 – VFLUA Social Secretary.

1972 – Awarded VFLUA Life Membership. 

1973 –Awarded VFLUA Lifetime Achievement Award.

 Accepted as Goal umpire on V.FL. Reserve Grade.

1977 – Promoted to Senior List as Goal Umpire. (11 years on list).

1983 – Appointed to V.F.L. Grand Final Hawthorn v. Essendon partnered by Brian Pratt

Field Neville Nash & Kevin Smith; Boundary Leigh Patterson & Phil Sutton.

1986 – Appointed to V.F.L. Grand Final Carlton v. Hawthorn partnered by Kevin Andrews

Field Peter Cameron & John Russo; Boundary Graeme Hunichen & Adrian Ryan.

Same Crew travelled to Japan to Promoted Australian Rules Football. 

1988 – VFL Goal Umpires Coach (2 years). 

1998 –  Followed  brother Doug into Lawn Bowls at Ivanhoe Bowling Club.

2008 –  Inducted into the AFLUA Hall of Fame – Inaugural Inductee.

2008 –  2 Years as President  Ivanhoe Bowling Club.   (2009)

2011 5 Years as Chairman Ivanhoe Bowling Club.   (2016)

         –  Become a Lawn Bowls Umpire took 6 years to become International Technical Offical.      

            Highest Qualification.                                                         

Bob’s umpiring statistics;

FIELD;     180 VCFL games;  1 VCFL grand final (Southern Mallee Reserves);

3 VCFL Finals;  4 Metropolitan League games.

GOAL UMPIRE;     174 VFL games; 2 VFL GRAND FINALS;   4 VFL Finals; 2 VFL Emergency. 18 VCFL Finals; 11 VFL Night Games; 1 VFL Night Game Final Partnered by Greg Macdonald;18 VFL Res, Grade.;   5 VFL.Under 19 Games;                                                                                     

85 Field +  235 Goal Umpiring  =  420 appointments.

Article written by: AFLUA Life Member, Graeme ‘Wizzer’ Fellows


  Pictured: Doug and Bob Gilham                                                                      







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