Champions of the West – Ian Hamm


    By Elizabeth Minter

    In 1964, when he was three weeks old, Ian Hamm was taken from his birth mother, and given to a white family in Yarrawonga, a town on the Murray River that neighbours Lake Mulwala. 

    “Growing up I never felt a part of the town,” says Ian, “but I always felt so connected to everything around it – the river, the trees, the soil. I loved mucking around in the riverbed, and spending time among the majestic gum trees always brought me great comfort.”

    At 19, he discovered that his birth mother was from Shepparton – Yorta Yorta land. “I had also grown up on Yorta Yorta land, the land of my ancestors.” 

    Ian’s adoptive parents Charlie and Mary had one son, but when they could not have any more children they decided to adopt. They had grown up in the 1920s and 1930s with Aboriginal children. After they adopted Ian, two Aboriginal girls joined the family. 

    “We had fun growing up and always felt secure,” Ian says, “but we were always thinking about where we were truly from. We knew we were different.”

    After high school, Ian missed out on a few apprenticeships and remembers wondering what on earth he was going to do with his life.

    Out of the blue his parents were contacted by the Aboriginal Education Department. “The next thing I knew I was off to Bendigo to do a teaching degree. 

    “On about the third day I started talking to a fellow student who asked if I knew anything about my heritage. He said: ‘I think I know who you are’.” 

    Six months later, Ian received a call from Elaine Taylor, who worked at the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency. She told Ian she had information to share with him and “things started falling into place. It was like I had been living in a pitch-black universe and then gradually the stars started to shine. 

    “Elaine told me my mother died in 1966 and had never said who my father was. I was the youngest of five siblings, but the only one stolen.”

    Ian still gets emotional when he talks about his origins. “Elaine arranged to meet me. She handed me a folder with various documents and I saw my original birth certificate for the first time. It had my name on it – Andrew James, and my mother’s name. It was a profound experience, finally seeing that I was who I thought I was.”

    Ian says he often feels like two people. “Before I was stolen from my mother there was a single person. After there’s the one person who might have been Andrew James, and there’s the person who is Ian Hamm.”

    The information made him angry and resentful. “If I had known earlier, how much could it have helped me?” But it also helped anchor him. “Where you come from helps define who you are, but I had no backstory. I was just floating.” 

    Kevin Rudd’s apology in 2008 to the Stolen Generations brought enormous relief, Ian says. “My country finally acknowledged my existence. It meant I no longer had to explain to people what it meant to be a stolen child. 

    “It also meant we could move on as a society and start dealing with the trauma that had been caused, and not continue to debate whether generations of my people had been stolen or not.”

    “Before I was stolen from my mother there was a single person. After there’s the one person who might have been Andrew James, and there’s the person who is Ian Hamm.”

    After teaching, Ian moved into public policy with various state and federal government departments in policy areas including justice, community and economic development, transport, and Indigenous health.

    He is motivated by wanting to leave the world a better place. “That is what gives my life meaning.”

    Ian chaired Victoria’s Stolen Generations Reparations Steering Committee, which was formed in December 2020 to provide advice and recommendations on the design of Victoria’s Stolen Generations reparations.

    “Intergenerational trauma is real, and I’m told that trauma ripples through for seven generations – that’s 140 years to work through all the dislocation and the impact of that policy.”

    He took the extraordinarily principled stand of refusing a reparation payment – set at $100,000 – to which he was entitled. “I didn’t want anyone to be able to criticise the process by saying I was trying to set up a scheme so I could personally benefit. It was not about me. It was about all the 1200 Indigenous Victorians stolen from their families.”

    Ian also tries to open doors for Aboriginal people and he devotes significant time to improving their representation on boards and governance roles.

    Ian chairs the board of directors of: Connecting Home, a culturally safe support service for the Stolen Generations; the First Nations Foundation; the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation; and the Koori Heritage Trust; and is a board member of the Healing Foundation, which funds projects that support the healing needs of Stolen Generations. 

    Ian is also a board member of the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance; VicHealth; the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission; the Australian Institute of Company Directors; and Holmesglen; and as president of the Community Broadcasting Foundation. He is a session panel member of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority and Planning Panels Victoria.

    As to how he feels about being considered an Elder by the Indigenous community? “My gut reaction is ‘Am I that old?’ But on a more serious note, you never get over that insecurity of childhood – that feeling of not belonging and being unsure of one’s place in the world.” 

    Ian has lived in Yarraville for 30 years, having raised his two children in the area. “I have seen a lot of changes in my time here but it’s been a great place to bring up kids. It is a little removed from the hustle and bustle, and it still has a lot of charm.” 

    He has also made up for lost time after connecting with his siblings, cousins and extended family in the mid-1980s. He said his aunts were always struck by how similar he is in character to his mother. Meanwhile, “family gatherings can be enormous,” he says. “There’s always plenty of laughter and lots of stories told. It’s been a real homecoming.” 

    Brought to you by Dr. Daniel Mulino, Federal Member for Fraser

    If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email


    Champions of the West is brought to you by Dr Daniel Mulino, federal Labor MP for Fraser.
    If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email

    Daniel Mulino
    Federal MP for Fraser

    (03) 9070 1974
    Shop 1, 25–27 Clarke St, Sunshine VIC 3020

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