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Gobbo attended Xavier College where he won the 1948 APS Head of the River before studying law at the University of Melbourne during which time he lived at Newman College. In 1951 he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, with which he attained a Master of Arts degree at Magdalen College, Oxford University.
Gobbo married former librarian Shirley Lewis in 1957, and has five children. His son James Gobbo, Jr. was the Liberal candidate for the district of Bentleigh in the 2006 Victorian state election.
After many years as a barrister and later as a Queen's Counsel, Gobbo was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria. He served from 18 July 1978 until he retired from the bench on 28 February 1994.
Gobbo served as Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria from 1995 until he was appointed Governor of Victoria in 1997 by the government of Premier Jeff Kennett. He was the first Australian state governor of Italian descent.
His term of office was to be shorter than the usual five years, due to the uncertain outcome of the looming 1999 Australian republic referendum. If a republic had come into effect, then the governorship of Victoria would have been abolished from 1 January 2001. In August 2000 the new Premier Steve Bracks announced that Gobbo's successor would be John Landy, who would take up his post in January 2001. Gobbo immediately made it known that he had had an understanding with Kennett for an extension of his term beyond 2000, and expressed deep disappointment that this was not now to occur. However, this understanding must have been private, since Kennett's letter of appointment stated that any extension beyond 31 December 2000 would be a matter for the Premier of the day. Bracks said that he had no knowledge of any such understanding.
After leaving office, Gobbo took up the position of Commissioner for Italy for the Victorian Government until June 2006 and has since continued on various boards and councils.
In 2006, he was the Chair of the Council of the National Library of Australia and the Council of the Order of Australia and Chair of the Australian Multicultural Foundation.
Gobbo was made Knight Bachelor in 1981 and became a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in 1993 and a Knight of Grace of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (KStJ) in 1997. He was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001 and is also a Knight of Malta (see ).
|Governor of Victoria
1997 – 2000
Sir John Young
|Lieutenant Governor of Victoria
1995 – 1997