Life Lessons learned in Guyra by Warrnambool Citizen of the Year

05th Feb 2020
Janelle Stewart

James Mepham was named as Citizen of the Year in Warrnambool for his volunteer involvement in RSL Active, a program that helps young defence force veterans after they have returned to civilian life. James was involved in the inaugural Great South Coast Veterans Retreat, is an active member of Rotary in Warrnambool and also gave his time as one of the subjects in the enormously successful Warrnambool Human Library project, part of Mental Health Week activities in 2019.
Spending two crucial years of his life in Guyra where he completed his schooling in 1996 at Guyra Central School, he said that coming from a small connected community was a good starting point to the work he is doing in Warrnambool.
James said he was thrilled to receive the award, but also very surprised to have recognition at this time in life. He also hopes that on some small level it inspires others to step up and get involved in their communities.
“Personally I feel there are other people in the community doing amazing things, but this award will help continue conversations about veterans and their families, who are impacted by the veterans’ experiences,” he said.
His own transition to civilian life after leaving the Army was difficult. Photographing the emergency response to the Boxing Day Tsunami left him with post-traumatic stress and guilt that he couldn’t turn such a powerful and important set of experiences into something meaningful.
It was while volunteering at the Shrine of Remembrance’s education centre he met a young Rotarian who invited him to photograph a Rotary project in Cambodia and Vietnam which supported orphans, hospitals, polio survivors and women.
James credits his father Steve Mepham and teacher Jo Burgess as being inspirational in his formative years.
“My father has a compassionate heart and is very community driven which set a good example to follow,” James said. “Early on I saw the work he did as a volunteer, and later as Superintendent, with the RFS and also the countless hours he puts into the Lamb and Potato Festival behind the scenes - his actions speak louder than words so I am proud to be a chip off the old block.”
“Jo Burgess also deserves credit for helping me when I arrived in Guyra at the beginning of Year 11,” he said. “I had come from difficult circumstances, but she took me under her wing and I owe a lot of where I am now to the incredible influence and support she gave me.”