James was born in 1972 at St Andrews Hospital in Melbourne, the second of three children to Bruno and Mary.
James’ Dad was a bricklayer and all of his work was in the growing outer-eastern suburbs. Like most tradies, he followed the work. Shortly after his birth the Merlino family moved from Camberwell to Kilsyth where James grew up with his brother and sister.
He attended St Edmonds Primary School, Croydon and Mt Lilydale Mercy College, Lilydale.
Following secondary school James studied Arts (political science) at Melbourne University. He completed his Honours year in 1995.
Throughout his final years at school and university James worked as a brickie’s labourer.