Doug Nicholls was born and grew up on Cumeroogunga where he was taught by Thomas Shadrach James. Like other young men on the reserve, he became an exceptional Australian Rules footballer but also excelled as a sprinter, winning major events such as the Warracknabeal Gift. After moving to Melbourne in the late 1920s, he played in the Victorian Football Association, first for Northcote, later for Fitzroy, making a name for himself. In 1932 he joined the Church of Christ and later became a pastor for this church at Gore Street, Fitzroy.

William Cooper joined recruited him for the Australian Aborigines’ League and he became one of its vice-presidents. Later in his life Nicholls recalled that Cooper would walk all the way from Footscray to Fitzroy and wait outside the football ground for him to appear so that he could try to persuade him to take up the cause of his people. ‘“You’ve got through to the whites, Doug”, he would say; “they listen to you. Now you have to start wobbling your tongue on behalf of your own people. Lead them to better things.”’ Nicholls fondly told his biographer: ‘I used to wish I could dodge Uncle William, but he stuck to me … It was William sticking to me … that fired me. I can see it now … Everything comes back to [him] … he fired me to follow through.’

A few years after Cooper died, Nicholls (and Bill Onus) revived the League, and in the late 1950s he played a major role in establishing an organisation that is often confused with it: the Aborigines Advancement League (of Victoria).

For more biographical information, see Richard Broome, ‘Nicholls, Sir Douglas Ralph (Doug) (1906–1988)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012