With his recent win in the Darebin Council elections, Tim Singh Laurence marks his sixth victory (never having been defeated) and is perhaps on track to becoming one of the longest serving councillors in the history of Darebin. He also served as Mayor in 2001 and 2013. While Tim is elated with the latest outcome, what cannot be passed is that a big part of his appeal lies in how understated he is about his success.
It is a political career that began in the mid-1990s and one focussed on grassroots policymaking. Tim believes he is a product of his background. Born to a Sikh father, who was one of the first Indian students to come to Australia under the Colombo Plan—an initiative then for Asian students sponsored in Australian training and degree programs—and an Irish mother, he grew up in Melbourne understanding what connects different immigrant communities and their struggles.
Having always been involved with local issues, Tim, 50, saw the opportunity to enter the race to become a Councillor in Darebin City Council in 1996 in order “to give proper representation to a whole quarter of the City that had high number of migrant community who had been ignored with services and facilities”.
Tim says issues that were rife at the time were related to transport, open space, preservation of the Central Creek Grasslands and restoring the Reservoir Library, which was under threat of privatisation.
“We also had the beginnings of the Punjabi community here then with the starting of the Blackburn Gurudwara and we were just beginning to get organised,” he adds. “There were also lot of Indian cabbies in Reservoir.” In fact, Tim says, it is a combination of the Punjabi and the Italian community that he represented at the start.
Since becoming a Councillor, Tim sought to bring change in the City. “Making international students welcomed in a period of controversy (2009 and onwards), establishing a multi-faith sports club, bringing together the South Asian community and non-South Asian community together at a time when they were getting ripped apart – were all important.”
He has also done some significant work in terms of the environment managing to preserve some of the precious Kangaroo grass areas of nine hectares in the Central Creek Grassland area.
More recently, lobbying for removal of crossings, Tim, as Mayor in 2013, pushed and developed with Moreland the joint proposal to move for all major blockages in the northern suburbs and worked towards removing the level crossings. “I brought more than 315 million-dollar worth of extra projects which would not have happened if I wasn’t here, and I am talking about the north of the City. That’s the biggest investment the City has seen since World War II in public space.”
Therefore, Tim stresses, if you were to think the Council is just there and people are doing petty things, it can be but if you work within the community there are big outcomes.
In person, Tim is amiable and rides on plainspoken populism. And, like a community that has consolidated, Tim is at ease with an Indian as he is with a Greek, a Spanish, an Italian or the Lebanese pizza shop owner down the road.
Having been elected six times, he finds it humbling to be continually elected by the same community.
Of course, issues have changed over the years and so has the population. “Formerly the City was dominated by the Irish, English, Greek, Lebanese and Macedonian and I have been here from the time when there was only a handful of Indians,” says Tim. But given his plain-speaking style, Tim could walk around with leaflets and talk to people in Hindi or Italian and some Spanish. The conversations ebb and flow till date, and reflects his accessible personality.
“I have always been caught in that space between an older generation of migrants and new generation of migrants. There are differences and similarities, and as a Councillor I’ve had an extra kind of duties all these years,” adds Tim.
But it is also the power of Tim’s personal story, the way in which he candidly cracks open the door to his private life—a marriage breakdown after 22 years, being nearly homeless and a stage four lung cancer diagnosis in 2017 where he was told he had only three months to live—that makes him admirable. He has a message for those struggling with cancer in his YouTube channel Tumour Free Tim where he talks about the range of vehicles one can take to attain a tumour free status.
Having beaten the odds and having received a second lease of life, Tim says his days can be very busy. From being a problem solver and attending to “calls from a lot of different people” to working with different voluntary organisations relating to students or cab drivers, the Subcontinental Friends of Labor, Saraswati Foundation, etc., he is very involved.
“I suppose it is slightly Gandhian, if you like. You are responding to needs and opportunities as you see them,” reflects Tim, adding, “I like living in the moment and extracting small joys from life.”
Looking ahead with a new win and responsibility, Tim wants the south Asian community involved in the arts, music and enjoy more representation—a sentiment that perhaps translates into “just a wholesome society”.
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