Last week saw Lee Tarlamis – whose father was born on the Aegean Island of Lemnos – return to the Victorian Parliament.

Lee was chosen to replace the retiring Special Minister for State the Hon Gavin Jennings as Member for South Eastern Region in the Legislative Assembly.

Lee was formerly a member for this electorate between 2010 and 2014. Since that time Lee has worked as a Senior Advisor to Minister Jennings, his work developing legislation and playing a key role in consulting with the opposition and cross-bench representatives to secure the Government’s legislative program gaining him wide praise.

Many in Melbourne’s Greek community have come to know Lee through both his work as a parliamentary representative but also for his extensive community work as a volunteer. His personal qualities of hard work, decency and respect are well known across the community. What may be less known is the personal story from which these qualities emerged.

Lee grew up in Melbourne’s south east and has lived in the Noble Park-Keysborough area all his life, attending local State Primary and Secondary Schools. As Lee says, “as a kid from a working-class background I didn’t have a computer at home and was lent one by the Keysborough Learning Centre so I could complete my schoolwork.” His gratitude for this help would lead Lee to volunteer at the centre and begin his community and political activism.

Like the children of many Greek migrants, Lee was working alongside his father Sam in family businesses from a young age – and like many migrants from Lemnos this included the seafood industry. As he says “I grew up in those factories and my father used to make me do a full day’s work, so that I’d appreciate how hard it was to work in a factory.” These experiences drew Lee to become active in politics and he has been a member of the ALP for some 27 years now.

Lee’s interest in politics is heavily influenced by his community work. South-east Melbourne has long been an area of migrant settlement, with the Springvale Migrant Hostel being many new arrivals first home in Australia. His involvement in many local community organizations led him to promote understanding and respect for the many cultures that make up the local community. As a Justice of the Peace he has assisted countless locals and actively involved with the local Springvale Benevolent Society assisting those in need. A few years ago Lee’s community work was rewarded with his receiving the Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to the people and Parliament of Victoria.

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Lee signing the book at Victoria’s Parliament.

Lee has continued his active community work in recent years, playing key roles in various Hellenic sporting organizations including as first and current Patron of the Melbourne Hellenic Cricket Club, where he has also served as President and as Patron of Kingston City Football Club. He has also lent his support to countless other Greek community organisations, including Heidelberg United Football Club.  And of course he is long term member of Victoria’s Lemnian community, the largest in Australia. Many members of these organisations will be very glad that Lee has returned to Parliament.

It’s no surprise then that on returning to Parliament Lee’s focus was on the community and equality of opportunity. As he said on returning to Parliament, “since I was young, I have believed that all people must have access to the rights and privileges of our society, irrespective of where they lived or who they were – values of justice, compassion, equality and socially progressive policies.”

Lee has always been a positive person, his many friendships across the political divide standing testimony to this. For Lee this conviction grew out of a family tragedy – the tragically death from cancer of his older brother Kon at the age of 17. It was his brother’s strength through two years of treatment that had a profound impact on him, as Lee says “he always stayed positive and that’s an important lesson for me.”

Lee with other members of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee on Anzac Day at Phaleron War Cemetery in Athens. Photo Jim Claven 2018.

Three of the people that are immensely proud of Lee are his mother and father, Glenda and Sam, and his yiayia Fanoula . A few years ago we discovered that Lee’s family has a unique connection to the Hellenic link to Australia’s Anzac story. One of his mother’s ancestors – Private Ted Tozer, a railway worker from Blackburn – came to Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign, walking on the shores of Mudros Bay and possibly visiting the villages of West Mudros. These villages were the home of his father and his ancestors. Lee is immensely proud of this connection and it has been enriched by his work with the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee.

His ability to create connections and build alliances was evident in his work in gaining support for the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park. Drawing on my own research into the ordinary working people who made up the Anzacs who came to Lemnos in 1915 – such as Private George Knight, an electrician from Albert Park – Lee gained the active support of the Electrical Trades Union for our project.

It has been my pleasure to have known Lee personally for many years, having visited Greece with him on many occasions. I have walked in the footsteps of the Anzacs in Greece with Lee – from Thessaloniki and Vevi in northern Greece, through Lamia and Athens, to Corinth and on to the Peloponnese. We have discovered some of the lost connections between Greece and Australia, like the Australian Pier on Lemnos.

READ MORE: Lee Tarlamis is a true believer

Lee with Federal Labor MP Steve Georganis at the Athens Memorial in Phaleron War Cemetery, pointing out James Zampelis’ name on the memorial listing. Photo Jim Claven 2018.

Lee has brought his tireless devotion to raising awareness of the Hellenic link to Anzac, whether in and out of politics. It was his determination that saw the Victorian Parliament honour the Hellenic link to Anzac with a commemorative plaque and olive tree in the parliamentary gardens – the only such community plaque so erected to date. Late last year Lee was proud to see some of the photographs of his father’s village on Lemnos reproduced in my book – Lemnos & Gallipoli Revealed – which was launched at the State Library of Victoria by Lee’s long time friend, the Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews MP.

Lee said that he was honoured to return to Parliament and humbled by the opportunity to again advocate on behalf of the community. As he says, “From a young age I have always been actively engaged in my local community. Whether through my work with the local Benevolent Society, establishing local community action groups, witnessing documents as a Justice of the Peace or assisting any number of community and sporting groups with advocacy and funding applications, it has always been a great source of pleasure to be able to assist those whose aim it is to provide assistance themselves. My commitment to support the community will only be enhanced as a Member of Parliament.”

The Greek Australian community has regained a strong advocate for both their community and someone who embodies in both his personal story and commitments the wider connection between Australia and Greece. We look forward to Lee continuing his work for the people of Victoria.

Lee unveiling the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park in August 2015. Photo Anthony Leong 2015.

Jim Claven is a trained historian, freelance writer and Secretary of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee. He has known Lee for many years, both in his political work but also in his community work raising awareness of the Hellenic link to Anzac.