Lankan woman elected mayor in Australian city

Saturday, 31 October 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A Sri Lankan born woman whose family fled riots for a better life has been elected the first Greens mayor in Moreland, an Australian city.

South Ward Councillor Samantha Ratnam won the mayoral vote 6-5 over Labor candidate Councillor Lita Gillies, bringing an end to the ALP’s stranglehold on the mayorship, the Herald Sun reported.

Ratnam had been unsuccessful in the previous two mayoral votes, but secured the vote of independent councillor Helen Davidson, who had backed Labor candidates in previous mayoral votes.

“I was more confident this year than the past two years, when I was pretty sure I did not have the numbers, but until the hands went up I was not sure it was going to happen,” Ratnam said.

“The night was quite surreal and it’s just still sinking in.”

The ascension to mayor has capped an incredible personal journey for Ratnam, who arrived in Australia with her family in 1989 having fled war-torn Sri Lanka and spent time in Europe and Canada.

Aged six at the time, Ratnam said she remembered the 1983 riots in Colombo that gave rise to the country’s 30-year internal war, including her family being split as they took refuge when Sinhalese Sri Lankans burnt Tamil Sri Lankans’ homes.

“I remember seeing the streets burning and for the first time seeing adults crying,” she said. “It was an experience that changes you in many ways, but going through it together with family helped the healing.”

Her family left Sri Lanka in 1987 and Ratnam said it wasn’t until she moved to Brunswick seven years ago that she felt at home.

She said her experiences fuelled her interest in social work and motivated her to take the program manager position at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.