The good immigrant


Frustration, loneliness, hardships were some of the terms that HARRY SINGH DHAMI grappled with as a young overseas student in Australia during the late 1990s. With a little bit of support and tons of determination and hard work, he has donned several hats, each decorated with some laurels. Today as a tram driver of Camberwell depot, he has been awarded for being an outstanding driver. People such as Dhami are a pride of the community as they bring their integrity, values and hard work to their adopted country, an exemplar of lofty aspirations.
“I have never been interviewed like this before in my life,” modestly gushes Harry Singh Dhami. He feels what he has achieved is nothing extraordinary. The only thing Dhami admits he has done is going about his job with sincerity and high level of commitment. In the past seven years of his career as a tram driver, Dhami has probably been on sick leave for just two weeks when he got a leg injury.
In all, Dhami has pocketed four awards. In 2012, he got a Good Driver certificate, in 2013 he repeated the feat, in 2015 and 2016, he got the Outstanding Driver of the depot award. He rues missing out on an award in 2014 probably because of the leg injury he suffered at the time.
Getting these awards is no mean feat. Yarra Trams has set few criteria of punctuality, customer feedback, zero accident record, zero complaints etc. In fact you have to have a squeaky clean driving record. These awards are handed out at the customary annual grand dinner felicitation with the CEO of the company, a real moment of pride for employees.
To understand Dhami better and to know his regimen for success, let’s unwind his life from the moment he stepped into Australian shores.
Cut to 1998. Fresh out of college in Jalandhar, Dhami was enrolled in a diploma of Information Technology course at Macquarie University in Sydney. On arrival he found himself not only in a totally alien atmosphere but amid a course that was “too advanced” for him. “I could not cope with the whole system and I felt the agent misguided us to an extent,” he reflects.
By the end of three months, Dhami had almost made up his mind to pack his bags and head back home when his parents advised him to meet up with their family friends in Melbourne for some guidance. The decision to come to Melbourne proved almost a turning point in his life. So supportive were these friends that he ended up staying with them for about nine months during which time he not only managed to get a few part time jobs but also transferred his course into something less intense. “It does help to have a helping hand here at the start,” he says, adding, “I became a bit more settled and it all started from there – my success of sorts.”
Like all international students, Dhami found himself working in an Indian restaurant where he was also trained to be a chef. He would later work as a chef for five years. “I became multi-skilled.” But what also helped was the basic training he got as a hosteller in college where cooking was one of the routes to self-sufficiency. “That helped me. I enjoyed cooking then, I enjoy cooking now.”
During the period working as a chef in Melbourne, Dhami met his would-be wife whose family hailed from Kerala. Fortunately both families had no objection to the marriage and after a few months they decided to settle down. But being married also came with a few riders. It meant he had to get a permanent job.
When Dhami requested his restaurant owners to make him a full time employee, they were a bit reluctant to do so as he had just applied for his permanent residency. Fair enough, he decided to switch careers and did a week-long taxi course that enabled him to become a taxi driver full time. For the next three years, Dhami did well ferrying people around but also improving on his English language by conversing with passengers. He made good money and bought his first house. Soon the couple were also blessed with their first child.
But with children also came the demands of fatherhood. “I was driving 12 hours a day and although my parents and in-laws were here to support us, it was getting tough. Plus I had to keep up with the house payments so I decided to hunt for other full-time jobs.”
One fine day, Dhami got a call from Myers after he had applied for the post of logistics and stock controller. He got the job and worked there for four years. “I gained a lot from there. I had good customer service experience, I learnt about safety as I was fire warden for two years there.”
It was also at Myers that Dhami was noticed for his sincerity and hard work. He got the Customer Service and Safety Award after thwarting a serious accident. Someone had stacked up goods one on top of the other without realising it could fall and potentially injure someone. One morning as Dhami entered the room, he quickly informed the manager that this was not a good idea as somebody could get hurt. Myers instantly recognised his presence of mind and he was rewarded for this foresight and great thinking.
Meanwhile, Dhami and his wife had their second child. With the growth of family, financial liabilities too grow. The salary at Myers proved inadequate.
At lunch break one day, Dhami saw three jobs being advertised – one for tram drivers, one for Line train conductors and one for Australia Post. He applied for all three posts but Yarra Trams was the first one to respond. “They needed a couple of things clarified – such as criminal records; any points deducted from licence in the past six months and if I had any customer service experience. Satisfied they called me for a day-long interview the following week. There were 12 of us.”
Dhami did well and progressed into the final stage of the interview which was to be conducted by two depot managers at Yarra Trams. “It was a bit hard but eventually I got through. I was then told I had to go for a driving test. That also went well. Finally I was offered employment as train driver with Yarra Trams.” At this stage he still had no idea how to drive a train.
The mystery was finally unravelled. After he got a call, he underwent five-weeks training combining theory and practicals after completing mental and physical fitness test, drugs test etc. Although he finished all stages of the training, he was told to wait for a few months as there were no vacancies yet. But as luck would have it someone resigned and he got a call the next day asking him if he would like to come and sign the contract. Out of the nine depots, Dhami was given the Camberwell depot.
This July, Dhami will complete seven years with Yarra Trams. “I truly enjoy my work, it is also a good source of income and it is a very secure job. We work on shifts every week but the best part is we can swap our shift with other drivers. That way I am also able to spend time with my children.”
Dhami says at the outset, a tram driver’s job looks easy but the responsibility is enormous. “One little mistake can cause a big accident which is why they are very strict on policies. It all depends on braking system – when and how you break is important. You have to concentrate on breaks. That also explains why we get eight weeks of annual leave instead of four because of fatigue,” he explains.
But all jobs come with their risks too. For instance, rowdy passengers are beyond the control of the drivers. “When I was training we were told that if passengers are abusing you, you are not to take it personally.”
He did encounter a rather unfortunate incident six months early into his driving, perhaps the only one in his seven years. A group of 10-12 youngsters who were drinking decided to make a mess of the tram. “I used my mike requesting them to get off which they did but on the way back they were waiting for me. They threw bottles aimed at me from all sides and I had to duck. I didn’t stop the tram and drove as fast as I could.”
Of course, all incidents have to be reported. A shocked Dhami was given counselling session and he took off the next day. “These days we have rescue within minutes, but amazingly these incidents have waned a lot,” says Dhama, adding, “Nothing much happens at night and there are lots of police in the city. So people are well aware and not many bad incidents are happening. But that was an incident to remember all my life. Luckily I wasn’t hurt.”
But incidents such as these are one off and there are ten other good things that more than make up for the few bad ones. “The public acknowledges every kind act, they ring up to say we had this driver the other day, he helped us with a pram and he returned our wallet which had 2000 dollars. It feels good.”
Dhami says he goes to work with a positive mind. “You do get the same route, the same passengers sometimes and same incidents but every day is a different day for me. I am happy driving and I think I am well established now,” he laughs.
The fact remains, driving has always a passion for Dhami. From bicycles, to scooter to motorcycles to cars, he went on to drive bigger things in life. “This one is quite big,” he smiles. “My passion kept growing over the years and when I got this opportunity I said yes, I knew it was for me.”
Dhami has had a few career changes in his life but he has always given it his best in every endeavour. “Any work that you do in life, if done with honesty and dedication, pays. You don’t have to run after the rewards. I just do my work honestly and I find great satisfaction in being the best asset I can be to my organisation.”
Dhami might be your next door immigrant but his philosophy is a great value for the one trying to assimilate in this very multicultural country.
By Indira Laisram