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08 May 2019

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Bringing our river to life

For 20 years, Tim Bracher has worked tirelessly to activate our lower Yarra River precinct by connecting business and community here in Southbank.

Having started off life as a freelance journalist, Tim forged his career working in public relations and marketing, through which he started his own management consultancy business.

With a strong background in tourism, it was in 1999 when he was approached by the City of Melbourne and what was then Tourism Victoria to kickstart what would ultimately become the Yarra River Business Association (YRBA).

“It started off as such an inconsequential thing,” Tim said. “I agreed to take it on with the intention of signing up for 12 months to get the marketing going and then finding someone to take it on from there.”

“What I found after six months was that it wasn’t just a case of babysitting a new organisation. Some of the issues that were coming up for consideration were quite fascinating to me and they really played well to my background and to my interests – journalism, public relations, marketing, tourism – and so it ticked all the boxes for an interesting longer-term engagement. I kept going for that reason.”

What began as a temporary job soon grew into a passion and Tim has now served as executive officer of the YRBA for 20 years. His contribution over that period to helping the precinct transform into one of the most loved parts of Melbourne cannot be understated.

Funded by the City of Melbourne, the YRBA today boasts nearly 200 business members, with the likes of Federation Square, Southgate, Arts Centre Melbourne, Royal Botanic Gardens, South Wharf and the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) among them. Hosting regular events for its members throughout the year, such as its business luncheons which feature a different guest speaker presenting on issues and topics affecting the precinct, the YRBA is the voice of our business community.

As its network has grown over the years so too has the precinct. By connecting businesses under a common goal, the YRBA has continued to help create a better Southbank for our community and visitors to enjoy under Tim’s leadership.

“You don’t really notice it every day but when you do stop and look back you realise that it [the precinct] has come an enormous distance and gives me a great sense of satisfaction to think I might have had some part to play in that evolution,” Tim said.

“Of course, it’s been the work of many, many people from many different departments but I sort of equate myself to a little terrier dog just nipping at the heels for 20 years in the nicest possible ways.”

In the early days, he described the precinct as a “very undercooked” tourism offer. Southgate and Crown Casino operated as tourist nodes and there was very little in between.

Activation of the river itself has always been central to the YRBA’s remit, which was made a challenge in the beginning by an “old school” boating industry that saw each other as competitors, according to Tim. Between Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water and state and local government, the multi-layered governance of the river has also tested the YRBA’s resolve over the years.

Paying homage to the work of the man considered by many to be the “father of Southbank” in Evan Walker, who served as planning minister in the Cain Labor Government in the 1980s, Tim said it was his work that had made everything possible.

“Evan Walker started it all here,” he said. “He had sown the seeds and the private sector was coming in to start filling the gaps. But it took a long time to fill those gaps and there were two challenges initially.”

“One was to pull the business community together and to see themselves as a community that could help each other. The other thing was to convince Melburnians that it was a precinct worth visiting and exploring.”

“We’ve taken this from what was essentially the drain of Melbourne to the showcase. It’s taken a lot of lobbying behind the scenes. Even the businesses of Southbank don’t really understand how much back-room work goes on to make this precinct what it is today.”

Starting from the sports precinct in Jolimont and travelling past the likes of Federation Square, the Arts Precinct, South Wharf and through to Docklands, a walk, cycle or boat ride along the lower Yarra is now one of Melbourne’s most celebrated experiences.

With the Yarra forming the centrepiece of just about every major event our city has to offer thanks largely to a strong business community, Tim’s efforts have been well and truly vindicated.

And his place in our community goes far beyond just business. Tim works closely with the likes of the Southbank Residents’ Association on a range of local issues. He also sits on the Southbank Safety and Security Committee.

While the business landscape has changed significantly over the last 20 years, the YRBA continues to stay relevant. With a constant rotation of new faces on its board bringing fresh ideas for the precinct, Tim said he believed it was well placed for its next 20 years.

“The key to remaining relevant is to have a constant flow of new people onto your board, particularly younger people,” he said. “They’ve carried me along in changing my ideas but also the enthusiasm of them bouncing off each other with their ideas has kept us relevant and will do so for years to come.”

“Hopefully we can leave a blueprint of where we need to go bearing in mind that the precinct evolves every day, every month and every year and so you can’t lock in things for a decade. Our major mantra over the last few years has been activating this river and that’s coming to pass.”

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