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Toula: the humble village, setting new horizons in new times

9. Migration

Lebanon was the homeland of the Phoenicians, the ancient seafaring people of the Mediterranean.  Thus, like the Phoenicians before them, members of the village have migrated overseas to many countries, such as Australia, built new communities and influenced the places in which they settled.

Since the village is made relatively inaccessible by snow in the winter, the small resident population is increased in the summer by many people who return there during the vacation period.  These images give you a good idea of the village in winter and the surrounding geography of the mountains. These beautiful photographs were taken by Fadi Nicolas Jilwan, an architect who comes from Toula. Because of these physical conditions and the desire to develop in education, business or other work, people from Toula in many cases live for much of the year in the large coastal cities, such as Tripoli and the surrounding region, Batroun, Byblos, Greater Beirut and other parts of the country.

Sources: Toula Village; Barakat, 68ff.

Source: Barakat, 174ff, Ghosn

Toula has generated migration to many countries during the course of the last hundred years, with notable concentrations in France, Australia, the United States of America, Canada, Mexico and South America.  The people who have come to Australia are part of the Lebanese community here which has made a significant impact on the country.

In the later 19th and early 20th century, similar to much of Lebanon, large migration from Toula and the villages in the region was motivated by various hardships under Ottoman rule, such as heavy taxes, hunger and disease.  There were further economic and political pressures associated with the time of World War I (1914-18), which led to deaths as a result of the latter two factors, which further motivated migration overseas.   Although leaving with the hope to return, as with many migrants, they remained in the countries to which they had gone.

First migration of Toulanians to Australia; development of the community in Australia.

The Lebanese community came into existence in the 19th century with the first migrants arriving in the 1850s, and communities formed in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide by the 1880s.  These early Lebanese came from the district of the Ottoman empire of Mount Lebanon in Syria, which existed before the creation of the modern country of Lebanon, so they were referred to as Syrians or Ottomans.  By the beginning of the 20th century, Redfern, Waterloo and Surry Hills were the areas where they lived in Sydney.   They mostly came with no money, did not speak much English and the only work skill which they had was farming.   They were seen as non-British foreigners and classed as Asian, because of Lebanon’s place in the eastern Mediterranean.  The social situation and restrictive policies meant that it was hard for them to find work in the Anglo-Australian dominated industries. Therefore, some entrepreneurial people started warehouses, retail businesses and factories.  No official data exists before 1901 for the employment of Lebanese migrants, but apparently most were engaged shop keepers and hawkers.   The region of Redfern, Waterloo and Surry Hills became the economic centre for the community which provided them with employment and goods.  A number of the Lebanese merchants became prosperous and nationally known for their initiatives of self employment.

As itinerant hawkers, many Lebanese sold exotic goods in suburban Sydney and rural areas of NSW.  Such a hawker would carry a small amount of merchandise over their shoulder using a short stick.  Walking was the main means of travelling from suburb to suburb and town to town, and this would be for several kilometres a day.  Thus, they would be away from their families and community for long periods.   These hawkers often got started with a suitcase of Manchester and draperies provided on credit from the Redfern warehouses, and once established, they were able to start their own businesses.  They realised that there were opportunities in the country because of their previous experience in rural areas, and by the end of World War II one Lebanese small business existed in most regional and rural centres.  A network was created of Lebanese businesses throughout NSW and Australia.  Because the network centred on large Lebanese wholesalers, Redfern, Waterloo and Surry Hills became the economic heart of the community.

There were hurdles which were faced by many early Lebanese migrants in being accepted by the Australian community at large.  They desired the same rights in politics, social security and land ownership as the Anglo-Australian community, but this community viewed them as being different.  This was because of the social ideas of the time and the Lebanese were thought to look and sound different and to have different cuisine, religion and customs, which indeed was the case.  The Lebanese wanted to be accepted but they could not discard their cultural heritage, which formed the basis of their community’s identity.

A Maronite mission to Australia was established in 1899 because the number of Maronite Catholics here was of a sufficient quantity and two priests, Father (later Monsignor) Joseph Dahdah and Father Abdullah Yazbeck, were sent from Lebanon.   On arrival, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Moran, attached them to the churches of St Vincent de Paul in Redfern and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Waterloo, both of which used the Latin rite, from where they provided spiritual and pastoral care to the Maronites.  Indeed, from 1894, there had been interest among the Maronites in establishing their own church, and a chapel was established in a private house in Waterloo, which, although inadequate, served the community with the use of the Latin rite until the first Maronite church was completed in Elizabeth Street, Redfern, in January 1897. The press at the time reported the opening of the church and noted its beauty, including the decoration of foliage, flowers, draperies, and rich carpets and rugs from the Holy Land.  The older church has been replaced by St Maroun’s Cathedral.

The history of the community in NSW is illustrated in the rich collection of the Maronite Heritage Centre in Redfern, which includes rare textiles, religious paintings, religious books, baptism registry, early letters and church furniture, which date from the late 19th – early 20th centuries

Source: www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au/exhibition/objectsthroughtime/maronites/

Migration took place after World War II, as part of the larger post-war migration to Australia from the Mediterranean region and increased greatly after 1975 with the Civil War in Lebanon.  The areas of Sydney, where large concentrations of the community lives, have also shifted to the region of Parramatta and Bankstown, although people of Lebanese background are found throughout both cities.  The concentration in the region of Parramatta is evidenced by the major churches of Our Lady of Lebanon in Parramatta and St Charbel’s Church and Monastery and School in Punchbowl.  Various Arabic newspapers are published in Australia including An-Nahar, El-Telegraph, Al-Anwar and the Middle East Herald. These papers report extensively on news about Lebanon and the Lebanese community in Australia.