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Lebanese In Australia

Background

The Lebanese presence in has been achieved through three successive waves: the first from around 1880 to the 1920s, the second from 1947 to 1975, and the third from 1976, which marked the beginning of the Civil War in Lebanon, to the present.  The period following the Civil War has seen a reduction in Lebanese migration to Australia and a significant rise in the number of short-term return visits to Lebanon. This reflects release of the pent-up demand for a return to Lebanon after the Civil War. 

The descendants of the first wave settlers now extend to five and six generations while second-wave Lebanese-Australians include at least three generations.   The third wave, which came to Australia during and after the Civil War in Lebanon, typically extends to two generations. A major difference across each of the immigrant waves has been that of size.  The pioneer settlers represented a small and alien group within a predominantly Anglo-Celtic community in Australia.  The second wave substantially increased the size of the Lebanese population in Australia.   However the most profound changes in terms of size, composition and settlement needs came with the exodus from Lebanon during and after the Civil War.  The first two waves were predominantly Christian, while the third wave was predominantly Muslim. 

The Lebanese presence in Australia is indicated not only by the Lebanese-born but also by their descendants.  The Lebanese-born population of Australia stood at 70,325 persons in the 1996 census.  Of these, 52.5 per cent were males and 47.5 per cent were females.   An estimate of the total Lebanese population in Australia, consisting of Lebanese-born and their descendants, is approaching 250,000.  Although Lebanese are to be found throughout Australia, they are concentrated in the two largest states of New South Wales (75 per cent) and Victoria (20 per cent).  

The different historical periods, each with their different ‘push’ factors, affected the religious composition of the three waves of immigrants.  The first two waves were predominantly Christian, while the third wave was predominantly Muslim.  Muslims now constitute 38.6 per cent of the Lebanese-born persons in Australia with Sunni making up 34 per cent and Shiite around two per cent.  Catholics account for around 40 per cent of Lebanese-born in Australia, including Maronites (30 per cent) and Melkites (10 per cent).  The Antiochian Orthodox account for at least 11 per cent of Lebanese-born in Australia. Smaller numbers of Druse and Protestants are also found among the Lebanese-born. 

Occupations and Education

Significant differences may be perceived in the occupational pathways of each of the three waves.  The occupational path of the first group moved over a long period, through the stages of hawking, shop-keeping, working in manufacturing industries, through to professional and managerial positions.  The pathway of second wave immigrants was marked by movement from working in manufacturing industries to ownership of small businesses, then to larger businesses in the service sector.  The occupational path of the second wave immigrants has been shorter than that of the first wave, and typically extends to just two generations with some members of the second generation gaining access to professional and managerial positions.  A major discontinuity may be seen in the unemployment problems experienced by significant numbers of third wave immigrants, which are continuing to have profound negative effects on the settlement of this group.

The occupations of Lebanese-born persons in Australia reveal a spread across all occupational groups.  The professional and managerial groups account for some 30.3 per cent of the occupations of all Lebanese-born. The other groups include clerical, sales and service workers at all levels (22.1 per cent); tradespersons and related workers (16.8 per cent); and labourers and related workers (11.7 per cent).  This pattern reflects a decline in manufacturing industries and an increase in service industries and professional occupations. 

The unemployment rate for Lebanese-born in Australia continues to be high. This reflects the decline in manufacturing industries that traditionally provided the first jobs for unskilled Lebanese migrants in Melbourne.  It is also affected by the disruption to their education and employment experienced by many third wave settlers during the Civil War.

A recent study of the second generation in Australia illustrates the educational and occupational mobility of second generation Lebanese whose parents arrived before 1981.  For example, the Lebanon-born stay at school and university longer than the Australian-born and higher proportions achieve tertiary qualifications than those with fathers born in Australia the United Kingdom or Western Europe.  As would be expected, there is a striking increase in educational qualifications and professional occupations across the two generations.

The educational and labour market experiences among the Lebanese-born and their children reflect a polarisation, with some gaining tertiary qualifications leading to professional and managerial employment while others experience intergenerational unemployment and poverty.

Lebanese Community Organizations

The last ten years have witnessed a consolidation and increase in the number and diversity of organisations that serve the Lebanese community.  These include churches and mosques, educational and welfare bodies, village associations, political organisations, media outlets, and cultural and sporting bodies.  Some of these organisations are solely or predominantly for Lebanese Australians while others serve the wider Arabic community. 

Religious Organisations

The church and the mosque were the earliest and, for most Lebanese, are still the most significant community organisations.  For example, the first Lebanese religious organisation in Sydney was that of St Michael’s Melkite Church which was established as early as 1895.  In Melbourne first wave settlers and their descendants established the Antiochian Orthodox Church of St Nicholas in 1931.   Maronite, Melkite and Orthodox churches are now to be found in sufficient numbers throughout Australia to meet the needs of the Lebanese communities.  The Maronites, in particular, have been successful in establishing a range of educational and welfare services such as schools, child care centres and aged care centres in the cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

Given the preponderance of Muslims in the third wave of Lebanese migration, the last ten years have witnessed a large expansion of Islamic societies and other mosques to serve the Lebanese and other Muslims.  By 1998 the number of Islamic societies had expanded to 35 to serve the needs of all Muslims in Melbourne with over twice that number in the city of Sydney. Each Islamic Society has a full-time or part-time imam.  While Lebanese Muslims may attend any of these mosques, there are concentrations of Lebanese in mosques in suburbs of high Lebanese populations.  Depending on their size and length of establishment the mosques serve as social, cultural and sporting centres for their communities by offering senior citizens’ groups, women’s groups, youth groups and sporting activities.  The various Islamic societies come together to form Islamic Councils in each of the states, which in turn come under the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.  In most states Muslim religious leaders convene as the Board of Imams.  The Muslims have established both primary and secondary schools in Sydney and Melbourne the last 10 years.

Smaller groups of Lebanese belong to the Alawi Islamic Associations and the Druse Communities found in the most populous states of Australia.

Community Organisations

The longest established organisations are the Australian Lebanese Associations, which were established in 1950s in the most populous states.  They serve as umbrella organisations for the Lebanese communities in the various states and as branches of the World Lebanese Cultural Union.  They are recognised by the Lebanese Government as the representatives of the Lebanese communities in Australia.

In the 1980s Australian Lebanese Welfare bodies were established in Sydney and Melbourne to meet the extensive welfare needs of the humanitarian settlers who fled Lebanon before and during the Civil War. Through both their welfare and employment activities these ethno-specific welfare bodies complement the work of mainstream welfare organisations and act as intermediaries for Lebanese and other Arabic-speaking migrants.

Numerous other Lebanese or Arabic bodies have been established to promote welfare, cultural or sporting activities or to provide services for youth or women or other sections of the community.  For example, the Australian Arabic Council was established in 1992 as a direct response to the racism experienced by members of the Arabic Community during the Gulf War.  The Council has engaged in a range of activities to promote Arabic culture, to oppose negative depictions of Arabs in the media, to encourage accurate reporting on Arabs and Arabic issues, to engage in educational activities and to respond to government inquiries. 

Most of the village organisations, which were established in Sydney and Melbourne during the Civil War, are still in existence.  Their aims are not only social and cultural but also to provide assistance to their villages in Lebanon.   Among the more prominent village associations are those of Zahle, Bcharre, Hadcheet, Miniara, Tripoli and Mena.

Media

The last ten years have brought about considerable changes in the range of media available to Arabic speakers, including Lebanese, in Australia.  The four major Lebanese newspapers are published in Sydney with small sections dedicated to Melbourne community news and advertising. The oldest Arabic newspaper is the El Telegraph, which is politically neutral.  Al Bairak started as a Lebanese leftist paper and although its prime motivation is commercial, it still retains something of its original orientation.  An Nahar, although it originally had a leftist orientation, now has no political line but offers two to three pages of community announcements. The newest newspaper and the one with the highest circulation is El Herald.   This paper is supported by the Lebanese Nationalist Movement and favours the national integrity and independence of Lebanon.

A variety of radio programs cater for the Lebanese communities throughout Australia. These typically contain news from Arabic-speaking countries and from around Australia.  In addition to the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), there are ethnic radio stations and community radio programs.  Some project a particular political line while others are for particular sections of the community such as women.

Television programs have also revealed great diversity due to the different Lebanese groups seeking a voice and advances in communications technology.  In addition to the occasional Arabic television program on SBS, there is a community television channel.  There is also cable television ART (Arab Radio and TV) which shows a variety of telecasts from the Arab world such as Arabic films, sports and general entertainment programs.

During the Lebanese Civil War the press and other media became politicised as they identified with one or another of the warring factions in Lebanon.  However, over recent years, there has been an increased focus on entertainment and local or overseas news of personal or community importance.   

Overview

A number of continuities may be discerned in the Lebanese community in Australia over the 10 years since the end of the Civil War. First, there is continuing extreme diversity in the Lebanese community as illustrated by the proliferation of community organisations of many types and the problems experienced by the ALA to perform its umbrella role for the whole community. Second, the consolidation and growth of churches and mosques and their related organisations ensure that they remain the most significant bodies in the community, meeting social and cultural activities as well as religious ones.     Third, is the continuing high unemployment rate of Lebanese-born, which is higher still in suburbs with high concentrations of Lebanese.   This has contributed to family problems including poverty, domestic violence and intergenerational conflict. Social workers in the community also report the negative impact of gambling on poor and low income families.

Over the last ten years there has been a change among the third wave immigrants.  They have become more settled emotionally and materially, in contrast to their situation upon arrival when many were disturbed by the traumatic events of the Civil War and lost in their new setting.

Technology has exerted a major impact on many aspects of Lebanese community life.  For example, cable television, videotapes, cheaper long distance calls, have all ensured the continuing contact with Lebanese culture and society denied to earlier waves of Lebanese migrants.  When this is coupled with the large number of short-term visits to Lebanon, it is likely that third wave immigrants will maintain closer contact with their families and former homeland than earlier groups.

One of the major changes over the last ten years have been the educational and professional achievements of some of the newly arrived immigrants, and especially of second generation Lebanese.   These young people now have the self-confidence to assert their culture and religion as part of their Australian identity.  Their contribution to their community is a significant development with implications for a more self-assured community in the future. 

Another major change is the growth of welfare and socio-political organisations, such as the Australian Lebanese Welfare and the Australian-Arabic Council, which ensure that the interests of Lebanese Australians are brought to the attention of both the public and authorities.   The establishment of these organisations reveals a growing degree of self-confidence and assertion on the part of the Lebanese-Australian community to ensure their rights in a multicultural society.

Throughout their settlement in Australia the great majority of Lebanese immigrants have revealed a strong desire to be identified with Australia.  This has taken many forms over time, from the early settlers seeking citizenship in the face of the official policy of exclusionism, in their seeking the vote, in their public spiritedness, and in their enlisting in the Australian Armed forces in both World Wars.  Yet another measure is the high proportion of eligible Lebanese-born who had taken up Australian citizenship (96 per cent) by 1996.    In short, the story of Lebanese in Australia shows that Lebanese-Australians wish to retain elements of their Lebanese identity at the same time as acquiring an Australian identity.

© Dr Trevor Batrouney
August 2000

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