Harman Patil (Editor)

Lebanese Australians

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Lebanese Australians

Lebanese Australians refers to citizens or permanent residents of Australia of Lebanese ancestry. The community is diverse, having a large Christian religious base, being mostly Maronite Catholics and Greek Orthodox, while also having a large Muslim group of both the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam.


Lebanon, in both its modern-day form as the Lebanese state (declared in 1920, granted independence in 1943) and its historical form as the region of the Lebanon, has been a source of migrants to Australia for over two centuries. Some 203,139 Australians claim Lebanese ancestry, either alone or in combination with another ancestry. According to 2011 Estimates 76,459 Lebanese-born people in Australia, with 72% of all people with Lebanese ancestry living in Sydney,

In New South Wales, the Western Sydney suburbs of Bankstown, Lakemba, Auburn, Granville, Strathfield, Parramatta, Punchbowl and Redfern (From 1840s to 1960s), Marrickville (From 1870s to 1950s) and Surry Hills (From 1840s to 1940s) are largely associated with the Lebanese population, as in Victoria are the Northern Melbourne suburbs of Coburg, Brunswick, Fawkner and Altona.

Community history

As part of a large scale emigration in the 1840s, numerous Lebanese (mostly Christians) migrated in great numbers out of Lebanon to various destinations. Most emigrated to Brazil and other Latin American nations, particularly Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Many also went to the United States, Canada, and others to Australia, primarily to the eastern states, and most to New South Wales in particular.

Thus, Australia's Lebanese population is one of the older established non-English speaking minorities in the country (though many Lebanese people now speak English, to a greater or lesser extent).

In the 1890s, there were increasing numbers of Lebanese immigrants to Australia, part of the mass emigration from the area of the Lebanon that would become the modern Lebanese state, and also from the Anti-Lebanon mountains region of what would become Syria.

Under the White Australia policy of the nineteenth century (and with Lebanon being located in the Middle East, geographically known as South West Asia) Lebanese migrants were classified as Asians and came within the scope of the White Australia policy which intentionally restricted non-white immigration to Australia. Lebanese migrants, like others deemed non-white by Australian law, were excluded from citizenship, the right to vote and employment, and were treated as enemy aliens during World War I and World War II. In 1897 Lebanese store keepers and businesses were accused of fraud by state border Customs officers during Queensland customs prosecution cases.

Prior to 1918, Lebanese migrants to Australia were not habitually distinguished from Turks because the area of modern Lebanon was a province of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Administration then passed to the French Mandate for several decades, which ruled it together with what would become Syria, its neighbour. Hence, for that period, the Lebanese were not distinguished from Syrians.

From 1920, people from Lebanon (and Syria) were granted access to Australian citizenship as the Nationality Act 1920 removed the racial disqualification from the naturalisation laws.

By 1947, there were 2000 Lebanese-born in Australia, almost all Christian. The Lebanese born population numbered 5000 in 1971. Following the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975-1990, more than 30,000 civil war refugees arrived in Australia. This wave of migrants were often poor and for the first time, over half of them were Muslim. This influx of new migrants changed the character of the established Lebanese community in Australia significantly, especially in Sydney where 70% of the Lebanese-born population were concentrated.

For the remainder of the 1970s and 1980s, unrest in Lebanon caused a large increase in the number of Lebanese migrating to Australia, continuing with a significant proportion being comprised by Muslims. Lebanese in Sydney have followed a distinctive occupational pattern characterised by high levels of self-employment, particularly in petty commercial activities such as hawking and shopkeeping. In 1901, '80 per cent of Lebanese in NSW were concentrated in commercial occupations' – in 1947, little had changed, as 60 per cent of Lebanese were 'either employers or self-employed'. Even in the 1991 census, Lebanese men and women were 'noticeably over-represented as self-employed'. [21] The Lebanese in Melbourne have opened restaurants and groceries and Middle Eastern shops and Lebanese bars on Sydney Road which is sometimes called "Little Lebanon".

Following the trials for a series of gang rape attacks in Sydney in 2000 by a group of Lebanese, the Lebanese Muslim Australian community came under significant scrutiny by the media in addition to a more general anti-Muslim backlash after the September 11 attacks in 2001. Community concern and divisiveness continued in the wake of the 2005 Cronulla riots in Sydney. In 2014, a series of documentaries on Lebanese Australians was presented by SBS under the title Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl.

In November 2016, Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton said that it was a mistake of a previous administration to have brought out Lebanese Muslim immigrants. Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop said Mr Dutton was making a specific point about those charged with terrorism offences. "He made it quite clear that he respects and appreciates the contribution that the Lebanese community make in Australia".

Key events and organisations

There are now many Lebanese-Australian business groups, businesses and events aimed primarily at engaging the large Lebanese community in Australia and strengthening ties between Australia and Lebanon.

The peak business body is the Australian Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, with associations in both Sydney and Melbourne.

A Lebanese Film Festival has been launched in Sydney for 2012. This will showcase Lebanese arts and culture through film and becomes the premier showcase of Lebanese cinema outside of Lebanon.

Religious diversity

Most Lebanese people today live outside of Lebanon. Because of a higher birth rate among Muslims, and the prolonged emigration of Lebanese Christians for the last two centuries (leading to their depletion in Lebanon itself), today, an estimated 54% of Lebanese in Lebanon are Muslim (having become the majority in the last three decades). Of the Lebanese outside of Lebanon, known also as the Lebanese diaspora which numbers from 8 to possibly 14 million, the vast majority are Christian (between 70%-80%).

In Australia, 55% of Lebanese are Christian, while a large minority (37%) are Muslim.

All main Lebanese religious groups — Christians, including Maronites, Melkites, Greek Orthodox, Protestants, Orthodox and Catholic Lebanese Armenians, Muslims, including Shi'a and Sunnis denominations; Druze, amongst others — are now represented.

Return migration

Lebanese Australians have a moderate rate of return migration to Lebanon. In December 2001, the Department of Foreign Affairs estimated that there were 30,000 Australian citizens resident in Lebanon.

During the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, the Australian Government organised mass evacuations of Australians resident in Lebanon.


Lebanese Australians Wikipedia

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