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.