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.
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.
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.