The Lebanese in Australia they have always shown a strong desire to become loyal Australian citizens, both in peace time and during times of war.
While some were able to become citizens of the colonies before 1901, at Federation two acts of Parliament affected the Lebanese. These were Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, which excluded the migration of non-Europeans and the Naturalisation Act in 1903 which denied non-Europeans the right to apply for naturalisation.
Being classified as ‘enemy aliens,’ due to Ottoman control over Lebanon during the First World War, subjected Lebanese immigrants to further indignity. Many applied for citizenship, but were unsuccessful until the Nationality Act was passed in 1920, which allowed non-British residents living in Australia for five or more years to become naturalised.
The response of the Lebanese at the time was to assimilate into the Australian way of life and to demonstrate their loyalty. They displayed public spiritedness through gifts to charities and enlisted in the armed forces in numbers.
Today ninety-six per cent of eligible Lebanese take up Australian citizenship — one of the highest of any immigrant group.
In 1914 an estimated sixty young Australian-Lebanese joined the Australian Imperial Army, and fought in the various battlefields of the First World War. These included, among others, George Saleeba, Leslie Doblie and James Callil from Victoria and Harold Gabriel from Adelaide.
Young Australian Lebanese, including Jack Rawady, Joseph and Michael Batrouney, served in the citizens’ militia between the wars.
An estimated 600 Australian Lebanese fought in the various battlefields of the Second World War. Among these were pairs of brothers, including Jack and Sam Abood, George and Jacob Antees, Stan and Laurie Khyat, and Zac and Harold Yodgee. From one large extended family in Melbourne six cousins were involved in the war: George Mansour, Wally, Michael, Albert, Norman and Stanley Batrouney.
Leila Fleyfel (nee Ganim) served as an army nurse in Greece and New Guinea during the Second World War.
© Dr Trevor Batrouney