I am honored and proud to share with you my early experiences in Australia.
I was born 1945 in Kab – Elias Lebanon about 15 kilometres from Zahleh city in the Bekaa valley. Growing up in a middle class family of seven, I attended the Anglican school until the 3rd year high school, studying the Arabic and English languages. I joined the Lebanese army at the age of 18 and then decided to migrate to Australia at the age of 21 years.
On the eve of the 25th of January 1966, my family gathered together at our home. I sat next to my mother whose eyes were moist while trying to say goodbye to me. My father took a small box from his pocket and handed it to her. She then opened it and took out a small cross with a chain and put it around my neck. It is still around my neck till this hour. My father then reminded me that I have a loan to repay while I am in Australia (to pay for my fare on the ship). Early next morning the whole family came with me to Beirut sea port, where I boarded a Greek liner called “Patris” to come to Australia.
We were 1500 passengers on board the ship, including 300 Lebanese, mostly from the north of Lebanon, and 1200 Greeks. Spending 22 days on board the ship was not easy, but enjoyable most of the time. To pass the time and stay in harmony with each other, the captain and crew had a program of activities and plays to entertain everybody on the ship. I made sure to be in most of them. Like fancy dress party, hat party and the Neptune commemoration play. I played the role of the doctor who makes sure the slaves are dead before we threw them in the sea.
Five days after the ship sailed most of the Lebanese complained about the Greek food, so we formed a group and went to the captain asking him to let some of the Lebanese women on board cook Lebanese food some times during the trip and he accepted to save the trouble. During this voyage I made friends with many people on board the ship, including a young Greek couple whom I later lived with as a boarder for one year.
On the 16th of February 1966 the ship arrived at the port of Fremantle in Western Australia for a stop of about six hours. During this time I met my first Australian Lebanese in Australia and his surname was Haddad. He told me that the Haddad family arrived in Perth in the early 1900s. The ship sailed to Melbourne. On arrival at Port Melbourne, I found a big gathering of Greeks and Lebanese welcoming us. I met Fr. Paul El-Khoury who was there to welcome everybody and help any one who needed help. He gave me his phone number and address, saying ‘come and see me soon’.
I collected my bags and took a taxi to the house of my friends Norm and Najla Abicair in Alphington. My first impression on the way was that all the timber houses with iron roofs looked alike and nothing like the houses in Lebanon. But I was impressed with the clean streets, the green lawns and the lined trees, especially the traffic lights which we did not have in Lebanon at that time.
After staying one week at the Abicair house, I found work at the P.M.G. Country Installations, building communication stations for country Victoria. My work involved soldering wires which cost me many jackets and trousers from burning them. My pay of $32.00 a week was enough to pay for my board, transport and other necessities and to send money back home to repay my loan.
During these early days in Australia I lived as a boarder with an English family in Fitzroy. My social life was restricted by the money in my pocket, only the Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Carlton, the cinema in Fitzroy and the occasional Carlton versus Collingwood football match where I learned about Australian Rules. Each time Carlton kicked a goal I would scream GOOOOLD and it was there where I learned to eat Four and Twenty pies, drink Carlton draft beer and use four letter words, and more. Time passed and I moved to live with my Greek friends in Hawthorn where I boarded for one year.
My mother’s insistence that I return home for a visit eventually wore me down and in July 1969, I arrived back home. My whole family was happy, especially my mother. She already had a girl in mind for me and she insisted that I go with her to visit the girl’s parents, so I went and met her family. Siham was 18 years old at that time and we liked each other and decided to get married quickly because I had to come back to Australia. I say everybody should listen to his mother because I am very happy with our marriage we have three beautiful kids Phillip, Marianna and Robert. We just celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary on the 18th of August this year.
Back in Australia I decided to go into business and we bought a milk bar in Rosanna. At first things were very hard for Siham, especially the language. When people would ask her for an icy pole ice-cream she would run and get a packet of aspirin. At the end every thing worked out for us. We have had over five businesses before I moved into real estate, after obtaining Diploma IV in Business, selling business and commercial properties.
Finally, I must say this. Knowing Fr. Paul El-Khoury early in my life and working with him helping Lebanese migrants to find work, houses and making their lives easy, has helped me develop my values about life and a deep and passionate commitment to the Lebanese community and the wider Australian community issues.
I share the following aims and values:
Love of Australia
Love of Lebanon and our heritage
Promoting human rights and justice in the Middle East
Promoting excellent ties between Australia and Lebanon
I am fully aware of the aspirations of Australian Lebanese to become involved in Australia and its way of life. I support this aspiration and encourage every one to be loyal to Australia and respect the law and constitution of this nation.
© Salem (Sam) Haddad JP
25 August 2006