On 10 July, members and visitors gathered at Miegunyah House Museum to hear Dr Anne Monsour speak about the fascinating history of Brisbane’s Lebanese community in her lecture ‘A continuous thread: The Lebanese Presence in South Brisbane, Woolloongabba and West End’.
Like many ethnic minority groups, the contribution of the Lebanese community to Brisbane’s development has been silenced in mainstream accounts of the city’s history. Dr Monsour is particularly interested in the Lebanese women who came to Australia, and whose stories are often hidden from the official record, as official documentation usually related to men. Using sources such as hawkers’ licence registrations and oral history interviews, she has uncovered some of their stories.
Dr Monsour explained that in the 1880s, when Lebanese people first began to migrate to Australia, they were from what was called Greater Syria, and thus were known in Australia as Syrians. Many women came as part of a family decision, although some made the decision to emigrate alone.
A common occupation for new Syrian migrants was that of hawker. A hawker would carry a bundle of wares for sale and travel throughout the suburbs of Brisbane going door to door. Anne noted that this was a despised occupation, akin to begging. However, for many Syrian Lebanese it gave them their start in business, from which a larger family business could grow.
Anne described the stories of a number of families who ran businesses in the South Brisbane and West End area, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century. One example was the Maloufs who ran a shop at 190 Melbourne Street in South Brisbane. This place was remembered as an important gathering place for people in South Brisbane, particularly Lebanese people.
Another family that made their mark on Brisbane was the Asmar family, who ran a business from 1935 to 1959 manufacturing tailored women’s clothing first in South Brisbane and later in Hardgrave Road in West End.
Anne’s research has revealed fascinating stories of a community that made a significant contribution to Brisbane’s commercial development, but whose stories have largely been overlooked. The women in these stories not only worked hard in their family businesses, but also ran households, worked as volunteers and welcomed people into their homes.
You can discover more about Dr Monsour’s research and buy her book at https://auslebanesehist.com.au
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