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MARONITES CHURCH, REDFERN: REV. YAZBECK’S LETTERS to AMCHIT

The addressee of the cover is Rev. A. Yazbeck, St. Maroun’s Church, Elizabeth Street, Redfern, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia and the 3d green ‘Roo on Map of Australia’ stamp has a roller cancel REDFERN/ 11 A.M.– SP 28/ 1920. It is addressed to Mrs Fares Walla Caram, Amchit via Beyrouth, Djubell, Mont Liban, Syria, and the address is also recorded in Arabic script. The reverse was seen and there was an ALEXANDRIA, (Egypt) transit but the arrival postmark was illegible (Figure 1).

 

The second earlier cover also had the same-named Rev. Yazbeck at the above address, with the same stamp and same roller cancel REDFERN/ NOON – MR 16/ 1920, and it was addressed to Messrs. Joseph Fares Caram & Brother, with the identical address in English and Arabic script (Figure 2).

The reverse had transit postmarks of PORT TAWFIK/ 20 AP 20/ 6-PM and PORT SAID/ 22 AP 20, both in Egypt but no reception postmark (Figure 3).

In 1889 the number of Maronite Catholics, (originating from Lebanon and other Middle East communities), in Australia had reach a critical mass to justify the establishment of a Maronite mission with two priests. Father (later Monsignor) Joseph Dahdah and Father Abdullah Yazbeck, were sent to Sydney. When they arrived Cardinal Moran attached them to the Latin rite churches of St. Vincent de Paul in Redfern and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Waterloo from where they attended to the spiritual requirements of the Maronites; a Maronite Church had already been established in Adelaide. Photos of Joseph Dadah and Abdullah Yazbeck are shown in Figure 4

It was reported in 1897 that a move for their own church began early in 1894 when a chapel was set up in a private house in Raglan Street Waterloo and was blessed by Bishop Higgins. Although inadequate, this chapel served the community with the Latin Rite until the completion of the first St. Maroun’s Church Maronite Catholic Church in Elizabeth Street Redfern in January 1897. This was replaced by the larger St. Maroun’s Cathedral at Redfern, Sydney in 1964. Both Redfern churches are shown in Figure 5.

The Church and community have continued to prosper and they are a well established community in NSW.

The town of Amchit lies in the heart of the Mount Lebanon district. It rises gradually to 160 metres above sea level; it is 38 kms away from Beirut and 40 kms away from the centre of the Mount Lebanon district. Its boundaries touch the limits of the sea. Its population is 27,000, and Amchit is a very old town, inhabited in the past by Jewish people. The principal families in Amchit came from the Northern town Ehden. The first families who settled in Amchit were named Kallab, Karam and Obeid.

The Lebanese started to migrate to Australia in the 1850s. By the 1880s communities were forming in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Because the early Lebanese originated from the Ottoman district of Mount Lebanon in Syria that existed before the formation of the modern state of Lebanon they were called Syrians or Ottomans. Mount Lebanon was then under Ottoman (Turkish) control. The Ottomans were Muslim and they harassed non Muslims. The Ottoman presence caused many Lebanese people to migrate to Australia. In 1854, the first Maronite Catholic Lebanese arrived in Australia.

By 1901 many Lebanese people had settled in and around Redfern, Waterloo and Surry Hills in Sydney. Most arrived with no money, spoke little English and had no work skills apart from farming. They were considered non British foreigners and fell under the White Australia Policy classification as Asian because Lebanon was on the eastern side of the Mediterranean. Discrimination and restrictive policies meant it was virtually impossible for these people to get work in the industries dominated by the Anglo Australian working class.

As a result some entrepreneurs established retail and warehouse businesses and factories. Although no official data exists on the employment of Lebanese settlers prior to 1901, it is assumed that most of them engaged as shop-keepers and hawkers. The area boarded by Redfern, Waterloo and Surry Hills became an economic hub that provided employment and goods for the Lebanese community - this ironically came at a time when these suburbs experienced decay and hardship. A number of Lebanese merchants prospered and became well known nationally for their self-employment enterprises.

 

 
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