Geographic Origins

The Republic of Lebanon is in south-western Asia. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east, by Israel to the south and by the Mediterranean Sea to the west.

History of Immigration and Settlement

Lebanese immigrants began arriving in Australia in the late nineteenth century. They emigrated from what was then the province of Syria in the Ottoman Empire for a variety of reasons. The region suffered economic hardships after 1869 when the opening of the Suez Canal disrupted traditional Middle Eastern trade routes. The opening of the canal also increased imports of manufactured goods from Europe, leading to the decline of craft industries. Other factors included droughts, plagues and land shortages in rural areas, conflict between religious groups and the desire to escape Turkish domination.

Before the 1890s, Australian census data listed Lebanese Australians as ‘Turks’. Until the 1954 census they were described as ‘Syrians’.

The first documented Lebanese immigrants to Australia arrived in 1854. The Fakhry brothers came from the village of Becharri. They boarded a ship in Beirut to go to America. They landed at Port Adelaide, believing they had docked at Al-Na-Yurk, New York. Many shipping agents exploited immigrants by charging them for a passage to the most expensive destination. At the time many unsophisticated rural Lebanese believed that anywhere in the West was America. It is believed that the Fakhry brothers worked as hawkers throughout rural South Australia. In 1877 Mr. Solomon Saleeba arrived in Adelaide from Lebanon.

Most of the Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Australia before the 1920s were male rural workers, who had little grasp of English. The general pattern was for early Lebanese settlers to establish themselves as hawkers as soon as they had acquired enough capital from labouring work. Customers could point to the goods required. As a pattern of chain migration developed, early hawkers moved on to become shopkeepers, while more recent arrivals filled their places as hawkers.

The earliest known Lebanese Orthodox Christian arrived in South Australia in 1886. Nicholas Rawady came here from Tripoli. He worked as a hawker in Yunta and traded in horses. He was joined by his brother Michael Jacob Rawady in 1892. Michael was born in 1864. He was a stonemason by trade, but took up work as a hawker in Kapunda, an important centre of stock sales and markets at the time. Michael hawked his merchandise from farm to farm between Kapunda and Burra, returning to Kapunda when he had run out of goods to sell.

Michael’s uncle had assisted him to migrate to South Australia. In return Michael brought his cousin John with him when he returned to South Australia from a trip to Lebanon in the late 1890s.

In the first years of the nineteenth century Michael returned to Lebanon and married his cousin Nazeera Rawady. Michael remained there with his wife for a few years. He returned to Australia after the birth of his son, and continued to work as a hawker, mainly in the area of Wallaroo and Kadina. By this time he was using a horse and cart to transport his stock, going out on his rounds for weeks at a time. He slept at farmhouses and ate with the farming communities he visited.

Michael’s wife and son travelled to South Australia with him in 1910. The family settled in Kapunda. The couple had a further ten children, three of whom died in infancy. The family often socialised with other Lebanese South Australians, including a group of families who lived on West Terrace.

Michael was naturalised in 1922. He continued hawking until he broke one of his legs in the late 1920s. Although he was naturalised and had worked for many years in Australia he was deemed not eligible for a pension. He was eventually granted a pension in the early 1940s while two of his sons were fighting in the second world war. Michael Rawady died in 1945. He, Nazeera and some of their children are buried at Saint John’s Catholic Church just outside Kapunda.

In 1992 Michael’s son Eli donated a number of Arabic Bibles to the Migration Museum’s collection. Some of them were published in the nineteenth century. Michael probably brought some of these to South Australia after one of his trips back to Lebanon.

The Habib family from the Maronite village of Masser-el-Shouf in northern Lebanon lived in Elizabeth Street, Adelaide, in the late 1880s. Their hawking business was successful, and they sent favourable reports back to their village. As a result, in the early 1890s two adolescent brothers from Masser-el-Shouf immigrated to South Australia. Beshara and Yousef Kardachi arrived in Adelaide and began working as hawkers.

Beshara and Yousef’s first load of stock was supplied on credit by Goode, Durrant and Co. Mr Habib probably acted as guarantor. The brothers’ goods included boots, clothing and haberdashery. The two brothers initially worked in the region of the River Murray with a horse and cart. At the beginning of each day they would divide an area between themselves, hawk in their area and meet up again at dusk.

At the turn of the century Beshara and Yousef began working at the edge of the Nullabor Plain. They would use a cattle or sheep station as a depot. Word would travel to neighbouring properties that the ‘walking shop’ was in the area. At this time Yousef married and settled at Tumby Bay.

Beshara travelled to Lebanon in the early years of this century. He returned with Therese, his bride, and established a general store and home in Elizabeth Street, not far from the Habib family. Beshara went out hawking, sometimes for six months at a stretch, while his wife ran the shop. The couple had five children. The family briefly returned to Lebanon in 1923. After this they established a shop in the rural town of Keith, where they were initially regarded with suspicion and hostility. After suffering great financial losses during the Depression the family settled in Melbourne.

According to research prepared by Sheikh Shakib Rasheed, the first Lebanese Druse arrived in Australia at Port Adelaide in 1892. Youssef Saif-Eddin Sulman Najar from the town of Beit-Mery was, like many who were to follow him, first employed at the Port Pirie lead smelters. After he had acquired funds to buy stock he began hawking drapery and haberdashery in the Mid-North. In 1894 Youssef returned to Lebanon and married Warrd Abbas Andary from Abadieh, who never came to Australia. In the late 1890s Youssef began hiring disused shops in country towns for short periods, gradually working his way from town to town. In 1910 Youssef opened a store in Renmark with his brother Hussan. Youssef bought a fruit block in the town and a number of properties in Berri, including the town’s first cinema, which was opened in 1922. Youssef and Warrd had two sons, Said and Toufik, and a daughter, Wadiah. Youssef was prominent in Riverland commercial, sporting and civic life. He died in 1945.

Harry (Hussein Ali) Monsoor was another early Lebanese Druse South Australian. He arrived in South Australia aged 17 in 1900. Like Youssef, Harry worked at the Port Pirie smelters for a short period. In 1902 he began hawking in the north of the state with a van pulled by donkeys.

In 1925 Harry returned to Lebanon to marry. He and his wife Mehiba established a home in Copley near Leigh Creek. In 1926 Harry bought a Graham Brothers American-made truck. For the next 28 years Harry travelled for seven months of every year through scorching heat and squelching mud to supply the communities of northern towns, stations and Aboriginal missions with merchandise ranging from patent medicines and toiletries to boots and bolts of cloth.

In 1938 Harry and Mehiba settled in Beltana. Shortly afterwards Harry was joined on his runs by his second child, Henry. Harry retired from hawking in 1954. He died at Leigh Creek five years later.

Harry’s 1926 Graham Brothers truck passed from the Monsoor family after his death. In 1987 a Marree family donated it to the National Motor Museum, Birdwood Mill. It was restored as part of South Australia’s motoring and cultural heritage and is on permanent display in the museum.

The 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, better known as the White Australia Policy, affected Lebanese migration to Australia. At the time Lebanese migrants were grouped with Syrians, which meant they were considered to originate from the ‘Near East’ or ‘Asia’. Lebanese Australians who applied for naturalisation after 1901 were usually refused. As Australia was at war with the Ottoman Empire during the first world war and Lebanese Australians were considered Turkish subjects, they were regarded as ‘enemy aliens’ and forced to register and report at police stations for the duration of hostilities. Lebanese immigrants were able to enter Australia and become citizens after 1926.

Prior to the 1920s many Lebanese Australian men had returned to the Middle East to marry. Often their wives remained in Lebanon, only seeing their husbands every few years or so. This was because of taboos that dictated that it was immodest for women to leave their villages. After the 1920s the trend of ‘long distance’ marriages gradually declined as an increasing number of Lebanese wives joined their husbands in Australia.

By the 1920s Lebanese South Australians had settled and established businesses in Adelaide, Gawler, Renmark, Berri, Jamestown, Terowie, Kingston, the South East, Moonta, Beltana, Ceduna, Cleve, Elliston, Lameroo, Wallaroo, Kapunda, Kadina and Springton.

Lebanese immigration to South Australia declined during the 1930s. The 1947 census listed 253 Lebanese and Syrian-born South Australians.

A number of Lebanese immigrants came to South Australia between 1947 and 1966. People were enticed by Australia’s post-war economic boom. Like the Lebanese Australian hawkers before them, they began as labourers and then worked their way up. Many were initially employed in factories before opening their own businesses.

A large number of Lebanese Druse settled in South Australia after the Second World War. This is a distinctive sector of the state’s contemporary Lebanese community. Lebanese Druse emigrated in particular from the villages of Beit-Mery, Aley and Abadieh. While some travelled directly to South Australia to join relatives in the established Druse community, others who first settled in other states were drawn to South Australia because they lacked family ties with smaller Druse settlements interstate. A number of Lebanese Druse settled in Berri, where they worked as viticulturists or horticulturists. Some others settled in Mount Gambier. By 1966 there were 445 Lebanese-born South Australians.

Between 1966 and 1971, 13,550 Lebanese immigrants arrived in Australia seeking refuge and security. By 1976 there were 668 Lebanese-born South Australians.

From mid-1976 to mid-1977, 12,156 Lebanese immigrants resettled in Australia. Among these settlers was a growing number of Lebanese Muslims. South Australia’s first such Muslim, however, is believed to have migrated some twenty five years earlier. Hamdi Baroudi applied and was accepted to study accountancy at The University of Adelaide. Arriving early in 1951, he first settled in a boarding house in St Mary with other international students. Realising that the Lebanese community was very small he made friends at university with Muslims of different nationalities, and they told him of the Mosque in Gilbert Street and the Sunday get togethers. He also discovered the presence of Lebanese Christians who tended to live in the Mitcham area, and of the Lebanese Druse community in towns such as Berri and Renmark.

Hamdi left university and decided to work; he was initially employed as a bus conductor. By 1958 he had earned enough capital to return to Lebanon to visit his family. Here he met his wife Azaz Abiad, a student at the American School in Tripoli. They were married in 1959 and returned to Adelaide soon after.

Azaz felt isolated initially, although able to speak English, she had a problem understanding the Australian accent, and was only able to communicate with Hamdi. At this time there were no Arabic broadcasting services, no Arabic foods in shops or markets, and the clothes fashions were very different to those to which she was accustomed.

After a few more years Hamdi bought a delicatessen in Croydon. Whilst here Hamdi and Azaz had five children. In the late 1960’s Hamdi applied for some close relatives to join him in Australia, and his two cousins, Esmat and Samih Baroudi, and Azaz’s brothers Ziad, Tarek and Mohamed Abiad migrated to Adelaide. Esmat ran a fruit and vegetable store, and Samih was involved in the early establishment of the Marion shopping centre, before buying his own delicatessen and starting a family.

Azaz’s brothers all settled quickly into life in South Australia; Ziad owned several supermarkets and delicatessens, Tarek owned a snack bar and Mohamed continued his studies at Regency TAFE to become an electrician.

During this period other Lebanese Muslim families had settled in South Australia. The Boksmati family who had originally settled in Sydney arrived in Adelaide in 1952. Others members of the family soon joined them. Two members of the Morabe family had settled in Adelaide in the early 1960’s and arranged for many of their relatives to settle here.

During the 1970’s there was an influx of Lebanese migrants fleeing civil war. Most came from Tripoli. Hamdi assisted his sister and her family to come to South Australia, and Azaz also brought her two sisters to South Australia. This lead to the migration of the Moukadem and Dannoui families. With the growth of the Lebanese Muslim community in South Australia at this time, more Lebanese Muslims arrived in Adelaide from other parts of Australia. To name a few there were the Hajar, Almawi, Al-Atrash, Zreika, Assal, Nour Aldeine, Al-Said and Al-Hassan families.

Lebanese South Australians are employed in a range of occupations. Lebanese South Australians have settled throughout the state, especially in the Adelaide suburbs of Mitcham, Marion and Rostrevor, close to the Druse centre, as well as the Riverland town of Berri.

Community Activities

The Ottoman Association of South Australia was founded at the turn of the century. Its members had immigrated to South Australia from the Mount Lebanon region of the empire of the Ottoman Turks. Elyas El Khoury from Ma’asser was the society’s first president. Other members of the association included Faris Mohamed Hillal from Kurnayal; Naaman Ali Yackthan Rasheed, Adnan Basheer Rasheed and Brahim Mahmoud Rasheed from Beit Mery; Wadiah Abu Tahmy and Salim Abu Tahmy from Shweir; Salim Attiyeh from Butmeh; Tanias El Ruttel and Michael Hambour from Tripoli; and Mohamed Maksad from Brumana. Little is known about the association apart from the fact that it had contact with His Excellency, Consul of Turkey in Australia, Esbir Jurreidini. The association probably disbanded at the beginning of the First World War.

An unofficial Lebanese organisation was founded in Adelaide in 1903. A group of Lebanese Druse South Australian men came together to help new arrivals resettle. Majeed (Mick) Hamdan Rasheed was among the members of this group, which was officially established as the Syrian Lebanese Druse Society in 1926. Mohamed Zane-Eddin Rasheed was the society’s first president, Youssef Saif-Eddin Najar foundation vice-president, and Adnan Basheer first assistant secretary. Khalil Milham Hamden, Wadieh Minther and Salim (Sam) Hussein Salha were among more than 50 foundation members.

The Druse faith originated in 1017. It is also known by the Arabic name of Tawhid, unitarian. The founders of the Druse religion aimed to create a faith that brought together Biblical and Islamic ideas and stressed the direct relationship between God and humanity. The Druse faith does not have a clergy. Members of the community noted for their learning are periodically elected as Sheikhs to lead Druse ceremonies in Majlis, meeting rooms. The one holy day of the Druse year is the festival of Eid el Adha, also known as the Feast of Sacrifice.

Eid el Adha celebrates an event detailed in the Book of Genesis. God tested Abraham, the Jewish Patriarch, by commanding him to sacrifice his son Ishmael who was destined to be the Arab Patriarch. At the last minute an unseen force prevented Abraham from killing the boy. Instead he sacrificed a lamb that had miraculously appeared nearby. Abraham had shown his loyalty to God by his readiness to part with what he loved most.

The Syrian Lebanese Druse Society changed its name to the Lebanese Druse Society when Lebanon gained its independence in 1943.

A significant number of Lebanese Druse immigrants settled in South Australia after the Second World War. The society began to plan its first hall. In 1949 it bought premises at Barton Terrace, North Adelaide. The Druse House that was established at this address is believed to be the first Druse hall outside Lebanon. In 1963 the Lebanese Druse Society moved to Janet Avenue, Glynde. In 1993 approximately 2,000 Lebanese Druse South Australians were involved in Druse community life. On 4 July 2012 the premises at Glynde were burned down in an arson attack. On 1 February 2012 land for the society was purchased at Norton Summit for new premises to be built.

A considerable number of Lebanese South Australians belong to the Lebanese Maronite Catholic Church. For further information see Appendix 1, Religious Belief and Practice: Christianity.

The Maronite branch of Catholicism was founded by Saint Maroun, a priest and ascetic who preached in the Syrian desert in the fourth century. Followers of Saint Maroun remained in communion with Rome after the 451 Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon created a schism between the western Christian Church of Rome and the eastern Church of Constantinople. The persecution of Maronites by Jacobites ‑ Orthodox Christians who disagreed with the definition of Christ accepted by Maronites ‑ the Byzantine emperor and invading Muslims led the Maronites to migrate south to the mountainous region of north Lebanon in the seventh century. This region of Lebanon has been an area of Maronite settlement since that time.

The Maronite rite uses the Biblical language of Aramaic. Maronites have their own liturgy, canon law and patriarch. However, like other Catholics, they are under the spiritual leadership of the Vatican.

In the 1950s there were sufficient numbers of Maronite South Australians for a priest from Melbourne to visit the community periodically. On 17 September, 1972, Reverend Father Joseph Ndaira was appointed by Rome as resident parish priest. The parish of Saint Maroun bought a house on Cross Road, which temporarily served as a chapel. It later moved to the Maronite Church of Saint Maroun on Goodwood Road, Westbourne Park.

Maronites recognise all of the saints that have been canonised by Rome. In addition there are over 800 Maronite religious figures and martyrs who have special significance for Lebanese Catholics. The Vatican has honoured three of them, apart from Saint Maroun.

Saint John Maroun lived in the seventh century. He studied at the convent of Saint Maroun and in Constantinople. He defended the Catholic faith against heresy and became the first Maronite Patriarch in the late seventh century. His feast day is on 2 March.

Saint Sharbel Makhlouf was born in the village of Biqa-Kafra in northern Lebanon in 1828. In 1851 he entered the Monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouk north of Jebeil. He was ordained as a priest in 1859. In 1875 Saint Sharbel entered the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul in Annaya. He died there on 24 December, 1898.

Saint Sharbel led his life with great humility, abstinence and devotion to God. He performed a number of miracles during his life. They continued to occur near his tomb after his death. Saint Sharbel was canonised in 1977. His feast day is celebrated on the third Sunday in July.

Blessed Rafqua was born in the village of Himlaya near Bifkaya in 1832. She became a nun of the Mariamette Order in 1853. Twenty years later she joined the Baladita Order in El-Qorn.

Throughout her life Rafqua strove to be in communion with Christ’s suffering. In 1885 she prayed to be tested by sickness as a sign of God’s mercy. She went blind in one eye and had it removed shortly afterwards. By 1895 she was completely blind. In 1907 Rafqua became crippled. Within a few years her whole body was twisted and paralysed. She endured her quest for grace and salvation with patience, dignity, acceptance and a boundless devotion to God. On a few occasions she was miraculously able to crawl to the convent’s chapel. Rafqua died in 1914. The first miracle is believed to have occurred near her grave in 1938. She was beatified in 1984. Her life is commemorated on 23 March.

A number of Lebanese South Australians belong to the Orthodox Church of Antioch. For further information see Appendix 1, Religious Belief and Practice: Orthodox Church of Antioch.

A number of Lebanese South Australians are Muslims. Most worship at the Adelaide Mosque, which dates from 1889 and was built by Afghani people. Many worship at the mosques in Park Holme and Wandana, these Mosques were built in the early 1980’s in response to the growing Muslim Lebanese communities, although, Muslims from many nations worship there. Noon prayers every Friday attract several hundred Muslims. In response to more recent Muslim migration a larger Mosque was built, the Al-Khalil Mosque at Woodville. This Mosque has a library, conference room, and facilities for a proper Islamic burial with the cemetery next door.

An Islamic school was established in Wandana in January 1998 with 18 students and year one classes. The college moved early in 2000 to its own premises in West Croydon. The property was purchased by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. In 2000 the college gained full registration to conduct classes up to year seven. In March 2017 Federal Government funding to the school was cut, the school placed in liquidation and closed briefly. After a takeover by the Perth-based Australian Islamic College in June 2017 the school reopened as the Australian Islamic College Adelaide. The college teaches an English curriculum, with special lessons in Arabic and the Islamic religion.

The South Australian Lebanese Women’s Association (SALWA) was formed in 1992, by a group of Lebanese women from all religious backgrounds. The principal aim of the group is to help all Arabic speaking migrants establish themselves in South Australia. The group offers support and advice on how and where to get information about services and benefits, the provision of financial assistance and conducts support groups. SALWA and the Muslim Women’s Association had separate exhibitions at the Migration Museum to highlight the culture, life, settlement and history of the Lebanese community in South Australia. The Muslims Women’s Association was founded in 1993, with aims similar to SALWA. It dispenses advice about services available to Muslims, provides financial help, and conducts self improvement programs. The programs include computer skills, English classes, needle work and health awareness workshops. The Association also publishes a newsletter, to keep the Muslim community informed about important issues and coming events.

For further information about the Muslim faith see Appendix 1, Religious Belief and Practice: Islam.

Lebanese food is a distinct cuisine unavailable to the early immigrants. For a long time there were no shops in which to buy Lebanese food stuffs. Today several stores supply the community with all the essential herbs, spices and other ingredients needed to make traditional Lebanese food and bread. There are also many cafes and restaurants serving authentic Lebanese dishes.

Organisations and Media

  • Saint Maroun Maronite Catholic Church
  • Australian Druse Community of South Australia Inc.
  • South Australian Lebanese Women’s Association Inc.
  • Muslim Women’s Association.
  • Saint Elias Orthodox Church of Antioch
  • Lebanese Football Association
  • Adelaide Mosque Islamic Society of South Australia Inc.
  • Islamic League of Australia Inc.
  • Islamic Society of South Australia
  • Renmark Islamic Society
  • Riverland Lebanese 


  • The 1981 census recorded 1,192 Lebanese-born South Australians.
  • The 1986 census recorded 1,370, and 2,835 people said that they were of Lebanese descent.
  • According to the 1991 census there were 1,479 Lebanese-born South Australians. 2,618 people said that their mothers were born in Lebanon, and 2,828 that their fathers were.
  • According to the 1996 census there was a small increase of 15 Lebanese-born South Australians during the period 1991 to 1996, to 1,499. There were 1,998 members of the second generation.
  • The 2001 census recorded a small decrease in the number of Lebanese-born South Australians since 1996 to 1,481. However, 4,132 people said that they were of Lebanese descent.
  • The 2006 census recorded 1,532 Lebanese-born South Australians, while 4,551 people said that they were of Lebanese descent.
  • The 2011 census recorded 1,457 Lebanese-born South Australians, while 4,797 people said that they were of Lebanese descent.
  • The 2016 census recorded 1,539 Lebanese-born South Australians, while 5,223 people said that they were of Lebanese descent.

By Migration Museum

This article is part of the From Many Places project documenting the diverse cultural groups in South Australia. It is a project started by the Migration Museum in 1992 and continued in partnership today. 

Add media
Courtesy of/Photographer:Bit Scribbly Design

Migration Museum

Add story