This landmark television series is about Lebanese migrant settlement in South West Sydney. The Lebanese first settled in Australia in the late 1800s, but the series begins in the 1970s when the Lebanese Civil War and the abandonment of the White Australia policy introduces a new wave of migrants.
Over the coming decades, these new Australians work hard to establish their new life in their adopted country, but a series of domestic and global events is set to challenge the community.
In 1990, media and public reaction to the Gulf War brings hostility upon the Australian Arab community, forcing it into a declaration of loyalty. In the late 90’s Telopea St in Punchbowl becomes the drugs capital of Sydney, but the media makes the whole community feel vilified. In 1998, political and police pressure bears down on Lebanese youth following the murder of Edward Lee in Telopea St. In 2000, the Skaf gang rapes shock the nation and the Lebanese Australian community, as the media demonises the whole community. And after 9/11 the community feels the brunt of the Howard Government’s tough new anti-terrorism laws.
Simmering tensions explode in 2005 with Australia’s biggest race riot in modern history - the Cronulla Riots. It shocks a nation into rebuilding the fabric of multicultural Australia as the Lebanese-Australian community work hard at community bridge-building. Initiatives are launched such as On The Same Wave, where a group of Lebanese Muslim youths are trained to be surf lifesavers on Cronulla Beach. And the Mateship Trek, where Cronulla lifesavers and Lebanese teenagers do the Kokoda Track together.
The year after the Cronulla Riots, Jihad Dib becomes Deputy Principal of Punchbowl Boys High School. By 2009 Jihad Dib has turned the school around, recording some of the fastest growth rates in writing and numeracy in the country. Pride is being restored to the Lebanese Australian community.
In 2012, the community is challenged once more when a peaceful demonstration against a controversial anti-Islam video turns into the Sydney ‘riot’. In contrast to the Cronulla Riots, the bridge-building over the past 7 years means that the police and the Lebanese Australian community act together. Community leaders unite in condemning the violent protestors.
This is a community that has been besieged by events beyond their control for 30 years. No other migrant community in Australia has had to endure the same. But they have emerged stronger than ever with a resilience and strength that will carry them into the future.
Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl is the inside story, told by those on the ground, of the succession of challenges that beset the Lebanese community, a community which is, ultimately proud and resilient.