Dad visited Lebanon only once in over 36 years of being Australian. Upon returning to Brisbane, he knelt down and pretended to kiss the airport tarmac, joking that he would never leave Australia again.
By
Nadine Chemali

24 Apr 2018 - 5:20 PM  UPDATED 24 Apr 2018 - 5:20 PM

My dad George loves Australia. After a very steep learning curve, he is the most Aussie migrant you will ever meet.  He can smash a pie (whilst complaining about his ulcer) and sink a beer before introducing you to our drink of choice, arak, a very strong spirit that will undoubtedly leave you with a throbbing hangover. 

Like most of our countrymen, he has lived through the reality of war. My family was living in Beirut, Lebanon in 1975 when civil war broke out. It saw our entire country torn apart.

People that were like family became your enemy, and even crossing the road in the neighbourhood you had lived in your whole life was dangerous.

 My mother was crossing the road to buy milk for my baby brother and was shot by a sniper. Dad had to drive her through a hail of live bullets, bleeding and screaming to the nearest hospital.

We learned this lesson during a ceasefire in 1976 when my mother was crossing the road to buy milk for my baby brother and was shot by a sniper. Dad had to drive her through a hail of live bullets, bleeding and screaming to the nearest hospital.

They told my father she wouldn’t survive. Through some miracle (my Dad would proudly say it was her stubbornness), she survived. But she spent three years in agony in a hospital bed, with medical care and painkillers scarce.  Men in our neighbourhood were forced to take up arms to protect us. Men who were doctors, cleaners, factory workers and accountants (like my dad), were now accidental militia men. We fled Lebanon in the early 1980’s for a safe haven in Australia. 

Dad visited Lebanon only once in over 36 years of being Australian. Upon returning to Brisbane, he knelt down and pretended to kiss the airport tarmac, joking that he would never leave Australia again. He is so grateful to everything this country has afforded him that in 2003 he came up with the idea to organise an ANZAC day ceremony for the Lebanese community to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers of what he calls “the greatest nation on earth”. 

Understandably, my dad is passionate about honouring all who have fought in war.  A committee of Lebanese friends and family approached the Rosalie RSL and requested to contribute and participate in to the ANZAC ceremony in 2003 and again in 2004.  The community would go on to establish a hall in Tarragindi, Queensland, and held events in 2005 and 2006. In following years, commemorating this relationship between Lebanon and Australia took place as other states started holding their own ceremonies within the Lebanese community and my family would travel interstate to attend.   

 Dad visited Lebanon only once in over 36 years of being Australian. Upon returning to Brisbane, he knelt down and pretended to kiss the airport tarmac, joking that he would never leave Australia again.

Most people don’t know that my birth country has a relationship with the ANZACs. The Lebanese were under the Ottoman Empire prior to World War I and due to Turkish blockades suffered a devastating famine which killed half the entire population of Lebanon. The people that survived fought alongside Australian (and Irish) troops when they represented the British takeover that captured Palestine, pushing into Lebanon and Syria by 1918. My people were grateful to the ANZACs and showed them great hospitality. 

The Second World War saw Australian soldiers again stationed in Lebanon, fighting the French Vichy alongside Lebanese forces, liberating Lebanon from French colonial rule.  My maternal great uncles fought alongside the Australians in that war and were lost in battle. Australian casualties during the fighting in Syria and Lebanon numbered 416 killed and 1,136 wounded.

Like most of our countrymen, he has lived through the reality of war. My family was living in Beirut, Lebanon in 1975 when civil war broke out. It saw our entire country torn apart.

After the war some Australian servicemen returned to Lebanon to start homes and families and to this day the presence of Australian servicemen is seen across Lebanon in the abundance of eucalyptus trees dotting the landscape. 

In 2004, my brother went back to Lebanon to interview the two surviving Australian servicemen that had returned to Lebanon after the war to document the history between our two countries. Since then, one of the men has passed away, but I am proud of my brother for documenting his story, for despite the war that would later overwhelm Lebanon, he stayed there, calling it his adopted home.

During my brother’s visit he was amazed to discover Lebanon had several memorial sites for Australian soldiers and spent hours driving across the country exploring them. One site particularly needed restoration, in a small village called Madfoun and upon his return to Australia he initiated fundraisers for the Lebanese community here to restore this important piece of history.

 There are now ANZAC ceremonies held in Lebanon at the Madfoun memorial site for people to honour Australia’s soliders in the liberation of Lebanon. It is attended by local politicians and the local community to reflect upon and pay respects to the Australian soldiers that fought in our homeland.

My dad proudly displays a letter addressing our shared military experience from then Prime Minister John Howard in his study. He believes it is important for us to remember that just as Lebanon once welcomed Australian soldiers, cared for them, and fought alongside them, Australia opened its arms to us. 

This year, my father is 80 years old. He isn’t able to travel interstate to attend the service organised by the Lebanese community in Sydney, but you will be able to find him and my mother at the dawn service at the Surfers Paradise Memorial. If you see him be sure to shake his hand -  he will give you a wink and meet you at the pub in the afternoon.

Nadine Chemali is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @femmocollective

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