Skip to main content

Serving Queensland – Lebanese Storekeepers

By JOL Admin | 21 August 2017

Guest blogger - Dr Anne Monsour, professional historian.

There has been a Lebanese presence in Queensland for almost 140 years. This is not obvious because until the 1940s, immigrants from Modern Lebanon were called Syrians. The arrival of increasing numbers of Lebanese in Queensland in the last two decades of the nineteenth century was part of a mass emigration from the Syria/Lebanon region. By 1890, Lebanese were in Brisbane, Townsville, Charters Towers, Barcaldine, Rockhampton, Maryborough and the Darling Downs. While the numbers in Brisbane continued to increase, so too did the dispersal of Lebanese throughout Queensland. Five years later, they were as far north as Thursday Island, in western towns such as Normanton, Croydon, Winton, Longreach and Charleville, in the Darling Downs, and in towns and cities along the coast. Although the entry of Lebanese was significantly restricted by the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, throughout most of the twentieth century, there was a continuous Lebanese presence in many towns and cities throughout Queensland.

Worker (Brisbane), 22 May 1897, p. 4

In the 1890s, the arrival of Lebanese in increasing numbers coincided with a period of economic recession, severe drought and developing nationalism which resulted in the broadening of anti-Chinese legislation to include all non-Europeans. Pervasive legislative discrimination against non-Europeans in employment restricted choices and contributed significantly towards most of the early Lebanese immigrants being self-employed in commercial occupations. In Queensland, for example, there were more than thirty separate Acts restricting occupational freedom. Between 1885 and 1947, fifty-five per cent of the Lebanese who applied for naturalization were in business in the retail sector as storekeepers, drapers, mercers or general dealers. Twenty-five per cent listed hawking as their sole occupation, and four per cent combined hawking with storekeeping or farming. With the inclusion of hawking, approximately eighty per cent of Lebanese immigrants were self-employed in a trading enterprise. Lebanese immigrants were able to create a niche as hawkers and storekeepers because they were marginal economic activities that did not threaten the job opportunities of white workers.

As a result, many Lebanese established successful and enduring retail businesses all over Queensland. One such business was that founded in 1885 by the brothers, Joseph and Richard Arida at Charters Towers. Within six years, the Aridas also had stores at Hughenden, Cloncurry and Winton. The All Nations Warehouse was a direct importer of boots and shoes, drapery, clothing, millinery and fancy goods. In 1908, the business amalgamated with the Anthony stores at Selwyn, Normanton and Collinsville. By the 1920s, Joseph and Richard had entrusted the management of the business to their niece, Wadiha Anthony, and her son, Albert Joseph Anthony. After Richard Arida’s death in 1944, the Anthonys continued operating the business.

workers line up in a row
Staff of R. D. Arida's Drapery Store in Charters Towers, Queensland c. 1932, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 54270

Abraham Selim Mellick and his brother, Habib, were teenagers when they came to Australia in 1899. Following a period of hawking in New South Wales, they moved to Townsville where they had relatives. After hawking in the Townsville district, Abraham established a store in Innisfail (then Geraldton) in 1902. By the 1940s, Abraham had brought his six brothers and two of his three sisters to Australia, and they were operating as drapers or mercers in Innisfail, Townsville, Mossman, Tully and Cairns. The Innisfail store started by Abraham, open for business for 100 years in 2002, closed in 2004 when his daughter, Thelma retired.

A.S. Mellick Store Innisfail, 1907, Courtesy of Australian Lebanese Historical Society collection

During the 1890s, other Mellicks, all from the same village, Bturrum, worked as hawkers in the areas around Maryborough, Rockhampton and Townsville before establishing stores. The Mellick Brothers drapery store was established in Rockhampton by 1895.17 By 1900, Mellicks were operating drapery stores in Townsville, Longreach, Blackall and Rockhampton. In 1949, there were Mellick stores in Townsville, Cairns, Goondiwindi, Ayr, Ingham, Babinda, Innisfail, Giru, Rockhampton, Longreach, Halifax, Winton and Home Hill.

Featured image for blog post 2524502
Elias Mellick Store (established 1901) and the Royal Hotel on Elderslie Street Winton, ca. 1934, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg 50485

Lebanese retail businesses were characteristically family enterprises. While the success of the Calile Malouf business, which began in 1893 and continued until 1970, can be attributed to good management, the involvement of family was also an important factor. While Calile and his wife, Ada initially worked together, eventually all their children were involved in the business: ‘…as we left school each one of us, you know around about 15 or 16…were taken in as a partner’. Starting out in the 1890s, George Abraham went hawking, his wife operated their store at Goombungee and they employed a woman to look after their eight children at home. When the children were old enough, all of them, male or female, were set up either on a farm or in a store while their father continued hawking. In a later example, all ten of Norm and Lavina Hanna’s children worked in the drapery store they established in Ruthven Street, Toowoomba in 1956. The business has been extended four times and Hannas Department Store is still operating successfully. Currently, John, Jimmy and Anthony are the partners in the business and twelve family members work in the store.

Russia Lutvey General Store, Gayndah, c. 1910, Courtesy of Australian Lebanese Historical Society collection

While a significant number of the second generation entered professions in fields such as medicine, dentistry, law, commerce, and education, many also continued to be self-employed in commercial enterprises and demonstrated an enduring attachment to the places their immigrant parents had adopted as home. All six of Russia and Eva Lutvey’s sons spent their lives in Gayndah where their father established a general store in 1898. Throughout their lives, the Lutvey brothers were active in many of Gayndah’s business, service, social and sporting organisations. Both Anthony and Michael served as Shire chairman and Gayndah’s Tony Lutvey Avenue and Mick Lutvey Street commemorate their contribution.

In 2013 Thelma Mellick was the Cassowary Coast Regional Council’s Citizen of the Year. Previously, Thelma, Abraham Selim Mellick’s daughter, a life member of the Innisfail Chamber of Commerce and also of the Innisfail Choral and Orchestral Society, had been awarded a British Empire Medal for services to Music and the Arts in North Queensland (1984), a Johnstone Shire Council Cultural Award (2000) and a ‘Paul Harris’ Fellowship from the Innisfail/Fitzgerald Rotary Club (2003).

The three sons of Joseph Bakhash who opened the Parisian Cafe in Cloncurry in 1914, remained in their birthplace, established businesses, served on organisations such as the Shire Council and the Fire Brigade board, and participated in the town’s sporting activities.29 In his maiden speech to the House of Representatives in 1993, the Honourable Robert Katter Jnr, MHR, the Member for Kennedy and grandson of Lebanese immigrant, Carl Katter who settled in Cloncurry, said this of his father, the Honourable Bob Katter Snr, MHR: ‘…you could not take north-west Queensland out of Bob Katter, but you could also not take Bob Katter out of north-west Queensland, which he loved and where he lived and died’.30

tobacconist shop front in Cloncurry
Ramsay Street, Cloncurry, 1967, including Katter C.R. & Co. and Bakharsh’s Tobacconist shop. (In copyright). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg 141413

While many factors contributed to the dispersed settlement of Lebanese immigrants, their preparedness to settle in regional Queensland enabled them to establish businesses that met local needs, were long-lasting and facilitated their active participation in their adopted communities.

Further reading



Your email address will not be published.

We welcome relevant, respectful comments.

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.
We also welcome direct feedback via Contact Us.
You may also want to ask our librarians.