The earliest Lebanese immigrants
to Australia settled in New South Wales in the late nineteenth century, escaping economic hardship and religious and political persecution under the Ottoman Empire.
Victoria began to see immigration from Lebanon from about the 1880s. It is difficult to be accurate about the number of Lebanese settling because immigrants
from Lebanon were variously classified as Syrians, Turks or Asians until the 1950s. However, it is known that many early migrants were individual males or small groups of males, hoping to make money quickly and perhaps return home.
Many of the early Lebanon-born settlers in Victoria worked as hawkers, buying their goods in Melbourne and selling them in rural areas. Some later established businesses in retailing, warehousing and manufacturing.
The family was the focus of Lebanese ethnicity, and the community soon grew through chain migration
– loved ones reuniting in a new country for a new life.
By the early twentieth century, second-generation Lebanese were contributing to Victorian public life. Many were well-educated and worked in professional occupations. Others became economically prosperous through business ventures.
After World War II, the number of Lebanon-born Victorians increased slowly. In 1954 less than 500 Victorians were Lebanon-born, but changes in migration policy soon saw increasing numbers of Lebanese arrive. Following the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, the number of Lebanon-born Victorians doubled in less than five years to nearly 4,000. After the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon in 1975 the number again doubled, this time to over 10,000.
Today over 14,947 Victorians are Lebanon-born, most still living in Melbourne’s metropolitan area. Nearly half are Christian, and 43% are Muslim. Victorians of Lebanese descent make a rich contribution to Victorian life, making their mark in fields such as politics, fashion, law and hospitality. Victoria’s Premier from 1999-2007, Steve Bracks, is himself of Lebanese descent.