How the Houli Family settled in Australia
My parents migrated to Australia in the 1970s. The reason being is that they wanted to start a new, fresh life. Obviously (in the 1970s) Lebanon was going through a tough time through the civil war. And, they thought it was a great opportunity to come to Australia. Initially they came to seek work and to make a little bit of money. They had the intention of moving back to Lebanon at some time.
My father was sent initially, and then somehow [he] arranged; I don't know what you call it - but my Mum was sent down from Lebanon. They got married and they lived in a household with three-four couples. These days it is very tough to live with another couple, let alone different couples. But, they did that well, and I guess for them their sole purpose was to make as much money as they could and then move back to Lebanon to raise their children. My brother - my older brother was born here although I don't remember [the details], he was sent to Lebanon and my grandparents raised him.
They (my parents) worked for ten years and moved back to Lebanon. But things didn't work out. They realised that Australia was the place called home. They moved back in 1987 and the following year I was born. But as I said, the sole purpose was to come here and make some money as soon as possible and to move away from a country that was suffering a lot of destruction. And thankfully we are in this country as in my view it's the best country.
What do you value about your culture?
One thing I value about my culture is being Lebanese and the traditions we hold. My parents came with strong traditions and still hold these today. Being a close knit family, being close, we bond well and do not cut any ties. The bigger we are, the stronger we become. I come from a massive family and so it is something that I value and never step away from. I'll never lose the Lebanese tradition. One thing I want is to raise my kids to be better educated in their religion.
[However these are] two different things - people often think that religion is a culture but religion is a religion, and being Lebanese is a tradition. And, that is one thing my parents got mixed up with. They mixed religion and tradition. And that's one thing I want to do is to break this and make them understand there are certain traditions that you should follow and there are certain traditions that you shouldn't follow. Because, some of these traditions go against the religion of Islam. So one thing I want to do is to make my young ones understand the difference and obviously bring them up on both religion and tradition.
Feeling like an outsider
I feel like an outsider every single day. You know- it's not just my appearance, but more so about what I'm allowed to do and not allowed to do. The boys [AFL colleagues] might enjoy a drink or two after the game, whereas I can't. The boys may go out and party, whereas I can't. It's not that I want to do it, but I can't as I am a believer of Islam and it does not allow us to go out there- the night, partying or to drink alcohol. I am not saying it's the wrong thing, but being so devout, I like to follow my religion as much as I can and to be the best practising Muslim I can because I have a role out there to be. I am a role model for those kids growing up. I guess it's not by choice, it's a role given to me that I have to fulfil.
Starting out in football
Starting football for me was really, really tough. A lot of people know my story - I started without [my parent's] permission for a whole year, so they weren't overly keen about it. But you need to take into mind that they came to Australia purely to seek the best education for their children. They thought that football was the vehicle to drive me away from education. And that was the case for a couple of my brothers. They were so 'sport dominated' that it was affecting their studies. Also, having my eldest brother as a doctor does not help. He set the benchmark nice and early and so my parents wanted the rest [of the siblings] to become doctors and lawyers. But what they didn't understand was that each individual has a goal in life and now they are starting to realise that in order to get the most out of different individuals, we have to support them for whatever they want to be in life. And for me it was football, and at the same time I wanted to study so as to get the most out of myself. They [my parents] readily give me advice about what is going on 'on-field' and 'off-field', so it's great to have this support and great to see they are adapting to Australian culture. Because we should celebrate each other'' cultures, religions, regardless of where you come from, and that is where our game [AFL] is heading.
Multiculturalism and the AFL
A large percentage of our game is made up of multicultural players. So I think if you're a Jew, Christian, and Catholic or Muslim I think it's important. And obviously being the first practising Muslim was different and through the media [it] did raise a lot of eyebrows. Now it has become second nature, with another Muslim player in the A-League (AFL) with Ahmed Saad. That recognition I guess helped me as well, it made people aware of who I was and what I believed in. It also gave me confidence, because the media gave me the confidence to stand up and be proud of whom I was and to help educate people about the basics of Islam; which is unfortunately sad because people will not go out of their way to understand what the basics of Islam is. People perceive what the media has to say and my role through the AFL is to give the right impression of what a Muslim does on a day to day basis.
On being a multicultural Ambassador
One thing that I am raising this year is a multicultural 'Round 14'. I would love to have a big day at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), where two big teams are playing. We can celebrate different cultures, and that is one of the projects I am looking at for the AFL and being a multicultural Ambassador. So it's a great opportunity to learn about different cultures through celebrating different festivals, different foods, and dances. And it is through things like this that people will respect where people came from.
The Bachar Houli Academy and the Bachar Houli Cup
Growing up and studying in an Islamic school, we never really had the chance to play in school sports. And, I thought that if one day I played football and made my name, (although I'm not saying that I have made my name yet). But I guess I've got that sort of respect through the AFL. Whereas it would be a good opportunity to give these kids what I missed out on and that was an inter-school sport, that is inter-school sports focusing on football as that is my field. So I'm using my position through the AFL to focus on Islamic schools.
Last year we had our first year where we played the Bachar Houli Cup and that was based on six-seven Islamic schools throughout Victoria. They played a competition which they really enjoyed and all the schools gave us the 'thumbs up' to continue in the years to come. So that was very encouraging. We had the government there on the day and they were really surprised about the turn-up and the enjoyment these kids got a lot out of it. So now they have actually funded the programme. They have, and have made it a national programme where we can include Islamic schools from NSW, from WA, and from Queensland. This program has become really big and the sole purpose is to give these kids a better opportunity, a better pathway to reaching and succeeding in their life- whether it may be football, it could be just a plumber or a community leader. So it's a great program where we want to help these kids grow up and clearly create a better life.