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:: Saturday, 5 April 2003 ::

They do okay now. But they will rock. Just not soon.

It will take longer than the Italians.

By which I mean, getting it together to be a functioning part of Oz society that is not super apart, not so distinct. 'Equal but different', as that cool 80's song goes, that I can't really remember that well. Right ow, but, they are super apart and very distinct. And for lousy reasons which I will get to.

I am talking about the Lebanese community in Oz.

On Stateline Friday night, there was really sad segment about Punchbowl Boys' High, which is a perfectly okay school with a perfectly okay student body, a bunch of whom happen to be from Lebanese background, or even Lebanese born themselves. And while plenty get along okay, there are profound problems that occur for them, which should be minor bumps on life's highway. Going on school camp should be as easy as getting a parent signature on a slip of paper, packing an ugly sleeping bag and a change of clothes, and getting on the damn bus to Portland Petrified Forest or wherever it is that kiddies go these days. Skiing, maybe. Whatever.

But a bunch of Lebanese parents really object to letting their kids go away on shool trips. Really object. For whatever reason - too protective of their boys, too untrusting of their boys, too untrusting of other non-Leb boys, too untrusting of the school, too uninterested in Oz. Whatever. This is self-inflincted hamstringing of the worst variety. Cos it makes wierdos of the Lebanese boys over something that is so run-of-the-mill in Oz. So run-of-the-mill that it cannot even be thought of as particularly skippy.

You are not more of a skip for being allowed on a school trip. But you are for sure, with wheels on, more of a wog for not be allowed to go.

And that is bad. That's the stuff that makes you hate your parents. And the skips at the same time.

It is not un-Lebanese to get on a bus and stay over on a school trip. It may not happen a lot in Lebanon but it could easliy do so. They have buses. And legs to get on the buses.

Sheesh, they have sleeping bags too. For sure. Some sort.

Whether or not it happens a lot in Lebanon, it happens to be part of Punchbowl Boys' High extracurriculum stuff and Leb boys are invited and should be allowed by their parents to accept that invitation. They really should be. It will not dilute them as Lebanese kiddies one iota.

The reason I felt the show was sad was because it was. It showed a group of Lebanese parents who simply would not countenance the thought of their boys going away on a school trip. Mothers - young mothers - just closed minded. Why? I dunno. I am certain they have a reason. But I am equally sure it is not a good one.

What really moved me was a gorgeous Lebanese gent. Grey haired, balding, slim, handsome. His son, a chubby youth was named Sulimaneyah - after Suliman - cool. Deeply Arab cool. Wog on wheels, for those of us who haven't got a problem with that word. That term.

Now, that was a proud father of a son who he loves to pieces. That is great. Pa's who love their kids are great. And he said, in his beautifully accented english, that it is hard to change a culture quickly. It's hard. And while it's changing, things are difficult for everyone - for him and his son and the school his son attends. God, how true.

How true.

Change will happen, no matter how hard the process. He will find he does some changing anyways, as Sulimaneyah grows up. It is unavoidable. When you live in whole new place - in Oz. And that change will not be so much the losing of Lebanese culture, as it is the gaining of other stuff - skippy stuff - and the shedding of Lebanese habits that are not culture at all.

See, there is a difference.

Italians came to Oz in large numbers from Italy after the WWII. Most from the south, but plenty from all over. And many people spent some time in Bonnegilla camp and many, like my father, did the thing with the cane cutting in Queensland. Now my father, not much money, no english language at all, just a handsome man willing to work hard, worked hard. And in the course of his troubles, long sad story, a bunch of skippy know nothings broke all his 75 records that he'd brought from Italy, of opera singers that he loved. That was and remains my Pa's thing - opera. Broke 'em - smashed 'em all up - 'cos Pa was playing them to some Oz woman. And the skippy blokes did not take kindly to that sort of uppity wog behaviour.

Now, I have never doubted for one second that Gino was putting the moves on.

But that is not the point.

See, Italians coming to Oz as part of the wave of invited (yes, that is important) definitely faced hardship - rel prejudice, real dislike - skippies with less than zero knowledge of what it meant to eat good food. Less than zero knowledge of what it meant to produce good opera worth applauding. And some really stupid nasty skippies, calling all Italians 'wogs' and meaning 'filthy, garlic munching wierdos with wierdo music' etc etc. Not giving them jobs. Not crediting their education undertaken in Italy.

But Italians encountered the very same race of skippies, with heaps of knowledge about how to live well in a hot dry country with barely two seasons, and laugh a lot, how not to be uptight about the kiddies, how to feel as comfortable in the members enclosure at Caulfield as at the trots watching Pale Face Adios - no mean feat, and a brilliantly Australian knack, that.

Italians faced hardship. The hardship of trying to fit in to a community, when you do not entirely respect the Oz members of that community and the Oz members do not respect you particularly either. And the had to grapple with some serious matters - like how far to take their disapproval of divorce, of mixing Italian and Australian in a couple. And whether it was worth all the explaining that had to go along with the salami-making-tomato-bottling-extravaganzas. Jeebus wept.

And I reckon some Italian parents shat themselves about letting their kids go on a school camp to. But that just is not happening so much today. I will wager the number of Italians refusing point blank to let their kid out of their sight is that exact same number as skip parents.

Are Italians perfectly at home in Oz? For the most part yessiree. More and more so, with each generation, yessiree. Not entirely - g'uh. That should come as no shock - a bunch of Italians in Oz are just that - Italian. Not half-Italian, or Australian-Italian. Juts full on A-grade 100% Italian. And why would they want to lose that? They would not. Being Italian is deeply cool. By any objective measure. But especially to Italians. Natch they do not want to get too Australian. Too far away from Italian. Natch.

But being Italian is not mutually exclusive from living well in Oz. And getting along well in Oz.

That's the thing.

Now, the Lebanezeers face the same stuff Italians went through after the war, with the Lebaneezers are doing it from 1970's on. Not so much invited into the country, as let in on a lot of immigration requests. Different timing. Much more advanced Oz society. Oz after WWII was all Menzies and country scone baking lamington drives, you know? Italians made a super easy mark in Oz on the food alone, never mind the fashion, music, cars, art, lifestyle etc.

Lebaneezers gotta compete with a bunch of other wogs. Very well settled wogs. That's not easy.

They are not about to win Oz over on the cooking in a hurry, but it's getting there. There are no cars but there is a truly wierd subculture of Lebanese car mods that is interesting from a mechanical engineering point of view, if not aesthetic - actually, it is not aesthetic.

They are facing the same problems the Italians faced. And the Italians, with their own very firm ideas about culture and habit, got through it. Without losing their Italianness. But by taking on more Australianess - an inevitability if you live here. A good thing. You live here.

The Italians kept their cultural stuff - the salami-making-tomato-bottling-first-communion-extended-family-stuff etc etc and shed the habits of disapproving of relationships with skippies, or divorce, or single careerist daughters over 30.

That's what the Lebanese will go through too. It is inevitable. Keep the fabulous names, and the cooking and the extended family stuff and the poetry and song. Shed the habits like refusing permission to kids to go on school camp.

That gentle man, and he really was, a beautiful man, is grappling with culture and future and past. And so is his son, albeit one step removed.

I am certain he will be as happy as an Italian can be in Oz. Cannot ask for more than that, eh?

And as a closing point no - I am not going to address religion. Christianity and Islam are faiths of the Lebanese. The former is the predominant faith of Oz. Easy cultural fit. The latter is not - Oz is open for business on Fridays and when Aussies work, we do not stop to worship. But faith is not a habit. It is not for shedding. For muslim Lebanese, faith will remain the hardest part of their life in Oz.

I reckon it was the faith that stopped those parent permissions for the school camp. How else to explain the uniformity among Lebanese Muslim parents.

It has to get better, as I say above. But it just won't be soon.

:: WB 9:33 am [link+] ::

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