In Northern Lebanon, the Kadisha (Qadisha) valley provides a refuge. Its steep cliffs and caves protect and nurture a hardy independent character. The valley is a Christian enclave in a predominately Muslim region. In the Mountains surrounding the valley, ancient Cedar trees provided timber for Phoenician, Roman and Greek sailing fleets. Trails climbing over the surrounding mountains provided camel caravans a route to the legendary silk roads of Persia linking to the port of Tripoli. The town of Becharre (Bcharre) overlooks this strategic valley and it was here that Antony Joseph was born in 1885.
Why Antony decided to leave his home and his family is not known, but two likely reasons are given by his Becchare relatives. A succession of droughts and harsh climatic conditions is rumoured to have put the valley’s small holding farmers at risk. Debts with money lenders grew and work in paid employment was rare. Increased friction between Christians and Muslims arising in Syria and Southern Turkey is another possible reason.
The late 1800’s saw many young Lebanese leave their homeland to seek ‘fame & fortune’ in foreign countries on a scale similar to that of Irish migration at the time of the potato famine.
Antony and his young wife Ruby left Port Said in Egypt on SS Marama, paying for their fare with money borrowed from his brother. No one is sure why New Zealand was the chosen destination, perhaps the NZ gold rush years had led to rumours of a country where “streets were paved with gold.” They arrived in Dunedin in 1907 with little grasp of the English language and lived in Walker St (now known as Carroll St.,) an area ‘of dubious character’ which housed many of the city’s ‘new immigrants.’
Other members of the Dunedin Lebanese community provided assistance, and it is likely Antony received a further loan of merchandise and apparel which he then sold in the manner of a ‘hawker’ or ‘commercial traveller.’ His sales trips saw him walk throughout Otago and as far as Invercargill. Antony proved to be a good salesman, and before long he was able to purchase property, some for himself and his growing family, and some to rent as an additional income source.
As his family grew, to include two sons, (Richard and Fred) four daughters, (Lola, Julie, Lila and Yvette) his fortunes also grew. When asked his occupation on his 1924 NZ Naturalisation application Antony described himself as a ‘builder.” Indeed he now owned many properties and later successfully built and sold up to six homes on Forbury Road. A man of few words, where his word was his bond, Antony achieved a reputation as an astute businessman.
With his success assured and his family in good health, Antony returned to Lebanon in 1955 where he achieved local fame and is fondly remembered for purchasing a truck load of grain to distribute to the poor of Bcchare. He also repaid outstanding debts and ‘free-holded’ the family property which he then generously gifted to his nieces and nephews, and where they still live today.
Antony died in 1959, content, and proud to be a successful ‘new’ New Zealander who never forgot his homeland, his culture and his family.