I am a third-generation New Zealander, of Lebanese descent. My parents were both born here in New Zealand, in Dunedin; my four grandparents all came from Lebanon, from the small northern town of Becharri, which is just below the famous and beautiful Cedars of Lebanon. They emigrated to New Zealand in the early 1890s, and they all settled in Dunedin, where they lived for the remainder of their lives. My family has therefore been in this city, and part of it, for just over one hundred years.
We are first and foremost New Zealanders and very proud of this, but we are also mindful of and very proud of our Lebanese heritage, which in itself owes its heritage to that of the ancient Phoenicians. As a third-generation New Zealander I am a combination of the two cultures that have influenced my life, neither one of which has really been of more significance than the other, and I like to think that in this respect I have had the best of both worlds. But in my heart and feelings I am probably more Lebanese than anything else. I move easily between the Anglo-Saxon (British-based) New Zealand culture and the Middle-Eastern one, learning from both and taking what I need from each one, and thus the pattern of my life has been richly formed. But one could also say that I do not really belong to either culture, that I will always have some confusion as to which is my true identity, and this of course is exactly the same for tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of immigrant families throughout the world (or at least for their descendants) of whatever nationality. In my own case I accept this as a fact, I am protective of both cultures and backgrounds, and I think I am a free spirit between both. It does not seem such a bad arrangement.
My name is Diana Marie Kearns (nee Milne) and I am the younger daughter of Anthony and Jessie (Yasmine) Milne. I was born in Dunedin at Queen Mary Hospital, in the latter part of the 1940s. My sister Adele (Therese) was the first-born in our family and is quite a lot older than I am, as is my brother John (David) and my deceased brother Joey (Joseph Anthony Milne). My father died in 1985 and my sister lives with her husband and family in Wellington, but my mother, brother and I (and our families) continue to live in Dunedin. From 1970 until 1984 I lived in England.
My grandparents arrived in Dunedin after long, difficult, and often perilous journeys by sea, each of which took several months, and the separation from their parents and homeland, not to mention sea-sickness, loneliness, and fear of the unknown, must have been ordeals hard for us to imagine. But they were undeniably courageous, and we owe much to their fortitude and stamina, for, in a sense, they brought us all with them. And in seeking a better life for themselves they ensured a better one for us all.
No one can say for certain why they emigrated from Lebanaon, which they loved, and came to New Zealand, which they grew equally to love in time. They may have left because of religious persecution (they were all Christians) or because Lebanon was still under Turkish domination, as it had been for five hundred years, and economically times were very hard.
They had probably heard from those Lebanese settlers already here that Dunedin was very prosperous after the gold-rush era, and it seemed possible that they would find work here. Perhaps too they were young and adventurous, and as so many of their friends and compatriots had already left for the new world they decided to try their luck also. I am just pleased that it was New Zealand they sailed to, and not America, South America or Australia, where so many of their fellow countrymen settled. I am also pleased that it was Dunedin where they chose to live, and where they became part of the southernmost Lebanese community in the world.
We still have the tin trunks in our cellar that my paternal grand-father bought soon after his arrival in this country. He used to store things in them, intended for the return journey to Lebanon. But although he was an exceptionally strong man, both physically and in character, such was his fear of another passage by sea, similar to the one he had endured to get here, that he never did go back to Lebanon. He was only eighteen years of age when he left home, never to return, never to see his beloved parents again. What makes it even more tragic is that he was an only son, their only child.
I am sure that this was a similar story in town and hamlet in so many countries at that time. Whether they left from Lebanon, from Sweden, from Scotland, Ireland, Italy or England, or indeed from any of those countries from which people emigrated in their hundreds of thousands during this era, when so many left the old world seeking a better life in the new, these partings from loved ones must have seemed so final, like deaths in the family. It must have been so unutterably hard, especially for those left behind.
My father's parents (whose names, like other immigrants from Lebanon, were transliterated (Anglicised) by the New Zealand authorities, probably on arrival) were originally called YUSEF MEELAN FAKHRY and RACKIEL FAKHRY (nee YUSEF) and became thereafter JOSEPH MILNE FARRY and RACHEL MARY FARRY (nee JOSEPH).
To complicate matters, it was the custom for our people in those days to take the patronymic form of name, and therefore my grandfather called himself and was known by, Joseph Milne, Joseph Farry, or Joseph Milne Farry. In the 1940s, to avoid confusion, my father officially changed our family name by Deed Poll from Milne Farry to MILNE. My brother retains the documents.
So we ended up with a good Scottish name, and are probably entitled to wear a tartan! My grandfather had high regard for Scottish people, and made many good Scottish friends in New Zealand, especially in Southland, so he was probably not unhappy with his new style of name. (Though with Lebanese friends and relatives the old forms of address remained. When I visited Lebanon in the 1970s it was still important for me to know my family name of Meelan Fakhry, and would be so today.)
But it is an amazing fact that there are many Lebanese families in New Zealand with names like Kelly, Reid, Coory, Farr, David, and even McCormack! Those families may tell their own stories, but I can recall one or two amusing anecdotes with regard to surnames. When my
sister gave birth to her first son in Auckland, Mum, Dad, my brother and I went up there for the event. My father, Mr Milne, was introduced to one of her visitors, a Mr McCormack, and they both made polite, formal conversation. Suddenly my father made a brief remark to my mother in Arabic, whereupon Mr. McCormack leapt to his feet, slapped my father on the back, and yelled out in joy: "Are you Lebanese??" "Yes I am" replied my father. "So am I!" responded Mr. McCormack. "How did you get a bloody Scottish name?! I thought you were Unglese!" (term used for anyone of English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh descent) "And how did you get a name like McCormack?!" laughed my father. And they greeted each other like long-lost friends and practically did a dance around the room together. From then on the conversation was much more animated.
And one of our closest Lebanese family friends (who was actually christened Ibrahim Tobia Iskah) became transliterated into Abraham Tobias Isaac. He was an insurance agent and often mentioned how Jewish people were always warmly inviting him into their homes!
My paternal grandparents met in Dunedin (or remet, as they both came from Becharri, as did many of the Lebanese people in Dunedin) and they were the first Lebanese couple to be married at St. Joseph's Cathedral, on 29 October 1894. My grandfather arrived here via Melbourne, where he spent some time. We are not exactly sure of when he arrived in New Zealand (apart from it being in the early 1890s) but he arrived in Melbourne from Lebanon on 10 June, 1888.
He and his wife had three children, my aunt Mary (who later married Neeve Isaac) was born on 24 February, 1897, my father Tony (Anthony) on 24 September, 1898, and his younger brother, Morris, was born on 4 March, 1901. Little Morris contracted pneumonia and died as a baby on the first Sunday in November 1902. My poor grandmother never really recovered from his death. I remember seeing a photo of him at my aunt's, taken when he was sick. He was wearing a little white coat and he had beautiful golden hair. And big brown eyes.
My grandmother died before I was born, but my grandfather (whom we called 'Jiddi', this being the Lebanese name for Grand-dad) was a part of my childhood and youth, and died at the grand old age of ninety-six. Until only weeks before he died he was still reading his newspaper and two Bibles (one in English, one in the ancient language of Aramaic) every day. His mind remained very alert, and he had a subtle but real sense of humour. You certainly couldn't trick him in conversation, but he could trick us! My brother and I always loved the clever answers that he gave us, which often made us chuckle. I have this lovely memory of him proudly holding his great-grandson, my nephew Simon, the firstborn fourth-generation Milne, at Simon's christening. Perhaps he thought of his own father then, and how he had never seen him again, but how his lineage had been carried on through him, his son, grandson, and now, great-grandson.
After my grandfather died in February 1965, and my aunt in November 1980 (she did not have any children) I suddenly did not have any more Milne relatives here, apart from my own immediate family. No Milne uncles, aunts or cousins, and I regretted this. I had been closer to my Jiddi and my aunt Mary than to any of my other relations. My widowed grandfather
lived with his daughter after she lost her husband, and their warm and welcoming home had been my second home. Auntie Mary could not have loved Adele, Joey, Johnny and I more if we had been her own children. Her face and Jiddi 's face would light up whenever we walked in. Even now I cannot walk past their dear little house at 36 Hope Street, because they are no longer there.
But whilst the Milne family was a small one, my mother's parents on the other hand, founded an empire! Their names were MIKHAIL and ZARIFIE GIRIUS (my grandmother's maiden name was LOODOOS) which became anglicised to, for some reason, MICHAEL AND JOSEPHINE GEORGE. They married in Lebanon, and travelled to New Zealand as a very young couple. They were blessed with fourteen children, two of whom, Ruby and Mary, died as teenagers during the outbreak of Spanish Influenza which devastated New Zealand in 1918. The other siblings all survived and prospered, and were a very close and loving family. My mother especially adored her eight handsome brothers, whom she spoiled all their lives. Now my mother is the only one left of her entire family, which is very sad for her. The George family originally lived in Carroll Street. My grandfather bought the Rising Sun hotel there, which his and another family shared after it ceased trading as an hotel in 1903. Later they moved to the lovely old two-storey villa on the corner of Maori Road (No. 56) which was originally a Gentlemen's Club, and which still stands today. It was the family home for more than fifty years, and although it is no longer owned by the George family, it will always somehow be 'ours'. It has recently been painted white, with blue trimmings, and has come back into its former elegance. I had many visits there as a child and was fascinated by the grape-vines growing outside the back door. They produced tiny sweet delicious grapes.
My grandmother died when I was just five. She was the matriarch of the family and was much loved. I was a little frightened of her I think, but everyone says she was very kind. To this day whenever I smell dried herbs I am back in her kitchen (she was a wonderful cook I believe) or if I see striped tulips or peony roses I remember her garden. My grandfather died during the Second World War. They had five sons in uniform, three of whom were fighting overseas at the same time (Tom, Johnny and Eric) and it is believed that the stress and worry helped to bring about the heart attack that killed him. I regret that two of my grandparents I therefore never met at all.
My grandmother had no close relatives in New Zealand. And during the First World War she had no communication at all with her family in Lebanon. There were no ships going to or from there, and so for more than four years there was no mail. She did not even know whether her family was alive or dead. Lebanon suffered badly in the War - when my mother and her family arrived in Beirut in 1922 they found that the city had been razed to the ground and was making a very slow recovery. Hard to imagine for me; I visited Beirut in 1974 and found a beautiful and stylish city.
Because my grandmother had been cut off from her family for so long and longed to see them, she and her husband and all of their children made a trip back to Lebanon in the early 1920s. They really intended to stay there my mother says, and sold everything here, but after just eight months two of the older boys, Tony and Tom, came back to New Zealand, and
the rest of the family returned after two years. My grandmother was fretting for her sons. My grandfather had bought a lot of land in Becharri (his son-in-law Fred Arib went in the carriage with him the day he purchased it, and said that they were carrying so much gold that they had a police escort). The land consisted of vine-yards and wheat fields, and my mother remembers what beautiful colours the grapes were - black, red, green and yellow ones. She said it was the only time she ever saw yellow ones. When they came back to New Zealand the land was left in the care of Nucklie Loodoos, my grandmother's brother, who eventually bought it from my grandfather for a pittance. But he had a large family himself and it helped to support them all.
My George grandfather did have some family in New Zealand, a brother (Joe) and a sister (Christina) who both lived in Dunedin. And my father's mother had a brother and half-brother living here (David Joseph and Anthony Joseph). Christina married Joseph Hannah - Joseph was a very popular name in those days!
The George children were (in order of birth) Rosie, Louisa, Ruby, Mary, Tony, Tom, Jessie (real name Yasmine), Bert, Johnny, Gordon (christened George) Frank, Eric, Joey and Maria. I will make a stab at it and tell you that the boys' names in Arabic (in the same order) were Tunnoos, Touma, Budirr, Khunna, Zirius, Munsoor, Burrkot and Yusef. It is 11.15 p.m. and I have just, had to ring my mother to check one of these names with her - she yelled at me for waking her up, but will be pleased to see their cherished names in print I think, when she reads this. (Poor Muni, I have had to phone her quite a few times today to verify facts with her, and she is about ready to throw the telephone at me! Never mind, it will make up for all the times that my mother has phoned me when I am in the garden, in the bath, in the toilet, out at the washing-line or up a ladder. Once, when I was having my second child, she even phoned me in the maternity ward to ask how I was getting on! "Tell her I'm DYING!" I told the nurse.) But I digress. Incidentally, as far as I know Mum's sisters did not have equivalent Lebanese names.
All of the George children (apart from the two girls who died during the 'flu epidemic, and Frank and Maria) had children of their own, so I have many George cousins. More than forty! A year ago (from 29 December 1993 to 1 January 1994 we held a George Family Reunion, in Dunedin, at. the lovely Cedar Club in Stafford Street, this being the club-rooms of the Dunedin Lebanese Community. The reunion was very moving, and very enjoyable. And very dignified. As I looked around,at the various functions and more informal gatherings, I felt sure that our grandparents would have felt very proud of the fine family that they founded. Over the course of those few days not a few tears were shed, especially when my mother spoke after the special Mass of Thanksgiving, which was also held at the Cedar Club, and celebrated by Monsignor Peter Mee. Indeed there was much to be thankful for. Not only because Michael and Josephine had and cared for, such a large family, but also because they did it with unselfish love and high ideals. The reunion was held almost exactly one hundred years from when they first arrived in New Zealand.
I feel proud of all my four grandparents. For their bravery, their stoicism, and their sheer grit. They came to this country with almost no money, they did not speak English, and they
had to survive and earn a living very quickly, or perish. There was no help for them at all (unlike modern immigrants, from various countries, who when they come to New Zealand now are almost immediately eligible for the social benefits of this country, and who have sponsors and various groups to help them settle in) and it was not until the Government of Michael Joseph Savage in the 1930s that they received any financial assistance whatsoever. They survived by sheer hard work, and by helping one another. What undoubtedly did help them was their great faith (they were all devout Catholics, belonging to the very old Maronite Rite in Lebanon and to the Roman Rite here) and without a doubt St. Joseph's Cathedral has been, and still is, a focal point of their lives, and the lives of their descendants, in Dunedin. They were always sustained by, and guided by, their great love for God. And for Our Lady. (To this day the Lebanese people here have great devotion to Jesus' mother.) They lived their faith in their daily lives, and by the strict code of ethics and morals that they followed. I remember, even in the 1960s, when Sunday night movies first came into being and were quite fashionable, how horrified Jiddi Milne was when I once went to a film on the Sabbath!
I believe that the other great influence, that helped them to survive those early years especially, was being part of the extended family that the Dunedin Lebanese community has always been. I would say that the very essence of our community here (amongst the early settlers and now amongst those of Lebanese descent) is based on family, not only our own individual families, which are very strong, but the wider community family. This has been more so in Dunedin than perhaps anywhere else. In many respects, in so far as we are still Lebanese, I believe that it is in a Dunedin Lebanese way. So many of the original families came from Becharri, or from near Becharri (with the exception of a group of Greek Orthodox Lebanese who came here from Tripoli in Lebanon, and have lived mostly in the South Dunedin area) and geographically, in Dunedin, they lived near to one another. Until perhaps two decades ago this was mostly in the area of Carroll, Stafford and High Streets, or their environs and even today there are many Lebanese homes in this part of Dunedin. Of course, people in a strange land, speaking the same language, will always huddle together, but the main factor was that they liked being close to one another. There was a lot of mutual respect and affection, and I feel that the strength of the whole community was its extended-family atmosphere, and the camaraderie and sense of humour that pervaded it. One did not need an invitation to visit, the door was (and is) always open, and they liked to socialise together and often shared special meals together (called 'azeemies). These banquets, often cooked by just one woman, the mother of the home, were, (and are) masterpieces of culinary art, and I have often been amazed at how seemingly effortlessly my mother is able to produce them. Even cooking one Lebanese dish requires a lot of careful preparation, let alone being able to make fourteen or so at any one time! These special meals help to celebrate special family occasions, or may take place when a Lebanese visitor comes to Dunedin (the community prides itself on its hospitality, which is a Lebanese tradition) and usually several uncles, aunts, nephews etc. will also be included. Usually (and certainly in my mother's home) the men are served first. It seems a bit unfair to me that the women do all the hard work, all the planning, preparation, cooking and serving, and all the dishes and clearing-up afterwards, and all that the men have to do is put their feet under the table, enjoy it all, and be waited upon. But that is the way. And my mother says it is better for the men to eat first so that the women can have a more leisurely meal afterwards. Today many of these wonderful meals are served buffet-style, with the men and women eating together. But guess who still does all the hard work?!
I suppose one could say that the traditional seating patterns at these 'azeemies' is a bit of an anomaly, as in Lebanese homes here the husband and wife are very much equal partners, working together for the good of their families, and complementing each other nicely. Intermarriage with other Kiwis is very common now, but divorce between couples of pure Lebanese descent is rare.
In days gone by and today, whenever there are gatherings of our community, large or small, there are always many tales told and much laughter. Much of the humour is very witty (my George uncles were renowned for their wit) and of course there is a lot of 'in-house' humour as well. We all thoroughly enjoy the stories, many of them very funny, that have been handed down from generation to generation and are usually about people who are no longer with us. In this way their memories remain fresh in our minds. For me personally, especially when I used to come back from England for visits, there was nothing I liked more than when we sat around the fire in the evening and assorted uncles, uncles-in-law, aunts or cousins would regale us with tales and jokes. Sadly, many of those people have gone now. There were great characters and personalities in the community, and we are all the poorer for their passing.
The Lebanese community here has married into and become completely assimilated with the wider New Zealand community, and I believe that we were one of the first ethnic groups to do this. Over the last hundred years the community has changed and will probably evolve in a different way now, but I believe that its fine traditions and its extended-family feeling will survive for a long time.
The community has worked hard and has prospered. This prosperity is perhaps reflected in the houses. Everyone has always taken great care of their homes, both inside and out, and many of them are very lovely. And everyone likes to look very smart. Certainly from the outside (or so I am told) we are seen as a fairly exclusive and close-knit group. For the most part we have been exceptionally law-abiding and responsible citizens, and for many decades we have been highly represented in the professional and commercial life of this city, and beyond. Although there are only a few hundred people of Lebanese descent in Dunedin now, most of the professions are represented in our small group, including for example nine or ten lawyers. (There are three lawyers in the Milne family, my brother and two nephews). And there are many businesses in Otago and Southland owned by people of Lebanese descent, many of them long-established. Over the years many of the men have owned or part-owned their own racehorses, and the community in general has taken a great interest in the racing industry! Often from this side of the tote.
I believe that the opportunities for the considerable success that has been achieved were made possible by the hard work, perseverance, determination, sacrifices, honesty and unselfishness of people like my four grandparents. Everything was done for their children,
and the great love they had for their children, and they seem to have led very unselfish lives. My own parents continued this tradition.
It is to them all that I, we, owe the most tremendous debt of gratitude, and I hope that this small record will in some way testify to that, will precis my family's history in New Zealand, recall their previous history in the motherland of Lebanon, and be some kind of testament for my children and their children in the future.
With this in mind, it might be of interest to them to know more of our own immediate Milne family. As already mentioned, my father was born in Dunedin in 1898, and my mother was born in 1906. They were married at St. Joseph's Cathedral, where they had been christened and confirmed, on April 7, 1926. Everyone says my mother was very pretty indeed, and my father had set his mind on having her for his wife. He began to seriously court her when she returned from Lebanon with her parents in 1924. It must have been no mean feat financially for her father to have taken all his children, including his married daughter Rosie and her husband and children, and his wife of course, back to Lebanon in 1922. They travelled on the lovely Orient-line ship the 'Ormonde', as far as Port Said, and returned on an Italian ship. From Port Said to Lebanon they went by cargo ship, and visited such places as Tel Aviv and Haifa in Palestine.
While my mother was in Becharri my paternal great-grandmother, who of course never saw her son again, had heard that her grandson, my father, was interested in my mother and she often visited her and brought her a precious bag of fruit. This was probably the best of what she had to give, and she gave it willingly, thus in some small way forging a link with, and helping, her family in New Zealand. I find this story very poignant. Apparently she was a saintly woman.
My father was a master lithographer, and worked for fifty years for the Dunedin firm of Coulls Somerville Wilkie Ltd. (This firm later became Whitcoulls). He was a very loyal employee and was well-respected and very much liked by his employers and fellow-workers alike. Before she went to Lebanon my mother worked for a time at Kempthorne Prosser Ltd, and briefly, in the school holidays, at Cadbury's. (My mother wrote last year to Paul Hudson, whom my brother knows well, telling him of her quite amusing experiences there, and of how she had known his great-uncle (the firm was Cadbury Fry Hudson). Mr Hudson was delighted to receive her letter, which was a piece of social history really, and sent her a charming reply and a large box of chocolates! Mum was quite chuffed, and wouldn't open the chocolates for months.)
My sister Adele trained to be a dental-nurse (children's dentist) after she left secondary school, and was one of the first Lebanese girls to complete a higher education. My parents, perhaps ahead of their time, believed in higher education for all of their children. My brother John was the first lawyer of Lebanese descent, in our community, to graduate in Dunedin, and has been in practice for more than thirty years. I left school at eighteen and became a qualified librarian. Our dear brother Joey died in 1950. I was only three when he died, but I have one lovely memory of him to cherish. I remember playing cards with him as we sat out in the sun one day, on the step outside the back door of our home at 22 Neidpath Road. I even remember that he was wearing a greyish-blue and white patterned jersey. Joey had been quite sick since he was a child. We have a lovely photograph of him and Adele taken when they were both small, and he was the most beautiful little boy I have seen.
My parents attended St Joseph's primary school, my sister, brother and I all went to
St Francis Xavier school in Maryhill (Adele and I were both Dux of the school) and my two sons also had their primary education there. Adele went to secondary school at St Dominic's Priory, Johnny to Christian Brothers, and I continued to be taught by the Sisters of Mercy at St Philomena's College. I really loved my five years there. I sat my last (library) exam on my 23rd birthday, and less than a year later I left for Britain, having worked for five very happy years at the Dunedin Public Library. In London I worked for four years (when I wasn't travelling) at the CBA Bank at 34 Piccadilly; this bank later amalgamated with the Bank of New South Wales to become Westpac Bank. Later I went back to my library profession and worked for two years at King Edward's Hospital Fund For London library, and as Deputy Librarian for five years at one of the largest of the 'Big Eight' accounting firms. In between times, on a sojourn back home, I worked for two years in the reference department of the Otago University library.
During all the time I lived in England, and en route to and from New Zealand ( I actually crossed the world from one side to the other twelve times) I did as much travelling as possible, and managed to visit dozens of countries. It was all a most wonderful experience, and I am grateful for the opportunities I had. I usually flew, but in 1970 I had an amazing voyage to England on the beautiful P&O ship the 'Oriana'.
Now there is a fourth Milne generation. My sister married Ray O'Brien and they have three grown-up sons, Gary, Mark and Christopher. My brother married Beverley List, and they have five children, one of whom, their daughter Rebecca, is deceased. She was very precious to us all. Their four sons are Simon, Jason, David and Benjamin. I married Danny Kearns (from Dublin) and we have two sons, Patrick and Damian. My mother is very proud of her nine grandsons, who range in age from forty to nine years old, and she is forever making them delicious Lebanese meals, which they all enjoy very much. Like many other Lebanese women my mother cooks with love.
Both of my grandfathers, soon after they arrived in New Zealand and for the remainder of their working lives, travelled around different parts of Otago and Southland, selling haberdashery, linen and drapery to country people many of them farmers' wives, and to all the many other people who did not have easy access to towns and shops at that time. Many
of them lived in very isolated areas. It must have taken some courage for these men to go alone into unknown areas, by horse, over rough and unformed roads, trading in a language that they did not as yet speak, or spoke only sparsely, and knowing that their very survival depended on them and them alone. Later of course they had families to worry about also. Often the menfolk were away for weeks and even months on end, leaving their wives with all the responsibilities at home, and no guarantee of any assured income. Sometimes Dad's mother travelled for a little while with her husband, to help him, and the children were looked after by other women in the community. I have heard that sometimes some of those women, though not my grandmothers, had no choice but to go into the country and sell goods themselves. They needed the additional income to help support growing families. Without their own courage and other women in the community to help them this would not have been possible.
Dad's father was, according to my mother, so honest that if he bought an item for ten shillings he felt in all conscience that he could not sell it for more than ten shillings and sixpence! He was content to make just enough to get by, and he remained a remarkably honest, contented and devout man all his life. To his credit he taught himself to read and write English, and my mother (who is very cheeky!) says they would receive little letters from the country which invariably started off: "Hello, how are you? I am well. My horse is well." We may smile now at the reference to his horse, but he depended on this creature for his livelihood, and the horse was well looked after. Also, as they spent so much time together and travelled so far together, he was probably very fond of his horse.
He even used to take his horse and van up the precarious and dangerous roads to Skipper's Point in Central Otago (near Queenstown). Shortly after I visited there in the 1960s, a year or so before he died, I was telling him about it as we sat out in the yard together one day in the sun, and he asked me if I had stayed at the little hotel there, where he used to stay sometimes. I did not have the heart to tell him that it was by then just a ruin.
Many of the Lebanese men in our community travelled around Otago and Southland selling goods, and I expect that they must have met up at various times, although they more or less kept to their own routes and customers, many of whom became life-long friends. Dad's father arrived at a farm once (he knew the people well, their family name was Woodfield) and found that the whole family was stricken with 'flu. He stayed there for a whole week to look after them (thus depriving himself of any income). How many people would do that today, or indeed, even then? Joseph Milne Farry was loyal to his customers.
Sometimes he would take newer immigrants with him on his travels, to show them the ropes, and one of these was a younger cousin of his, also called Joseph (Joe) Farry. My grandfather had four close cousins here in Dunedin, these being Gabriel Farry (Joe's father), Yusef Simon, Mansoor Sheehan and Khunna LaKhood (John La Hood). We have a sepia photograph of them all standing together. My mother calls them The Four Musketeers. Jiddi obviously valued this photo a lot as he bought a nice gold frame to put it in.
Once he took my brother and cousin Victor with him to the country for a few days. The boys enjoyed it at first but could hardly wait to get home as they swear Jiddi took about two hours every night to say his prayers! These were often chanted in Arabic or Aramaic, and, as eight-year-olds they were not impressed. But it seems quite remarkable to me that, even when alone in the middle of the country, during often difficult days and cold nights, my grandfather never forgot to pay such homage to God. I wonder how many of us would be so patient and devoted today. Perhaps, in the simple life that he led, he merely got his priorities right. Mind you, this same man had quite a temper when aroused! - I remember in London an Egyptian doctor friend once saying to me, throwing his hands up in mock horror when he learnt of my Lebanese background, and with a twinkle in his eye: "Ah, the Lebanese. Known throughout the Middle East as being the best cooks, very clever people - and the most bad-tempered!" I could only laugh, as it is probably true.
My other grandfather travelled mostly around North Otago and the Mackenzie Country. He became good friends with J.R. Mackenzie, and sometimes left his horse at his farm when he returned to Dunedin. Mum says her father often sent home sacks of gooseberries by train, and she and my aunts had to top-and-tail them all to make never-ending gooseberry jam. To this day she hates gooseberry jam! Jiddi George must have had to work very hard to keep all his family, and eventually to buy some property and land. When at home he always cooked breakfast for all the children (most of my uncles were good cooks also) and he took pride in his home and small vegetable garden. One day while he was burning some rubbish in the incinerator, he accidentally burnt off half of his prized handle-bar moustache, which was his pride and joy. When 'Sittee' (Nanna) and Mum saw him and screamed with laughter he was quite beside himself!
My grandmothers were kept very busy looking after their homes and their families, and were probably working most of the time. My mother says that her mother would finish serving one meal and start preparing for the next. Even in difficult times she always managed to produce wholesome and tasty food for all her children. Every evening, after the dishes had been done and the young children put to bed, Mum would help her to light the copper to boil all the washing that had to be done. And my grandmother still had time to sew, make quilts and eiderdowns, bake, go to church, help people, and entertain her friends. An amazing lady. In later life she always liked going to the movies, and loved elegant shoes and handbags. Her youngest child, Maria, contracted polio as a young girl and was in a wheel-chair for the rest of her life. She looked after her with great love and the two were especially close. When Maria died our grandmother lived for only ten months after her.
My other grandmother, Rachel, was also a great cook ("the best," said my father and aunt) and was so clean that "you could have eaten off her front steps." I have a long yellow skirt and beautiful pink blouse that belonged to her, and both of them have incredibly tiny waists. The lovely silk blouse is all hand-tucked, and is so delicate and soft to touch. My aunt often showed me the beautiful pieces of jewellery that she had worn. Both of my grandmothers obviously liked nice things.
Some of the tales the men told about themselves have passed into family (community) folk-lore. My dear Uncle Elias, who was married to Mum's sister Louisa, was a tall, affable man, who was born in Lebanon. He and my aunt met and married there, then came out to New Zealand to live here. On one occasion he had been travelling around all morning, trying to sell his goods, but by the end of the morning he had made only half a crown. Naturally he was very upset about this, as he had an expanding family to feed. Eventually he came to a cross-roads and didn't know which way to go. He decided to throw his half-crown up into the air
and said to himself, "Heads I'll go this way, tails the other." So he tossed the coin up into the air - and he never found it again!
The same man asked a farmer friend if he could leave his horse with him for a week. He assured the farmer that his horse was very obedient, "no trouble at all. Does exactly what you tell him to do." When he returned after a week the irate farmer told him that the horse had ignored everything they said to him, and wouldn't do a thing it was told to do. My uncle-in-law scratched his head for a while, looked perplexed, then suddenly beamed in understanding. "Ah,” he said, "I know why! This horse only speaks Arabic!"
Diana Milne Kearns
2 January 1995