Tuesday 13 September 2005
Richard, like all good stories, we should begin at the beginning. The Lebanese Society, which was incorporated in 1945, arose out of the original arrangement of meeting in each other's houses. The club rooms were in a rented building in Clark Street, called The Buffalo Hall. They met monthly and based their proceedings loosely on the Masonic Lodge rituals. A blue, triangular collar was worn round the neck as I recall. Yes, I too was a member at the tender age of fifteen. We addressed each other as 'brother' and held various offices at different times, such as President, Treasurer, Chaplain, Inner and Outer Guardian and even a Master of Arms! It sounds a bit wacky in this day and age, but we all took it very seriously. In its first operational year the Club organised a Victory Ball to welcome home all of our servicemen. It was held in the Concert Chamber of the Dunedin Town Hall. People came from far and wide to attend and it was a great success. The large group photograph of the event still exists and is published in the recently published Cedar Club book. The guest of honour was Dr Hugh O’Neil, Bishop of Dunedin, formerly Head of Holy Cross College, Mosgiel. By this time, old Bishop Whyte was an invalid at Martyr Hospital which , then located in Royal Terrace. Actually Bishop Whyte despite his age and infirmity, out-lived Bishop O'Neil. Neve Isaac was a life friend of Bishop Dr O'Neil, whom he had known since his time as a seminarian at Holy Cross College. He always called the Bishop 'Hughie' which raised a few eyebrows and the Bishop called him 'Buttons' because he had been the 'Hawker' who called on the Seminary.
Our people also have a connection with Bishop Kavanagh. He was born and raised in Hawera and went to school with my late brother in law, Dick Sheehan and his sister, Ruby, Victor Farry's widow.
I wonder what records still exist of our past Presidents. I can remember some from 1945 on: - Karim Alexander, his brother in law , Jake Howley, Hallam Kallil, Joe Bacchus, Ruddah Reid and Frank Coory (Louisa and Elios' son). The Wellington Society rented rooms in Cambridge Terrace and were financially assisted by the Dunedin Club. This caused many problems further down the track. Auckland never really got off the ground. I don't recall a Lebanese group being set up in Christchurch and not many of our people live there even today.
Early on, the Barbara family lived in the Murchison area at the top of the South Island and were there during the famous bad earthquake (1928?). They then came to Dunedin and lived in High Street, St Kilda (street name has since changed to Tedder St.). They were a great family and one of the few South Dunedin group to mix in freely with the Community. We were to blame for a lot of what went on. They were called the Trobleseeyee because they hailed from Troblis (Tripoli). Different days, different ways, but no excuse really.
The Parish Priest who became am favourite with all of us was Father Loughnam. He visited ALL of our homes and was equal handed in dispensing his help, friendship support. He spoke fluent French and had many enjoyable conversations in that tongue with Rosie, my mother. He was a good old fashioned priest a rare commodity these days. The Coory family in Carroll St. often had a Lebanese priest to stay with them. One by the name of Father Assaf celegrated a mass at St Josephs Cathedral. He used the Syriac Liturgy, close to the Aramaic that Christ actually spoke. Jacob Coory, who learned the language as a child, was the alter boy. Some say that he intended to be a priest in his younger days.
When Gary Cockburn was ordained a priest (Columbian from memory, destined for South America), his parents, George and Annie held a dinner for 500 Lebanese people at La Scala. The crowd rose as a mark of respect when Môn senior Hussey arrived at the top table and applauded politely but when Gary and Father Ferris followed in (our own two priests), all the hot blooded Lebos banged cutlery and glassware like football hooligans. Sadly, neither of our priests are still in the priesthood though both gave huge service to the
church and Community during their Tenure.
Bert Reid and Imelda were also gracious hosts to the clergy. Father George from Aauinas hall was often at their home. His brother, Mitchell George (from Napier) was married to Bert’s sister.They were very wealthy and lived in Paretai Drive in Auckland. Bishop Boyle, who I hear has retired, was originally from Winton and I once went to the races with him when he was a parish priest somewhere in Southland.
Most of our boys did well in their various careers. When Joe Bacos matriculated, he gained the highest marks in all New Zealand - no mean feat. Eric George, Victor Joseph snf Micky Michael were all in the first fifteen at Christian Brothers and achieved a unbeaten record. Speaking of Micky Michael, I once asked him if Raymond Ferris was still in the priesthood would he have been made bishop instead of Boyle? Micky's cryptic answer was 'wrong colour'. Micky spent his entire working career in the Labour Department, rising to Chief Conciliator. He became ver4y critical of American policy. This occurred after 1942 when Walter Nash was made NZ Ambassador to wartime Washington. Micky was seconded to his staff and travelled as part of his entourage. At the last minute he was offered the post and found himself in the Army stationed in the Pacific - and he didn't get to meet Mary Martin if you're still with me!
My brother, Victor, got hurt in Espiritu Santos (now Vanuatu) and found himself in an American hospital The Orderly (US Navy) was called James Kallil. Naturally they bonded as did Eric George (Vincent's father) who was also stationed at a nearby airfield. Nusre and Jim Kallil corresponded for the next fifty years and in the early nineties, when Nusre was in New York he contacted the Kallil family, but sadly Jim had passed away. There is a photograph of them in the Cedar Club book.
Wartime was not all bad news as far as our people were concerned. I used to go out to the Forbury Park racecourse to sell newspapers. It was a big army camp at the time and quite a few of our chaps were stationed there. Les Betro was a Sergeant Major there and other soldiers were Johnny George, Dick Joseph , Victor Farry and a chap by the name of Bert Davies (Vera Hannah's husband at the time and a very likeable bloke). He was very kind hearted and always gave me a shilling for a newspaper that cost tuppence. Kids never forget.
We have a photograph of a large crowd of Lebanese people gathered at the Dunedin Railway Station farewelling some of the boys who were home on final leave.
It was a great evening and the date stuck in my mind - March 1948.It was the Golden Wedding of Milhim and Zaheeyee Latoof and the function was held at St Joseph's Hall, the very same night as the commencement celebrations of the centennial celebrations of the founding of Otago. In those days guests were expected to give an item and from memory the performers were Annie Isaac who sang the old favourite, ' I'll be Loving You Always' (she had great natural talent and could have gone on to a stage career), Tony Miln sang 'Jessie Mine' making goo goo eyes at dear auntie Jessie, Ned Lahood sang 'Mr Booze' holding a bottle of whisky in his hand - ' I love you. No, I hate you Mr Booze.' One of the ladies at that event was from Inglewoood, Taranaki. Her name was Anita Peters (a sister or niece of Milhim Letoof) and she was a real classy dame. She sang only after Maroon Reid got down on hias knees and begged. She was married to one of the Peters boys and lived to a ripe old age.
Elios Coory played his flute and all the old Lebanese men did the Dubkee. When done properly it packs a big emotional punch for our people. So you see, it really was adience participation in those days - now but a lingering memory.
Driving through the King Country many years ago, the owner of a petrol station asked me if I knew Buffalo Bill. It was only a fluke that I recalled that it was Milhem Latoof's nickname because he carried a pistol in his back pocket. He was quite a successful racehorse owner. His horse, Kemal Pasha won two Waikouaiti Cups and a horse of his named 'Made Money' once won the Riccarton at odds of 100 to 1. Some bookmakers in Dunedin left for pastures new in a hurry.
The Chinese Mission Church in Carroll Street has always been part of our story. Once, when I went into Hannah's (nextdoor to the church) Vera was giving the new minister, the Rev. Fong, a friendly cup of tea. He had just been installed and was a lovely young bloke. Next day I returned to Hannahs to make a bet with Ike who was bookmaking at the time. Vera was crying because the Rev Fong died that night I said, 'Vera, your morning tea couldn't have been that bad.' She tried not to laugh but couldn't help herself. People often laugh at thewrong time - probably because they shouldn't. At a funeral at Brighton Jamelie Joseph was crying because her husband, Jack was buried in a very cold, damp part of the 'boneyard'. I said to her , 'Jamelie, if won't help his rheumatics!' She tried to remain solumn but soon had to make a quick exit from the graveside.
Some of our women did well in different fields. Anne Coory Cockburn won a beauty contest in the early nineteen thirties and was a Festival Queen. She would have had to be very good to have won in that era and good for her! Jamelie Lahood opened a hairdressing salon (De Luxe Beauty) opposite Whitcombe and Tombs and was succcessful enough to set her up as a property owner and developer (our first female entrepreneur). Again, good for her. It all helped establish a positive profile for us all. Lateefi Kallil was a fashion icon in Dunedin and a great ambassador for the community wherever she went. Paulette Nidd was chosen as Miss Otago, under the guidance of Margaret Farry Williams, whose modelling school has been a finishing institution for generations of Dunedin's young women. These are but a few names out of the many whose contribution has been valuable. Who would have thought, given the difficulties of our early years, that things would have turned out so well? Our early settlers must have been a tough and resilient people because they not only picked a tough and remote country, New Zealand, to migrate to but they also picked the toughest and most parochial town to live in.
Very Scottish it was (you could smell the porridge burning form Oamaru).
One family that was very kind to us as teenagers was that of Affifi and George Johns. He was a comparatuvely well educated person, an Optometist by profession. Among there family were many beautiful daughters - Matilda, Olga, Julia, Angelina, Gloria and Greta - all fine looking girls! Affifi and George let us use their basement as our club for years. We named it 'the Studio' and decorated the walls with glittering stars. Their daughter Greta was the guiding force. There, we listened to our music and danced, and never once did they complain about the noise. Often, supper was laid on, Lebanese style (mishee) and didn't we make short work of that. They don't make people like that anymore.
They also had two sons, Julian and Michael (Mushlee). Julian married a girl Joseph (Jamelie) and they had three children - Richard, Lionel and Carmel. They went to Australia to live. Julian worked at the famous Romanos Restaurant in Sydney. Two of the girls, Matilda and Olga, also migrated to Australia. Mushlee was very kind to us teenagers and gave us cigarettes during the wartime when they were scarce. (Today that would not be considered a favour but it was then). Sadly, he died aged forty. He had been born with a hole in his heart at a time when such things could not be rectified. Some believe that Affifi never recovered from his death and both she, and her husband, George died soon after (barely a month apart).
Every Lebanese family has its story. This is just one.