Sunday 18 September 2005

Once again I put my feeble pen to paper. One aspect of our Lebanese Community that has received scant recognition involves all the young chaps who served in the wartime Merchant Navy - Fred Joseph, son of Antony and Ruby, Sam Lahood, son of Michael and Annie (Hunnee) Lahood, and Ned Reid, son of son of Moses and Wurrdee Reid. They were brave young men because quite a few passenger and cargo ships were sunk around the New Zealand coast at that time. Fred Joseph. who was in the peace time Teritorrials, could well have qualified for
officer rank, or at least NCO status if he had joined the Army, but he decided to join the Merchant Navy. Their efforts on our behalf have been largely forgotten and should be recorded with pride.

Many ‘wharfies’ and waterside workers were Lebanese, ( as unionists or casuals), known as 'seagulls'. They were all at one time, suspended for refusing to load scrap iron bound for Japan in the pre war era of 1935 - 1937. They had rightly predicted that the very same scrap iron would one day come back as bombs or bullets.

The Hawkers (How I hate that word. They were commercial travellers) travelled the long lonely roads of Central Otago and Southland selling nothing of much importance. Still they served a useful purpose in those days of little or poor communications and unmade roads. They served a useful purpose in that difficult environment and their visits to lonely farms and hamlets were eagerly anticipated. In the earlier days, horse and cart, and later on, motorised vans were used. These vans were unique in that they had sleeping accommodation within, and display shelves and cupboards outside for their goods. Most of the men, our loved uncles and grandfathers, returned to Dunedin in August because it was the coldest month in Central Otago and deepest Southland. Hence, their was a rise in the population nine months later.

One of our 'travellers' of that era was Fred Farry (Tommy's father) and he invariably won prizes for his care and maintenance of his horse and van. If the word 'dressage' was not in their vocabulary, they still did a great job.

Once when I was staying at a hotel in Christchurch I decided to go for an after dinner walk. Spying an old second-hand shop still open I wandered in. The very elderly lady asked me if I was Lebanese (Well I don't look Norwegian, do I?). She said as a young girl on her parents' farm at Oturehua they often had a traveller stay with them by the name of Fred Farry who always won the local blue ribbon for his horse and van, in any show in which he competed. He always kept everything in pristine condition.

Another traveller was Elias Coory. One day, when he was working in Cromwell all he made for the day was half a crown (25c in today's money - not even worth one cigarette). When he reached the junction of the road - left to Queenstown and right to Wanaka - he tossed the coin to decide and it rolled away into the long grass and disappeared. At that turn of events, he decided to return home to Dunedin - and who could blame him!
Today, the better part of a century later, their descendants are all successful professionals and we are proud of them all -even if we seldom tell them so.

Similarly, the Chinese who were subjected to such despicable racism, have come a long way from the laundries and fruit shops. and good luck to them. Lebanese and Chinese were the only two ethnic groups in Dunedin at that time and they might as well have come from the moon. We had the double burden of being Catholic as well. The Chinese lived mainly in Maclaggan Street although there were a few in lower Carroll St (Walker Street) and that particular section was known as 'The Devil's Half Acre'. My dad had a large garden next to Hannahs where he grew all our vegetables. It was owned by Antony Khouri (everyone called him Ummee Tunoos) and he gave my dad free use of it for many years. It was part of the original Devil's Half Acre. He often dug up old Chinese coins and once, a rusted revolver and bullets. Richard, I can't seem to get my mind free of the Carroll Street memories. The connection is enduring though I look back through rose coloured binoculars.

New Year's Eve was a huge event. We all gathered outside Jacob and Eva Coory's house to set off fireworks. They kindly provided food and drinks for everyone and when the bells and whistles went off to announce the New Year, we all went first footing till dawn. today, if you knocked on someone's door at 3am. they would call out the Armed Offender's Squad. Such is so-called progress.

Down the bottom of the very same street was Lanes Cordial Factory, and when the owner's daughter, Ngaire Lane, won a gold medal for swimming at the Empire Games, he gave free soft-drinks to everyone in sight.

Stan Georgeeon started up Holsom Bakery next door to Lanes. He had a hard time getting established but his bread eventually won prizes from as far away as the Waikato Show and he made a lot of dough. Yes, I know the pun is a bit weak but serv es you right for reading so far.
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