In her article ‘Country links−Syrian/Lebanese settlement in New South Wales up to 1920’, Nola Bramble referred to two families which have interested me for some time:
A few who could be described as “fruitiers” for a short time were Mr Joseph Betro in Nyngan, Mr Joseph Areb in Dubbo, Mr Joseph Nejaim in Narromine and Mr Charles Hannah Nadiff in Broken Hill. The story of the two Areb (Arab) brothers in Dubbo is a sad one. They appear to have married sisters. Joseph was married at the time of the census but within four years had died, leaving his widow with a young son. Charles was a produce dealer and married in 1905. Within four years his wife was also a widow with a young son. (2)
I’d like to tell you a little more of this ‘sad’ story of two brothers and two sisters, from very different backgrounds, who came to live together in Dubbo.
My Great-grandmother was the second youngest of thirteen children. She was a wonderful woman who loved her great-granddaughter. She wrote poetry and told great stories; she could also be stern, and had obviously learned a lot from the school of hard knocks. I have always been curious about her family and for a long time, wanted to learn more about them.
I knew that my great-grandmother’s father was William Hale, descended from convict parents, who worked on a large estate named ‘Collingwood’ at Liverpool, and that her mother’s family were quite well-off running one of Sydney’s first abattoirs and a ladies college. My great-grandmother’s father worked as a labourer and shop-keeper; her mother ran her own greengrocer’s store opposite the school at Botany.
Quite predictably, the children of this large family of English descent married others of English origin, except for one who married a Greek man, named Dennis Victor, who was a greengrocer. For many years, I had thought this marriage was the only one that had gone against the English tradition until I looked closely at the lives of two of the older daughters; Selina and Alice.
Both Selina and Alice were married twice. Their first marriages were to two men Joseph and Charles Areb, who were brothers, and they spent their married lives in Dubbo, where I now live. This was a very welcome and interesting surprise. At first, I thought that Joseph and Charles were cameleers, as their last name was also spelt Arab. But looking at their naturalisation papers, I realized they were Lebanese Christians. (Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate, 1 March 1905)
Joseph and Charles were born to Abrahim and Mary Areb. Joseph was born in 1875 and Charles in 1876 and both recorded their birthplace as Mt Lebanon, Syria. Joseph and Charles Areb came to Australia in 1889; Joseph was only 14 and Charles was 13. They came without extended family; there may have been family already living in Sydney but I can find no record of them. I can only imagine what it would have been like at that young age to travel to Sydney alone.
At the age of 19, Joseph was in Dubbo, running his own shop that sold ‘fancy goods’. There was an article in the local paper at the time complaining about foreigners doing business in Dubbo and claiming that they had taken business away from ‘real’ Australians and were not welcome.3 A list of Syrian, Arab, Greek and Chinese followed with Joseph Arrob mentioned as one of the undesirables. Unperturbed, Joseph continued to run his business. At the age of 24, Joseph was running another shop in Gulargambone. The next year, he was off to Sydney to sell produce at the Central Station markets. In Sydney, he met a lovely young girl named Selina Hale; Selina was 19 and the third oldest daughter of a struggling, large greengrocer’s family. Selina had probably been buying produce at the same market and it seems that the Victors also knew the Arebs. The next year, 1900, Selina and Joseph were married in Sydney and moved to Dubbo.
Dubbo in 1900 would have been very different to the thriving large town it is today. It is interesting to imagine what the 20 year old Selina thought as she followed her Lebanese husband to the big dusty town of Dubbo. Although it had some established buildings, the main street (where their shop was) was still dirt. There were already a few established Lebanese families, such as, the Alams, Hashams, Kurtz, Asmussen, Ayoubs and Yesbecks, and many of these were large families. The Alams owned a store; the Kurtzs had a vineyard making Sherry and Shiraz which won awards. The Asmussens were tailors.
Joseph and Selina (and probably Charles as well) set up as fruiterers in a store on Macquarie Street, Dubbo, which changed to a produce and skins store in 1901. Charles is mentioned as (3 ) running this store with his brother. Joseph and Selina have two children; Roy Joseph and Lucinda. 1904 is a big year for Selina as she gives birth to her daughter, Lucinda, and opens up her own business, the ‘Crystal Palace Refreshment Rooms’ on Talbragar Street, Dubbo. Joseph gave generous donations to the building of a new hospital. Tragedy strikes at the end of 1904 for Selina and Charles as Joseph dies of typhoid fever. Joseph’s grave can still be seen (at the Dubbo Pioneer graveyard); it has a huge headstone, very costly, that shows how loved Joseph was by those he left behind.
1905 saw Selina still running the refreshment rooms with living quarters for herself and her two small children now above the café. A fire in the upstairs living area of the café seems to have been the finish of this business. Selina fell in love with a man from Wellington and they eventually moved to Sydney. During this year, she also takes Charles to court. Also in 1905, Charles married Selina’s sister, Alice. Alice probably came out to help Selina and then fell in love with Charles.
Charles and Alice ran ‘The Dubbo Cash Produce Market’ together and have a son, Joseph Charles. The business continued to do very well, as there are many reports of their success in the local papers, as well as kind acts of generosity. Something goes wrong for Charles though, and records show him dying in an asylum in Sydney in 1909. Maybe it was depression or grief, as each year in the Dubbo paper, he wrote a long memoriam to his beloved brother whom he missed dreadfully. Alice sold everything (including many valuable horses they had bred and expensive furniture items) and moved to Sydney, where she eventually remarries.
So, here I am in Dubbo in the year 2014 wondering, as I walk down Macquarie Street, where their shops were? Where did they live? I visited the local museum last year and found they have a large display of all the known shopkeepers on Macquarie and Talbragar Streets but Joseph, Selina, Charles and Alice are not mentioned. This discovery upset me and has set me on a quest to find out more about these men and where they really fit in the history of this town.
To find out more about Joseph and Charles, I have used web-sites, family memories (although there is little remembered) and the local historical society. Web-sites have proven the best source of information (looking at various genealogical sites and NSW BDM). The Trove website filled in many years they spent in Dubbo – articles, advertisements and personal memorials being printed in the local papers. Birth-dates were filled in by finding copies of their naturalisation papers but I know very little of their lives before they came to Australia. I’m still on that quest to find out exactly where they ran their businesses so that I can have them included in the museum.
I guess, to those outside my family, this may not seem to be a very exciting story. These men did not become famous or exceedingly wealthy; they lived short lives. But I have written this article as a memorial to these two adventurous men and their equally adventurous wives. I don’t want them to be forgotten by time. What they did was extraordinary: two young teenage boys, sailing across the ocean to a foreign country and then making a success of life in a tough alien land, where they were at first vilified and then accepted as honourable men in the town they called home.
1. Helen Whalley is a resident of Cumboogle (which is 20 mins from Dubbo). She is an artist and lives on a small farm where she breeds ducks and geese and lives with her husband and teen son. Helen has a Masters in Theology and Bachelor of Visual Arts. She enjoys history, music and reading.
2. Nola Bramble, ‘Country links−Syrian/Lebanese settlement in New South Wales up to 1920’ in Australian Lebanese Historical Society, Records made real: Lebanese settlement:1865 to 1945 – a seminar on historical sources (Sydney: The Society, 2002), p. 66.
3. Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate, 26 May 1894.