Albert Aboody and Hannah Debeau are my great-grand-parents. In about 1902 they arrived on the far north coast of NSW and commenced a hawking business. Anne C Thacker
Hawkers in those days sold all sorts of useful wares, haberdashery and small household goods by carting them from house to house offering them for sale. Initially, Albert walked, pushing a pram, later a horse called Punch was used, and then a horse and buggy.
Finally, the Aboodys opened shops in Lismore and Ballina. In 1929, their eldest son Michael Aboody and his wife Nancy Wickham, bought land at Wiangaree and built a house and shop.
Now, at Wiangaree, travellers will find Aboody Park. The park was declared open in June 2008 by Thomas George,(1) and a memorial in the park declares:
A tribute to the memory of
The village merchants
Pioneering families of this District
1908 – 2008
My research reveals some remarkable facts though not much explanation of lifestyle decisions made by my great-grandparents. My great-grandfather, Aboody Zahloot was born on 8th February 1853 at either Tarabulus (now called Tripoli), Lebanon or Salonica (now called Thessalonika), Syria.
Apparently he had seafaring days as a fisherman and sponge diver near Tripoli and El Mena on the coast of what is today Lebanon. In 1887 at 27 years old he married Hannah Debeau. She was born at Zahle in 1871 making her a 15 years old bride. The age difference suggests it was an arranged marriage. Hannah was the daughter of a police officer, Jacob Debeau. Their son Michael Aboody is my grandfather. He was born in 1888. However, the family separated for eight years when, on 6th April 1890, Aboody Zahloot boarded the steamship The Australian from Port Said, Egypt, bound for Melbourne, Australia.
He moved around Australia. He became known as Albert Aboody. His occupations remain a mystery although while at Townsville he resumed sponge diving for a time(2). He was known as a diligent worker, capable of turning his hand to many different jobs and eager to work long hours. From whatever he earned, money was always sent home.
In 1898, Hannah and Michael departed from Port Said, Egypt, on the steamship Demestea destined for Sydney NSW and then on to Townsville, Queensland. Albert was 35 years old when the family reunited. The family grew with five more children, one born in Townsville before they moved south to the NSW Richmond River District in about 1902.(3)
Young Michael went to school for only two years in Australia. He commenced working in the family hawker business. One story tells of Michael and his father sleeping beneath the buggy while out hawking in the countryside. He woke hearing his father calling “Michael, Michael, snake, snake!” He gently rolled away from his father, poured a saucer of warm milk from near the campfire, fetched the axe, and waited. The snake slithered off his father’s chest, over to the saucer of milk and “Chop!” – Michael axed off its head!
Establishing themselves and their business was very difficult. The working conditions were hostile, and so was the white community. In December 1905, the Lismore Chronicle reported it was “intolerable” when eighteen hawker licenses were granted to “aliens”. The Northern Rivers Council of Progress Associations complained to state and federal governments that they were “taking away work from white men unfitted for hard work.”
A couple of years later the North Lismore Ratepayers Association argued in favour of refusing a hawker’s license to aliens, as Queensland had done in 1903. They were accused of hawking “a cheap and nasty line of goods” door to door and building shanties out of packing cases. Fighting back, in letters to the Northern Star, a group of the hawkers declared that they were “respectable law-abiding men, most of us British subjects” and protested “against the insulting and unjustifiable statements and slanders”. The Syrian Progress Association formed to provide a united front. It pointed out some of their houses had been built by a local carpenter leading the charge against them!(4)
While most of the Lebanese and Syrians built their houses on the outskirts of town at North Lismore, Albert and Hannah established their family home and later a shop at 104 Orion Street, in central Lismore. This was further away from the river and the flood plain. The house still stands today, occupying a large property. The shop, garden and orchard are now gone as well as the paddock for the horse. At the back of the house a room was used for storage for the hawker business
Business continued and flourished. At age 21, Michael applied for Australian naturalisation.(5) He had a number of interviews with Inspector Cameron at Lismore Police Station. He was granted this on 19th March 1910. Albert followed suit. Albert’s stated occupation was hawker and seller. The police records showed he was of good character. He was granted Australian naturalisation on 18th March 1913.
In family story-telling, Hannah is described as dynamic; a good business woman and household manager with disciplined attention to the kitchen. She worked with a wood fired stove, a corner sink and a mortar and pestle used to pound the garlic. On sunny days she set a ground sheet to spread and dry the wheat before cracking it into bourghal. She was particular about good health and hygiene. Daphne, her grandaughter recalls her childhood rituals:
Grandma was a loving person – when I came home from school at St Carthages (age 4 & ½) she would comb my hair with a fine tooth comb just to make sure I didn’t have any nits. Our petticoats and hankies had crocheted edges and wait for it – every Saturday morning we all lined up for our dose of castor oil in a beautiful little cup, tempered with orange juice… Everyone had to wear a little flannelette pouch of camphor pinned into our singlet (to stave off coughs and colds)….(6)
Some family members believe Hannah was born in Georgia, closer to Russia. They explain this by her fair skin and light eyes. She was thick set but also wore “dark coloured long gathered skirts with many petticoats underneath” possibly giving her a much fuller look. By contrast, Albert was “a small, dark slightly built man.”(7)
Hannah was deeply religious all her life and a committed Maronite Christian.
The family joined the Catholic congregations – the Italian Catholics at North Lismore where the Italian community supported two priests on rotation from Italy. Elsewhere, the Irish Catholics were established. One St Patrick’s Day at Wiangaree, Chappy (Hannah and Albert’s grandson) gave the baker’s wife, Mary Hall – a staunch Catholic – a green tree snake in a hessian bag! At 104 Orion Street, Lismore, Hannah kept to her own faith. She had a beautiful altar built and installed in her bedroom and prayed there every day. The grandchildren remember nestling close during this daily ritual.
Later, in his fifties, Albert’s health began to deteriorate and he restricted his activities to the family garden and orchard. This supplied the extended family and shop customers with herbs, vegetables and fruit.(8) Family members, including their daughter Adele, operated the shop. John Ravenscroft was employed to assist and then married Adele after he agreed that another sister, May (also known as Marie), would live with them. Hannah was still operating the hawker business locally.
During her 62 years of life Hannah is described on various birth certificates and death certificates as Anna Debo(9), and Annie Jacobs(10), and Annie Deebo(11) and finally, Hannah Aboody Zahloot on her death certificate dated 24th January 1943.
Albert Aboody passed away 6th May 1936 and Hannah Aboody passed away 24th January 1943. They are buried side by side in the Lismore Cemetery at Military Road, East Lismore.
Business continued although there were no more Aboody hawkers. Instead, more shops were acquired by Michael Aboody and Nancy Wickham, in Lismore central, North Lismore and Ballina.
1 Declared open by Thomas George the local member of NSW State Parliament. He is also of Lebanese heritage.
2 Recollection of Daphne Whaites (nee Aboody) in an undated letter written in January 2009 to Barbara Thacker.
3 Arthur was born 1899 in Townsville. In northern NSW William (called Bill) was born 1903, Norman was born 1905, Catherine Adele (called Addy) was born 1909 and May (called Marie) was born 1913.
4 “A little Bit of Lebanon” by Annette Potts and Patricia Roberts, The Richmond River Historical Society Inc. Bulletin Volume 19 number 207 December 2008 at p.14.
5 Now called citizenship.
6 Cracked wheat used to make kibbeh and tabbouli
7 Opinions and recollections of Daphne Whaites (nee Aboody) stated in January 2009 letter to Barbara Aboody Thacker.
9 On Arthur Aboody’s birth certificate
10 On May Aboody’s birth certificate
11 On Adele Aboody’s birth certificate
Reprinted from Australian Lebanese Historical Society Inc. Newsletter No. 44 Winter, 2013