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The St Nicholas Church Cricket Team represented an important phase in the development of the small Orthodox Syrian/Lebanese community in Melbourne. In order to understand the effect of the development of this organisation, it is important to see the cultural context within which it worked.
St Nicholas Syrian Orthodox Church was consecrated in 1933 after some years of preparatory work by the small Orthodox community in Melbourne dating back to 1928. Many earlier Syrian/Lebanese immigrants who had settled in Melbourne initiated the establishment of the church to meet their religious and social needs. They worked with members of the Russian and Greek communities to help establish the new Orthodox church on the corner of Victoria Parade and Simpson St in East Melbourne.
This church initially became the centre for Syrian/Lebanese, Russian and Slavic Orthodox worshippers mainly due to the priest, Rev Exarch Antonious Mobayed. He had been trained in Lebanon and Russia (before the Revolution). He was able to conduct Orthodox services in Slavonic languages and in Arabic. For three Sundays a month, services were conducted in Arabic and for one Sunday in the Slavonic language familiar to the expatriate Russian community.
Acknowledged in its first constitution, St Nicholas also played an important social role for its congregation and their friends. Not only were the actions of the Senior Church Committee specified in the Constitution, the development of a Junior Society was also outlined:
“The particular objects of the Society is (sic) to arrange entertainment, including socials, dances and concerts etc. for social purposes of the Church.” (Batrouney T, 2001)
The establishment of the Junior Society of the Church became the organisation that allowed its members to live in both the Lebanese and Australian worlds. Being educated in Australian schools, attending mainstream church Sunday Schools as children and working alongside Australian and English workers necessitated a blend between Lebanese ways and values and those of the wider Anglo-Celtic society.
As is explained by Trevor Batrouney: “The significance of the junior Society cannot be over-emphasized. Participation in the church’s religious, and sporting activities enabled young Australian-born children of Lebanese immigrants to find suitable marriage partner’s open (terms of religion and ethnicity) and to expand their skills and experiences. Above all, the church provided an institution within which they could retain their ethnic identity and, engage in many of the cultural practices of the Australian society. In short, within the church they could be both Lebanese and Australian.” (Batrouney T, 2001)
The establishment of the cricket team in 1934 was one of the organisations that emerged from the Junior Society of St Nicholas’ Antiochian Orthodox Church. This team played in the North Suburban competition from 1934 – 36 and again after the war from 1947-8 through to 1962. A major highlight was winning the Northern Suburban Competition Premiership in 1951-2.
The St Nicholas Church Cricket Team represented a distinctive cultural blend that allowed the young men of the Lebanese Orthodox community to participate in a sporting past-time that was highly valued in Australian society at large. Their participation brought recognition and credibility in the two worlds in which they lived – in the traditional Lebanese world they were associating with other Orthodox families centred around other Church activities. On the other hand, in the eyes of the wider society, they were participating in a socially and culturally understood game that had taken on national significance in the young nation. Participants in the cricket team, like other suburban cricketers, would speak about scores and wickets taken after the week-end’s games.
Another notable feature of the team (as may be seen from the team photo) were the names of its members and their relationship to each other. Players were drawn from three or four of the Orthodox Syrian/Lebanese families who had arrived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Their children, who had been raised in Australian society with Syrian/Lebanese Orthodox parents in many cases were known to each other through family friendships or as direct blood relations. The 1934 St Nicholas Church Cricket Team had players from four families. The children of the Batrouney family comprised nine of the sixteen players photographed. The children of the Mansour family (4) were cousins of the Batrouney family members. The Beshara players were family friends of the Batrouneys and the Mansours, as was Don Bosaid. The Church cricket team further cemented family and friendship relations originally established by their parents.
In conclusion, like other Lebanese communities around Australia, there was an hiatus in immigration from Lebanon after the First World War and then the Depression. The early Lebanese immigrants has established their families lives in Australia from a basis of hawking and then moving to shopkeeping or running factories and warehouses. The educational and occupational experiences of the children of the early immigrants connected them to members of the wider society. The consecration of St Nicholas Syrian Orthodox Church in 1933 and its intent to provide social and religious activities for Orthodox Syrian/Lebanese saw the development of the Cricket Team. This allowed its members for almost three decades to enjoy a life of meaning in two cultures.
© Andrew Batrouney