Although they have been in Australia since the 1870s, for most of this period, Syrian/Lebanese immigrants have been virtually invisible within Australian society. If they had a discernable presence, it was probably as the lone 'Syrian' hawkers who travelled vast distances selling dry goods, and subsequently, as the 'Syrian' drapers or storekeepers in towns throughout rural Australia Therefore, this study focuses on a group of immigrants and their descendants, who have generally been ignored in the recording of Australian, and in particular, Queensland history. The period 1880 to 1947 is commonly identified as the first phase of Syrian/Lebanese migration to Australia. Australian immigration policy in this period was characterised by a preference for British immigrants and by racial exclusion. In contrast, in the period after 1947 there has been an increasing admission of non-British immigrants as part of a deliberate settlement plan. The Syrian/Lebanese who came in this period were coming from the newly independent state of Lebanon, a country which had not only experienced twenty-five years of direct European influence, but had also developed, albeit recently, a national identity. Because of these significant changes in both Lebanon and Australia, it is beyond the scope of this thesis to include the post-1947 immigrant experience.
This study is based on both quantitative and qualitative sources. Quantitative data derived from these sources has been used to provide factual information and avoid impressionistic generalizations. The Queensland data has been placed within an Australian context, particularly in relation to the discriminatory legislation passed by the Federal parliament. By combining quantitative and qualitative evidence and situating the experience of Syrian/Lebanese immigrants within the context of the wider community, this study attempts to analyse the process of adjustment which resulted from the interaction of this group of immigrants with the political, social and economic structures of the new society. As aggregate data is of little use, information about this group of immigrants was collected through a nominative study using a combination of sources such as naturalization case files, alien registration records, newspapers, Queensland Post Office Directories, church records, questionnaires, interviews and family histories. A sample of 472 Syrian/Lebanese immigrants was derived from these sources. Additionally, a number of immigrants and their descendants were interviewed and a significant sample (102) of the second and third generations completed questionnaires.
Despite an initial assumption that a study of Syrian/Lebanese in Queensland would need to rely principally on oral history methods, most of the thesis is based on archival sources. Indeed, it is from the documentary evidence that the significant aspects of Syrian/Lebanese settlement become apparent. In particular, these sources reveal the critical importance of racial classification and religious affiliation in determining the course of Syrian/Lebanese immigrant adjustment within Australian society in the period being studied and beyond. Syrian/Lebanese were officially classified as Asian and hence, were subject to a wide range of legislative discrimination. However, rather than passively accepting their fate, these immigrants actively exploited a confusion about their racial identity in order to improve their status.