An Interview With Youssef Harb

An Interview with Youssef Harb.

Author: Wafa Whitney
Storyteller: Youssef Habib Harb
Community Language School: South Coast Lebanese Association School
Main School: St Patrick's

From Lebanon to Wollongong.

Where do you come from?

Youssef Habib Harb was born in Tanourine. He is the fourth eldest child of ten. He was raised on a farm by both parents. He lived in a four bedroom stone house with his four brothers, five sisters, mum and dad. His father was a farmer whilst his mother raised the children and took care of the house. He did not attend any form of schooling whilst growing up. However he managed to teach himself reading and writing in his free time. His favourite pastime was going hunting in the mountains.

He describes growing up in Tanourine as a wonderful experience. The people are loving, warm and happy-full of life. Youssef speaks of wedding celebrations as being special days with his family and friends. There was much laughter, good cheer, clapping, music (Tubel, Zumoor, Trembakki) belly dancing, folk dancing (Duoka, Billbakia, Nada, Hewara, Dulloona), singing and menfolk saying poetry (Sherir). Youssef recalls the variety of traditional foods that his mother would prepare like tabouli, kibi, homous,mehshi coosa. Ghummi, keshik, futoosh, loobya, fasoolya and his favourite Mucaroon. Overall Tanourine was described as being a village with old buildings, old churches and natural spring water running through the village. It had beautiful parks where families gathered for picnics.

As a young boy Youssef assisted his family by working alongside his brothers on the farm and taking care of the herd of cattle and sheep. He later became a police officer for five years, managed a factory for two years and obtained a barber's licence. He built a house in Chekka for his family. At the age of 34 he married a local girl who took his eye and heart. They were married in 1964 at an old church in Tanourine. Family and friends all gathered together to wish them well and a happy future together.

Why did you leave Lebanon?

Youssef left Lebanon to come to Australia in early 1968 for a better life and to work towards a prosperous future for his family. He was 38 years old when he left his country boarding an aeroplane. He brought with him photos of his wife, two daughters and photos of his country and family. He also brought with him an old bible, his national flag, a wall-hanging of the cedar tree, cologne, a mirror, comb, some items of clothing, jewellery, barber's licence, passport, visa, birth certificate and nationality papers. Youssef described his journey to this new land as being exciting but was sad about leaving his wife and two young daughters behind him. He planned to send for his family to join him in Australia once he had settled in.

What was your arrival like?

After a long, exhausting flight, which took about 24 hours, Youssef arrived safely in Sydney, Australia. Some friends from Tanourine met him at the airport. He stayed at his friend's house until he was able to find a place of his own. He lived in Dulwich Hill, NSW when he first arrived. He recalls the house being small and overcrowded. Youssef hoped that Australia would be a wonderful place to raise his family. Youssef was very pleased with the amount of work available and assimilated quite well. Thus, Youssef wrote to his wife to join him in Australia. In 1971 his family received their citizenship.

Youssef lived in Merrylands, Redfern, Summer Hill, Burwood, Petersham, Belmore, Newtown, Liverpool.In 1982, he bought a house in Wollongong where he has lived for the past 20 years. Youssef would use broken English to communicate and relied on friends to interpret for him. Whilst living in Australia Youssef obtained many skills and years of experience in a variety of jobs. Youssef recalls a bad experience when he got lost after work for hours. At about midnight he was crying and hitting his head because he was so frustrated with himself for not being able to find his way home. Youssef then gave his address to a taxi driver, who drove him to his house. It was only a few yards away.

What is it like here and now?

In 1995 when Youssef went back to his country for a visit, the country was in ruins. The changes he noticed were the high-rise buildings, population explosion and the chaotic traffic. On arrival, he felt out of place, a complete stranger. Tanourine had a lot of pollution, people dodging in front of cars and new roads were built. What Youssef missed the most was fresh air, coffee shops, restaurants, social life, natural spring water and the breath-taking cedar trees. Youssef hopes that Lebanon will one day become peaceful without the threat of fear and terror. At the moment the region is experiencing so much unrest, people are struggling to survive in a lawless land plagued with war. In contrast, Australia is Peaceful, just and provides endless opportunities for people.