Growing up on the northern shores of Sydney was one thing. Surrounded by a kind of affluence, Sydney had a different tone to herself in those days. The late 60's and early 70's held a kind of calm presence. A warm friendliness that promised a future of happy-go-lucky, sunkissed, bushy salt-drenched natives, happy to welcome migrants to its sunny shores. I was born into one of many migrant families who made the long journey from the middle east seeking a golden future for their children and their children's children from as far back as 1925. Our little world of Christian Lebanese relatives, hailing from the northern mountains of Tripoli above the wide blue Mediterranean sea, felt like a bubble of unique and exotic love. Emotions were fully expressed, families pledged undying loyalty, the food was a religion unto itself, music the presiding form of cultural exchange and God the centre focus of daily living.
Self-expression amongst this tribe was wild and beautiful. Gathering at Grandma Alma and Grandpa Anthony's rustic rural sprawling property every Sunday was an exercise in early multiculturalism at it's best. New and unknown relatives were constantly arriving from war-torn Beirut with stories of hope and horror. Many of the Lebanese married Australians, Anglo Saxons, Dutch, some married Irish Australians in a trend that would sweep across the country. We would swing from our maternal family’s Irish, Anglo, English roots over to little Lebanon and always relished in wonder at the wildly beautiful differences. In our village, there were always new cousins to meet and great aunties rambling in Arabic - words you didn't fully understand but somehow could glean their meaning from the mood and tone of voice. My Grandparents ruled with love and benevolence, my many Aunts demonstrated phenomenal kindness, generosity, and devotion, becoming leaders in the community increasingly with each arrival that entered our lives.
Pennant Hills Rd, Thornleigh, looking south in between the years of 1911-1923. (Pintrest.com)
My beloved Aunty Emily trained to become an opera singer, my father, a concert pianist. My Grandfather singing to the Heavens with every beat of his heart would stroll around the urban farm, hands behind his back in a walk that was lovingly imitated by us, the little human ducklings who would follow him down to the produce garden. We would feed the chooks, pull the weeds and talk to Uncle Pete's beloved cows at one of the many farms they painstakingly acquired. We grew up surrounded by cows and the blind love my Uncle felt for these wonderous creatures was deeply inspiring to us all. Grandfather would always chant prayers of hope and thanksgiving in Aramaic as he walked and would patiently teach us the Arabic alphabet in sing-song fashion. This always brought joy to our hearts. Days and nights were spent around the pianola with countless exuberant souls. Holding on tightly to my cousins, as we sang farewell to the passing souls of countless relatives, chanting latin hymns in four part harmonies, tears streaming down our faces, hearts quivering into our throats. We shlept between the new Vatican church in English, and the Maronite church where I would relish the rich and guttural tones of my Grandfather and his buddies chanting together in the holy language of Aramaic. Back in our local parish, I stood beside my Father as seven year old and sang hymns in harmonic wonder in the adult Latin choir. As I grew in confidence I stood wedged between Edith and Winsome Collingridge – soprano and contralto respectively. I soaked up the sounds of their devoted hearts that rang through the parish church like a band of angels in the fire of unearthly love.
As I awkwardly grew into my teenage years, my school parish friends and I would inevitably take control of the Sunday 6pm mass. They called it the rock mass, to get us there. We came in droves with our guitars and loved those 70's Christian folk songs until we could no longer contain ourselves, as we spread our wings into the exploration of forms of nature-inspired spiritual ecstasy. The wonders of Mother Earth and her magic – and the mecca of rock and roll.