On 11th November 1890, the SS Australien, carrying unassisted immigrants from from Port Said in Egypt to Australia, docked in the Port of Sydney. Among the steerage passengers was Michael Misto. Almost 131 years later, in the small town of Alpha in Central Queensland, “Misto’s” can be found engraved into the footpath on Shakespeare St.
The story of how this young man, with little or nothing but the fare for his passage, came to be a respected business man known and loved across the Central West, and of his wife, Jemellia Domeny, is a tribute to the courage, determination, tenacity and spirit of generosity of Syrian/Lebanese immigrants of the late 19th Century.
The Misto story is told with love and pride by Margaret Clapham, granddaughter of Michael Misto and Jemellia Domainy. It was gleaned, as many stories are, at Grandmother Jemellia’s knee and from memories shared by her mother and aunts over a lifetime of family gatherings.
When the urge to visit Longreach and Alpha and see for herself the places so loved by the Mistos led to a road trip, Margaret discovered there was far more to her family than she realised. Since then, extensive research into the life journey of the Misto and Domainy families has led to the discovery of a little known group of 19th century immigrants from Syria who became the suppliers of drapery and household goods to the outback towns. The hawkers who jolted their way along the tracks on horse drawn cars to sell their wares from door to door. These families were to become the first drapery merchants of the country towns and much loved and respected business owners in Central Queensland.
Research led her through 5 generations of Mistos interwoven with some of Australia’s iconic moments in history. For those who think of Lebanese immigration as a post 1945 movement, the Misto story brings a new perspective to the contribution these hard working “New Australians” made to the development of modern Australia.