On 11th November 1890, the SS Australien, carrying unassisted immigrants 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 this young man, with little or nothing but the fare for his passage, who 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 Domeny. She built it from stories heard at her 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, to 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.
Further extensive research into the life journeys of her ancestors led Margaret to a little known, but common, occupation among Syrian immigrants in the late 1800s. The Mistos and Domenys were hawkers, jolting their way in horse drawn carts along remote bush tracks, selling their wares from door to door; suppliers of drapery and household goods to isolated outback towns and stations. These families went on to become the first drapers in country towns, and much loved and respected business owners in Central Queensland.
“The Syrians Are Coming!” leads you through 5 Misto generations whose fortunes are 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 of these hard working “New Australians” to the development of modern Australia.