Airdate: Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl

In January SBS tells the inside story of the Lebanese Australian community in Australia.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN PUNCHBOWLIn January SBS presents Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl, telling the inside story of the Lebanese Australian community in Australia.

This four-part documentary series hears from community leaders, police, families and individuals, as they combine to tell the compelling and dramatic story of a proud and resilient community, under intense pressure and scrutiny.

This follows SBS screening Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta which rated well for SBS in January last year.

An exhibition, The Heart of Punchbowl is also on display at Bankstown Arts Centre Friday 22 November & Saturday 23 November.

The story begins in the 1970s when large numbers of Lebanese migrants flooded into Australia. Many were Muslim, most were traumatised by civil war, all were desperate to build a better future. Over the coming decades, these new Australians struggled to establish a new life in their adopted country. Domestic and global events were against them. The Gulf War, September 11 and the Bali bombings, all alienated them from their fellow Australians. The traditional Lebanese family units were fragmenting under the pressure. Things reached a terrible and inevitable climax when these tensions, inflamed by the media, erupted in the Cronulla Riots.

This is a community that has been besieged by events beyond their control for 30 years. No other migrant community in Australia has had to endure the same. But they have emerged stronger than ever with a resilience and strength that will carry them into the future.

Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl will be another cross-platform initiative from SBS. In addition to the television broadcast, a range of resources and material will be available on the Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl website, including an exclusive online documentary about the Cronulla Riots, The Day that Shocked the Nation.

Episode One
8:30pm Tuesday 7 January 2013

Following the Lebanese Civil War thousands of refugees, more than half of them Muslim, arrive in Australia, most ending up in the Sydney suburb of Punchbowl sparking a clash of cultures.

Ahmed and Farriha Elkheir, a Muslim couple are among the 20,000 refugees who fled the civil war in Lebanon. Now they’re outsiders struggling to cope in a strange world. To make matters worse Australia is in the grip of the worst recession and they will soon suffer the highest unemployment of any ethnic group.

Friction between Anglo Australian and Lebanese Australian youths begins in the schoolyard and nowhere in the 1980s is racial tension more acute than at Punchbowl Boy’s High School. Pete Sammak is a student who is subjected to racial abuse and defends himself with his fists. For the next 20 years this school will reflect a community increasingly torn apart by crime. Looking for a place they can call home, a generation of angry Lebanese Australian kids is being lost to the street.

Meanwhile the first Gulf War puts an already vulnerable community directly in the firing line as a faraway conflict arrives on their doorstep. Tensions explode at an Arab family festival, which becomes known as the Tempe Riots. The community believe a racist police force has no respect for them.

However, the police are facing a crime wave that’s engulfing southwest Sydney. And it’s young Lebanese Australian men who are often involved. The most profitable illegal activity of all is the 1.3 billion dollar racket known as car re-birthing that involves giving a stolen vehicle the identification plates from a wrecked car to give it a new identity. Ahmed and Farriha’s son Sam Elkheir gets involved in car-re-birthing. But for others, car re-birthing is only the tip of the iceberg; as drug dealing starts to plague the community.

A dangerous new phenomenon of organised crime predicated on violence and fear engulf the suburb. Drugs and guns are the norm, as Punchbowl becomes the Wild South West.


8:30pm on Tuesday 7 January 2014.

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