When I saw the promo for this at the SBS 2014 Showcase I knew this was going to be another one of those series that only SBS have the guts to commission and show. The stories are real and compelling, and the passion within the community is displayed for all to see. It’ll be amazing. From the press release:

The inside story of Lebanese Australia to be told in landmark documentary series on SBS one.

“We used to always get called ‘you wog’ and go back to your country. It’s like they don’t want us here… We’re human beings, just like them.” – Michael LaHoud

SBS presents a new landmark documentary series, Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl, that tells the inside story of the challenges the Lebanese Australian community has faced in Australia and how they have fought to overcome them. The second instalment in the Once Upon a Time series, Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl will premiere 8:30pm on Tuesday 7 January 2014.

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.

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

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.

Key Characters – Episode One
George Basha

George Basha was a troubled teenager. Things got worse once he left school after being drawn into gang culture and violence. His epiphany came when a rival gang set his friend on fire. George realised that the path he had chosen would lead to either jail or death. George’s life started to turn around after enrolling in acting classes. He is now a screen writer and director.

Samir (Sam) Elkheir
Sam is the third son of Ahmed and Farriha. Sam was born in Lebanon and grew up in a poor household in Punchbowl where the bedrooms had to be divided by putting blankets over ropes just to give visiting aunts, uncles and kids privacy. To the disappointment of his parents Sam was not interested in the family fruit and vegetable business. After leaving Punchbowl Boy’s High School, Sam became involved in car- rebirthing, a lucrative illegal racket attracting many young Lebanese Australians. But Sam steered his life away from crime and now has his own business. He is married with two young boys.

Saleh (Sal) Elkheir
Sal is Sam’s older brother and lived through the Lebanese Civil War as a young boy before arriving in Australia with his family. Like his brother, Sal attended Punchbowl Boy’s High School but unlike his brother, Sal was a good student. After leaving school Sal went to university and studied management. He was headed down the right path but found he was constantly hassled by the police.

Ahmed Elkheir
Father of Sal and Sam, Ahmed and his wife Farriha came to Australia in the hope of building a new life after losing everything in the 1975 Lebanese Civil War. Ahmed opened a fruit shop but found life hard especially because his English was poor. Ahmed struggled at first but now he enjoys life and loves his home of Punchbowl.

Farriha Elkheir
Farriha, wife of Ahmed, experienced the horror of the 1975 Lebanese Civil War. Farriha adapted to her new life in Australia but raising her children was hard because her husband Ahmed worked long hours and Farriha spoke no English. Today Farriha loves her adopted country of Australia.

Pete Sammak
Pete Sammak was born into a poor family in Wiley Park, the suburb next to Punchbowl. When Pete’s father was injured and could no longer work his wife became the breadwinner. Pete’s endured a violent childhood at home and at school. After punching a teacher Pete left school for a life on the streets in Kings Cross. He became a heavy drug user working in the strip clubs of Darlinghurst. Now Pete is reformed. He runs his own cleaning business and became an actor. He has a main role in George Basha’s next film Convict. His sister Tania admires and supports him.

Tania Saify
Tania is Pete Sammak’s younger sister. As a consequence of her father’s gambling the whole family suffered. Tania supported her brother through the dark periods in his life
and is proud of him today.

Assistant Commissioner Stuart Wilkins
Assistant Commissioner Wilkins was policing Punchbowl during the period of car rebirthing, the Skaf Rapes and Telopea Street Raids. Stuart started at Bankstown Area
Command in 2000 and in 2003 oversaw covert operations for Task Force Gain, which monitored drug and gun distribution and organised crime in south west Sydney.

Dr Jamal Rifi
Dr Jamal Rifi arrived in Australia in 1984 to complete his medical studies. He has served the community in the areas of youth, family and community development and was a founding member of Muslim Doctors Against Violence and the Christian Muslim Friendship Society. His efforts to build bridges between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities have been recognised with a Human Rights Medal. He is a former member of the NSW Medical Advisory Board and a community representative for the Youth Partnership with Arabic Speaking Communities.