A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

the Australian bridge of Tripoli

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 27, 2009

The weather turned unexpectedly hot here in New York this past weekend: yesterday the high was around 90F.

The summer weather reminded me of Lebanon – not Beirut’s soggy heat, but the dry heat further north towards Tripoli. And that in turn reminded me of a day-trip that H and I had taken last June, to see the Rachid Karame International Exhibition Center. We took the highway up, but the older sea roads home – partly for the ambience, and partly for the chance to see the tank graveyard and a mystery bridge.

The bridge itself is not a mystery: its a small, stone bridge that can fit the usual one-and-one-half cars. The mystery came from the marker carved midway across. Here it is on the fly:

bridge-through-car

And here it is in close-up:

bridge-closeup

The left-hand side says “1942” in Arabic; the right-hand side in Roman script. And the words on the banner say: “Australian Commonwealth Military Forces”.

I did know, vaguely, that British-led Allied forces were the ones that took Syria and Lebanon back from the Axis sometime in 1942. (And I do know that it was British pressure that forced the French to grant Syria and Lebanon de jure independence in 1943, and to make that de facto in 1946.) But I had no idea what else the troops had been up to while stationed here – and nor did H. Hence the mystery.

I’ve found one book that discusses the building of the Australian bridge: an out-of-print book written by a man named Lawrence FitzGerald, Lebanon to Labuan: A story of mapping by the Australian Survey Corps, World War II (1939 to 1945). As you know, collecting out-of-date books on Lebanon is a hobby of mine – and I was tempted to buy a copy of FitzGerald’s book. But at $40, its too rich for my cheap tastes :).

The Australians must have put their time in Lebanon to very good use, because when I tried to search for information about this bridge, another bridge appeared. A site for the “Australian War Memorial” maintains an online collection of period photos, showing Australian efforts in various locales. One shows the construction of another Australian bridge: a bridge for the Lebanese railroad, crossing Nahr Ibrahim somewhere between Jounieh and Jbeil.

The site describes the bridge as in “Tripoli, Syria” – which will alternately amuse, irritate, or horrify you, depending on your socio-political views. Here’s what it says:

TRIPOLI, SYRIA. 1942-06-09. BUILDING A BRIDGE TO CARRY THE RAILWAY BEING CONSTRUCTED BY AUSTRALIAN RAILWAY CONSTRUCTION COMPANIES FROM BEIRUT TO TRIPOLI, PART OF THE LAST LINK IN THE CAIRO-LONDON CROSS- CONTINENTAL RAIL PROJECT. SAPPERS OF THE 3RD AUSTRALIAN RAILWAY CONSTRUCTION COMPANY ARE SINKING THE CAISSON FOR THE CENTRAL PIER OF A TWO-SPAN BRIDGE ACROSS THE SWIFTLY FLOWING NAHR IBRAHIM NEAR ITS OUTLET TO THE SEA. A DIVER WAS EMPLOYED IN THE SINKING OF THIS CAISSON WHICH WAS SUNK TO A DEPTH OF 20 FEET BELOW WATER LEVEL. THE BRIDGE WILL CONSIST OF TWO SPANS OF 70 FEET AND 100 FEET. IN THE BACKGROUND THE MOUNTAINS OF LEBANON AND THE STONE HOUSES, TYPICAL OF THE AREA.

Initially, I thought that this must be the same bridge – but if you look at the photo on the AWM site and compare it to “my” Australian bridge, they don’t seem to be the same. “My” bridge was inland, and nestled in amongst the foliage, while this one appears very exposed. And – while I’m no bridge expert – my understanding is that railroad bridges and car bridges are somewhat different in width and overall appearance.

But perhaps the Aussies built “my” bridge while working in the area on the broader railroad project – since both took place in 1942.

Here’s a bit more information on the railroad, taken from a book titled Middle East Railways and written by the Boutros Boutros-Ghali’an Hugh Hughes, and posted on Al Mashriq:

The most interesting event in this area however was the decision to construct a standard gauge link between Haifa and the railways of Syria. This meant that stores and equipment could be moved quickly, without transhipment problems due to change of gauge, from depots in Egypt and Palestine right up to the Turkish border – and beyond if necessary. Moreover it would also provide a through connection with Iraq. In the event Turkey maintained its neutrality and refused permission for British military stores to pass indiscriminately over its section of the Aleppo-Mosul railway. Nevertheless locomotives were transferred to and from Iraq by this route, and the line from Haifa was also used to move ex-Middle East engines to Turkey after purchase by that country. The first proposal was for a line from Haifa to Rayak but a 1941 reconnaissance revealed construction difficulties that would have taken far too long to overcome. So instead it was decided to blast a route along the coast connecting Haifa with Beirut and Tripoli; this involved some very difficult work negotiating the steep cliffs where the various headlands met the sea. From Haifa to Beirut the construction was carried out by South African engineers and it is interesting to note that a temporary 1.05m gauge line was in use in April 1942 on the 14 miles between Damour Bridge and Beirut so that narrow gauge facilities at the latter place could be used for supplying materials. In June the South Africans were transferred elsewhere and the finishing touches were added by two New Zealand RE companies. Regular military traffic started on 24th August 1942, including three passenger services per week.

From Beirut to Tripoli construction was by Australian Royal Engineers, except for the difficult Chekka tunnel which was built by a tunnelling company recruited from South African miners for this special job. By July 1942 the 14 miles from Chekka Cement Works to Tripoli were already in use but the whole line from Beirut was not completed until 18th December; two days later General Alexander presided at the official opening ceremony for the Azzib-Tripoli railway (the PR were operating the Haifa-Azzib section). Some idea of the character of this line can be gleaned from the fact that when on one occasion some trucks became derailed near Sidon thus holding up 15 following trains with important supplies, the action taken was to bring along a travelling crane and tip all the offending stock over the edge into the sea.

Kheireddine and my other history buff readers, do you know anything more about this bridge?

Advertisements

Posted in Arab world, Australia, Lebanon, photography, research, time | 6 Comments »

sheep in translation

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 1, 2007

As a midwesterner I grew up near, if not with, livestock. Semis carrying cows, horses, pigs and sheep were a fairly common sight on the Iowa highways – particularly during the late summer’s fair season.

I can easily imagine an article about an Iowan livestock expert traveling to the Arab Gulf to “explain” our livestock to handlers there being published in the Des Moines Register – and I hope it would be as enjoyable (and humorous, to the city folk) read as this Australian one below:

Bahrain-bound to explain the Aussie sheep
Daniel Lewis Regional Reporter
July 30, 2007

A FEMALE truckie from Coonamble is the livestock industry’s latest weapon in the battle to maintain live exports to the Middle East.

Sharon Dundon, 34, the mother of an eight-month-old boy, has just completed a masters in rural science looking at the impact of long-distance truck transport on cattle.

Mrs Dundon flew out of Sydney on Saturday for a three-year stint working with Middle Eastern stockmen to help them better understand and treat the millions of Australian sheep that are shipped into their care each year.

She will be based in Bahrain, representing Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp, which co-ordinates Australia’s live export trade.

In her new job she will be working with stockmen in Middle Eastern feedlots, ports and quarantine facilities. She will be taking intensive Arabic lessons and teaching local truckies how best to load and unload livestock.

Mrs Dundon said her professional interest in animal welfare began when she started truck driving.

She said the disturbing images of livestock being mistreated by local stockmen arose because they did not understand Australian sheep.

“The biggest difference between our sheep and Arab sheep is [Arab sheep] are very domesticated,” she said. “They literally raise them in their backyards. [Australian sheep] appear wild to them because our sheep are run in vast grazing paddocks and have often only seen people once or twice.

“The way they work with their domesticated sheep won’t work with ours. Their domesticated sheep will walk past because they are used to people, but ours won’t walk past people.

“That’s why they get so frustrated, because they don’t understand why [Australian sheep] run away from them.”

Australia has been signing memorandums of understanding with Middle Eastern countries to get them to improve their treatment of Australian livestock.

They also oblige signatory nations to land any livestock suspected of being sick into quarantine facilities rather than force them to remain at sea.

That is designed to avoid a repeat of the Cormo Express incident of 2003, when Saudi Arabia refused to accept the ship’s 57,000 sheep, claiming they were diseased. When no alternative buyer could be found, thousands of the sheep died at sea.

The Australian livestock industry says live exports cannot be replaced by slaughter in Australia because refrigeration infrastructure is so poor in many export markets.

The RSPCA is opposed to live exports because of the suffering of animals on ships and because authorities have no control over how the animals are treated after landing.

Mrs Dundon travelled on a live export ship last year and said “the sheep are just so happy. They are just sitting down chewing their cuds and the standards are excellent.”

Posted in animals, Arab world, Arabic, Australia, Bahrain, economics, education, women, words | 2 Comments »

Some are more equal than others: Australia’s dual citizens and their evacuation from Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 15, 2007

In November I wrote a bit about Canada’s proposal to charge Lebanese-Canadians for the cost of their repatriation to Canada during the July war: Some are more equal than others: Canada’s dual citizenship debates.

Similar discussions have evidently been taking place in Australia, and have now been settled. Lebanese Australians who reside in Australia will not be charged for the cost of their repatriation; those who reside in Lebanon will be asked (not required, but requested) to pay.

Here is the article:

Lebanon evacuation cost $30m, gov’t says

The evacuation of Australians from Lebanon last year cost the federal government more than $30 million.

And the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it expected to recover only a fraction of the money after the government decided not to force evacuees to repay the cost of their repatriation.

DFAT on Thursday said the total cost of getting around 5,000 Australians out of Lebanon after fighting broke out with Israel last August was almost $30.4 million.

That covered the cost of evacuating people home by air, evacuating them to Turkey and Cyprus by sea, accommodation, using Beirut’s convention centre as a processing point, medical support, food, interpreters and visa services.

DFAT said the government had decided to seek reimbursement of evacuation costs in cases involving dual Australian-Lebanese nationals who were permanent residents in Lebanon, and those who had recouped money through insurance.

But the system was voluntary, and the people would not be forced to pay back the money.

“What we’re doing in order to manage the financial recovery process is inviting the individuals to self-nominate,” DFAT’s consular division first assistant secretary Rod Smith told a Senate committee.

That process was only just getting underway, he said, but the government did not expect to recover much money from the exercise.

“We don’t expect it to be a great deal, certainly not close to the costs to the government of the evacuation,” Mr Smith said.

“I would think it would be not more than in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The Howard government’s decision not to make people repay their evacuation costs reflected the view that they were caught up in extraordinary circumstances, he said.

“Nobody could have predicted that commercial air services would have been cut when they were,” Mr Smith said.

“It [the evacuation, I presume, and not Israel’s airport bombings] was seen as a reflection of the seriousness of the government’s consular role.”

Although I dislike immensely the Lebanese tendency to acquire second nationalities for precisely such instrumental purposes, I dislike even more the idea that democratic governments should construct hierarchies of citizenship.

Perhaps a better solution is to take more seriously the requirement (which at least in the United States is a legal requirement honored almost entirely in the breach, rather than the observance) that those who take Australian, Canadian, US, etc. citizenship do forswear the nationality of the country they have left behind.

Posted in Australia, Beirut, Canada, Canadians, citizenship, economics, Lebanon, news, politics, research, words | 1 Comment »