Genealogist Lionel Sharpe discusses the two streams that make up his own family background
05 February 2009
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My great-great-grandfather, David Lobascher was a very enterprising man and those sort of Jews lived around the city, he never went to the gold fields, he stayed in the city and around Elizabeth Street, Collins Street, William Street, around that area and he arrived just at the time I think it was a year before the new Bourke Street Synagogue was being built. There was a synagogue down there near William Street, it was the Bourke Street – Hebrew congregation, there was an old one behind the law courts and that was pulled down and they built a new building which was consecrated I think about 1856.
So my grandfather was –my great-great grandfather arrived at that time. He spoke German, I don’t have any evidence he could ever speak English, we still have prayer books written in German and Hebrew dating from that period and he brought with him family, including my great grandmother, Natalie Lobascher who was two years of age. And they had big families, very big families and they proliferated. Well there was very little assimilation. They seemed to have a very strong sense of maintaining an awareness of some sort of a Jewish, it’s very hard to define what it is, but a Jewish sense of identity but at the same time, feeling very, very Australian.
So much so that most of us, like myself, joined the boy cubs, the Cubs and the Scouts, we were – I mean we really looked up to the Queen and the King and the Menzies, the prime minister. These were sort of the heroes of these families because they had provided for them, a safe, secure env – well they believed they provided them a safe, secure environment in which their families could flourish, they experienced very little anti-Semitism. I think most of my uncles from my mother’s side, if you were to ask them about anti-Semitism they would have just shrugged their shoulders because they’ve integrated well: bowling clubs, golf clubs, horse racing, all the sort of things that Aussies do and it’s – so part of me comes from that descendency which feels very comfortable in the Australian milieu.
My father came from areas of persecution, where Jew – and I must say, poverty, because poverty was a very big driving force – and he as I said earlier, he came in just before the First World War, but very ambitious and very astute. At the age of 19, he’d started hawking and developing a little store, by the age of 26, he rented a property in Bourke Street in the heart of the city in Melbourne, and from there he bought a few other shops, gradually consolidated. His brothers did the same thing. And what I find absolutely remarkable and I only reflected on this later in life, that they had no secular education. Their education was very much in the Haida, which was the Jewish religious schools, learning prayers, learning the Torah and all that sort of thing.
But I always felt somehow as a child that my father was a bit ignorant of algebra, what’s that? You know. Geometry, never heard of it. But now reflecting back, it’s just amazing how much he did absorb. He did tell me once he used to write to my mother who was already third or fourth generation Australian, he got a solicitor to write her love letters. Because he wasn’t able to write English well.