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Betro Abicare plaque
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Betro Abicare (Abikhair)

Lebanese migrant and businessman  (C1870–1938)

About Betro Abicare (Abikhair)

Betro Abicare (sometimes spelt Abikhair) was a Lebanese immigrant, builder and entrepreneur who made a major contribution to the development of Albury’s commercial centre. He came to Australia in 1889, during a wave of migration from Lebanon that started in the 1870s. Betro began by hawking goods between farms but by 1898 had settled in Albury, where he established a successful draper’s business. In 1912, he erected a building known both as ‘The Big Store’ and ‘The Australian Building’. In 1927, he built the magnificent Regent Theatre on the opposite corner. Both buildings remain as notable Albury landmarks to this day.

Location

  • Street address:453 Dean St, Albury 2640

Accessibility

  • Wheelchair accessible

Category

  • Migration
  • Commerce

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Detailed information

A portrait of Betro Abicare and family standing in front of a house.    The man sitting at the left is believed to be his brother Nicholas, continuing L to R Victor, baby Frederick, Julia (seated, holding Frederick), Betro (standing) and Claude
Betro Abicare and Family. The man sitting at the left is believed to be his brother Nicholas, continuing L to R Victor, baby Frederick, Julia (seated, holding Frederick), Betro (standing) and Claude, c. 1911. Image Courtesy of Mark Abicare

Betro Abicare is believed to have been born around 1870 at Dhour El Choueir, a town in the mountains of Lebanon. He arrived in Melbourne as a teenager, accompanied by his brother Nicholas and cousin Saad.

Early migrants often faced a range of discriminatory attitudes and practices. Finding it hard to get paid employment, many adapted by creating their own opportunities. Armed with a suitcase of what used to be called ‘fancy goods’ – ribbons, needles, cotton, lace and more – they hit the road as hawkers, selling their wares from farm to farm.

This was the pattern Betro followed. His work took him around Victoria and southern and western NSW, at times going as far as Broken Hill and Tumbarumba.

Betro moved to Albury in 1898 after becoming a naturalised British subject. He initially set himself up with his cousin Saad Abikhair as drapers with a store in the Beehive Chambers on the corner of Dean and Townsend streets.

As Betro’s business prospered, he sought to invest his profits in property.

First, Betro acquired land on one corner of the intersection of Dean and David streets and built his own drapery and clothing shop. Known as ‘The Big Store’, this two-storey building took Albury’s retail trade to new heights when it opened in 1912. It stood out for the prominent Australian coat of arms on its parapet, as well as fine displays in its large shop windows.

Betro later acquired more land on a vacant lot opposite the store and built the Regent Theatre, which opened in 1927. Designed by local architect Louis Harrison, this building was notable for its magnificent interior, including its marble and Queensland maple foyer. It was estimated to cost between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds– then a considerable sum. The Regent was Albury’s first venue built primarily for screening films. It quickly proved a great success.

Betro was part of a progressive and respected Lebanese community in Albury, many of whom - like Betro - recognised the potential to establish retail businesses locally.

Betro Abicare died at his home in Albury on 2 August 1938.

Today, The Big Store is still a notable feature of Albury’s streetscape. Together with the Regent Theatre, they stand as enduring testaments to the contribution Betro made to his adopted town’s commercial heart.

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