Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Monsoor, Hassan Ali (Harry) (1884–1959)

by Jon Chittleborough

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Harry Monsoor, with his wife, n.d.

Harry Monsoor, with his wife, n.d.

Hassan Ali (Harry) Monsoor (1883-1959), hawker, was born on 1 March 1884 at Beit Meri, Lebanon, then part of the Ottoman Empire, son of Ali Mansour (Monsoor) and his wife Yasmine. Hassan emigrated to South Australia in 1901 and found work at the Port Pirie lead smelters. Three years later he set up as a hawker, with a small van pulled by donkeys. Based (from about 1908) at Leigh Creek, he toured the Flinders Ranges selling haberdashery; by 1918 he owned a bigger van, hauled by six mules. He was naturalized in 1924. Visiting Lebanon, he married Maheeba Ali Solomon in 1926, then returned to South Australia.

That year Monsoor bought a Graham Bros truck with a large van body. He and his wife hawked their wares in the Flinders Ranges, using Adelaide for provisions and stock. The family (a daughter was born in 1927) slept in the van. They moved to Copley in 1929 before settling in Adelaide in 1934. Throughout this period 'Harry' continued to make his runs. In 1938 the family (by then there were three children) opened a general store at Beltana whence Harry regularly departed on trips that lasted six weeks. His 680-mile (1094 km) journeys took in Leigh Creek, Marree, the Strzelecki track to Mount Hopeless, Arkaroola, Nepabunna mission and every settlement en route. After a fortnight at Beltana to restock and service the van, he set off again. His visits to railway towns were timed to coincide with paydays; similarly, he tried not to miss outback race-meetings or the arrival of drovers bringing cattle from Queensland. He also sought out his many Aboriginal customers. On the rough tracks he had to be his own mechanic. At night he removed the steering-wheel and slept in the cab.

Harry was a short, jovial individual whose visits were eagerly awaited. For children in isolated areas, he was the sole source of sweets (Minties, jubilee mixture and almond rock), and for their mothers, bolts of cloth and sewing materials. Men bought tobacco, boots and razor-blades. He was said to have anything one needed: 'I got the pretty bloomer today', he shouted to lady customers, and, to potential condom purchasers, 'I've got the overcoat for the mad dick'. For some, Monsoor's truck was the first motor-vehicle they ever saw. For many, he was the only visitor, month in, month out. His arrival brought news and gossip from along the track, and his boisterous, self-deprecating humour ensured his popularity. He enjoyed gambling at cards or a wager on his remarkable physical strength.

At the age of 66 Monsoor suffered a heart attack. He endured three months sedentary life before saying, 'A bloke might as well be dead', and going back on the road. In 1954 Maheeba's ill health forced the family to return to Adelaide and led to Harry's retirement. The Monsoors managed delicatessens until Maheeba died in 1957. Harry then returned to Leigh Creek. Survived by his daughter and two sons, he died there on 20 May 1959 and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery, Adelaide. His estate was sworn for probate at £4716. Monsoor's van is on display at the National Motor Museum, Birdwood.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Aird, Beltana, the Town that Will Not Die (Beltana, SA, 1984)
  • P. Rajkowski, In the Tracks of the Camelmen (Syd, 1987)
  • naturalisation files, D1915/0, item SA853 and A242 428, item 1924/8372 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Graham Bros file (National Motor Museum, Birdwood, South Australia).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Jon Chittleborough, 'Monsoor, Hassan Ali (Harry) (1884–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/monsoor-hassan-ali-harry-11150/text19861, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Harry Monsoor, with his wife, n.d.

Harry Monsoor, with his wife, n.d.