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From the Archives, 1984: Australian embassy under fire in Beirut

Speaking by telephone from Beirut last night, Mr. Nolan calmly described the past two days. “The fire went on continually for 18 hours. We were up and down. I stayed in my apartment for some time until the sound of crashing masonry around me got too much and I went down to the basement.

The situation in Beirut on February 8, 1984.

The situation in Beirut on February 8, 1984.Credit:The Age Archives

“I think the same applies to the others who were in the embassy apartments. Quite frankly, after a while you go to sleep… through nervous exhaustion.

“All our sleeping quarters have been hit either by shrapnel or glass. They have all been damaged. I’d have to say we were concerned for our safety even when we were down in the bunkers.

“It is impossible to describe the sound of heavy continual artillery and the vibrations and the blasts from it. It is quite unnerving.”

Mr. Nolan works with three other diplomatic staff in the embassy in Rue Bliss. They are the Australian Consul, Mr. Jack McAnulty, his wife, and a steno-secretary and communicator, Miss Jill Mortimer.

The Australian Embassy in Beirut, February 1984.

The Australian Embassy in Beirut, February 1984.

The four got proper sleep last night, virtually for the first time in two days. “Last night was quiet and we all got a few hours in,” Mr. Nolan said. “I can tell you it was much needed. We have been working all the time except for last night when we trooped off mid-evening and went to sleep.”

Mr. Nolan said the spirit of the Australian staff was “remarkably good under the circumstances”.

Asked whether the staff were safe and well, he said: “We are all well. I will leave it at that. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t move out.”

Mr. Nolan said the situation around the embassy in West Beirut had been calm since late yesterday afternoon.

Exterior of the Australian Embassy in Beirut.

Exterior of the Australian Embassy in Beirut.

“Elsewhere in the city, we are not too sure of. Tension is very high and no one is quite sure what the next move will be.”

When asked whether he would stay in Beirut much longer, he chuckled. “Really, we don’t know at this stage. We will watch the situation very closely today. We are in constant contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Minister (Mr. Hayden) is being closely informed by his department. No decision has been made yet on our futures moves.”

Mr Nolan said staff had a variety of contingency plans for evacuation. “I can tell you that the thought of evacuation is not very pleasant, especially if you have to leave your house with everything in it.”

The Adelaide-born diplomat is a veteran of two previous evacuations. “When I came back after the Israeli invasion my house had been looted and some of my possession destroyed,” he said.

“To go through all that again… well… It is very difficult to suddenly leave all your friends here without being able to say goodbye, not knowing if they are alive, and just take off. It is rather an emotional tear.

“I don’t want to have to do it on a yearly basis, which is almost what I’ve been doing.

Asked about the future of Beirut, Mr. Nolan replied: “Right now, I wouldn’t care to make a prediction.”

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