By Patrick Laverick
An Iraqi community group has joined forces with Iranian and Slovenian counterparts to build a fleet of wooden boats for community use in Geelong.
The president of the city’s Syriac community, Mukhles Habash, said building the boats was different to anything his community had done before.
“They don’t imagine ever doing that,” he said.
“We come from the north of Iraq where there’s no sea or rivers so we didn’t think of ever doing this – it’s a new skill we’ve learned.”
State Government has supported the project with $20,000 from a Community Harmony Grant program.
Participants in the initiative are building the boats in a workshop at Deakin University’s Waterfront campus.
Experienced boat builders from Royal Geelong Yacht and Western Beach Boat clubs are guiding the groups through their work.
The finished vessels will be used for casual rowing, community festivals and celebrations.
Most of the Syriac community arrived in Geelong last year among an additional 12,000 refugees the Australian Government accepted from the Syrian conflict.
The boat-building project had helped build strong relationships across the Iraqi, Iranian and Slovenian communities in Geelong, Mr Habash said.
“We work with the Iranian community; together we live and chat with Slovenians. We meet up,” he said.
“We discovered Geelong through this program, integrated with communities, got many experiences socially, language development and improvement.
“We are happy to participate in any community or volunteer project.
“This country gave us a lot and we want to give something back.
“Many of them were happy to be volunteers and share their experiences with the local community.”