Story as published on



RGYC Member Peter Doyle is delighted and very proud to have been invited by the Refugee Council of Australia to tell the story of the Geelong St Ayles Skiff project as the launch event for ‘National Refugee Week’ along with the leader of the Syriac Community of Geelong, Mukhlis Habash and Syriac community member, Shahad Bahnan.


Mukhlis came from a very different place and culture, 30kms south-east of ISIS-headquarters in Mosul. He told Peter that the focus of engaging in building a beautiful boat together, and the warmth they received from everyone they met, was seminal for settling their community as was the partnership with Geelong’s (Muslim) Persian community. He said that the naming of the skiff ‘The Bride of Bakhdida’ after their home town, where his staunchly Maronite Catholic community survived for three years under ISIS, was deeply moving for them all.


Peter comments: “Syriac Iraqis and Iranians are desert people who’d never seen a boat before (and had/have no interest in rowing one, BTW!!!) but they absolutely ‘got it’ as a means of unifying their displayed community (of ~300) in a very strange country/culture.”


This project seems the quintessential proof statement of our St Ayles Skiff motto, ‘Communities build boats. Boats build communities.’

(…although Mukhlis says that because they so understood this statement “… we would have said ‘Yes’ if someone had suggested that we build an aeroplane or a submarine!”).


That this will be the anchor of National Refugee Week is a clear recognition of the many and diverse contributions made by everyone in the community.


See HERE to find out more about it, to book to attend the event online or to view the recording after Friday 18 June.


Also, Neil Oliver’s ‘Coast – Australia’ featured one episode about Port Phillip Bay and Geelong, which spotlighted the build of ‘The Bride of Bahkdida’ with the Syriac community.  Find it on a streaming service.