New home, new life, new hope

It was once the cradle of civilisation. These days, there’s little that’s very civilised about the country that hounded Milad Butrus and his family from their home.

Bakhdida, in northern Iraq, became simply too dangerous for this Christian family, a Catholic family, and they fled to Jordan in 2014.

It was a harrowing flight to safety marked by hellish traffic jams in a baking desert, feverish passport negotiations with Baghdad bureaucrats, three businesses and a handsome double-story home left behind, friends, family too …

The alternative presented by Islamic State forces, who had been rocketing Milad’s Bakhdida home town for days, with shells landing as close as 500 metres away, was impossible.

“It was just like Baghdad, where most Christians left — some were killed, some were kidnapped, other had their properties stolen,” Milad says.

“I heard the same story over and over. They came in Hummer cars, they’d say ‘You’re Christian, sign these papers signing over your home or we’ll kill your son’.

“It happened with so many families, and it wasn’t only Islamic State, it was people from the government, the Iraqi army.”

Milad reveals two photographs on his phone that point all too vividly to the fear, anguish and horror of living in the shadow of IS.

The first is of a priest, dressed in brightly coloured robes, in his coffin. It’s Milad’s cousin. He was shot by IS while at Mass, trying to close the church doors against the terrorist intruders.

“They killed between 45 and 50 people in the church that day, some of them as young as two years old,” Milad says, raising his phone to show the second photo, of the church’s appallingly bloodstained and shattered interior.

Milad’s wife, Maherah, nods in agreement as he describes the anxiety of fleeing Iraq, hunkering down in Jordan for close to two years while seeking refugee status to just about anywhere that would take them.

They had their lives, their young children Neamah and Karam, now 11 and six, and they had prayers and hopes.

They’d left behind an IT services and internet provider business, a travel agency and a new furniture store. Their home was shelled but not obliterated. Milad’s father’s home was obliterated. Milad ponders whether he might be sell what’s left of his but he’s not sure if he can.

Fast forward five years and the Butrus family is resident in Geelong, infinitely safer than where they once called home. Geelong was their first stop after arriving at Melbourne Airport. They’re still pinching themselves about living in Australia.

Milad is working in IT at GHD, Maherah is studying English at The Gordon, the kids are lapping up school at Bell Park’s Holy Family Primary.

And they’ve just bought up at Villawood Properties’ new Wandana community between Highton and Ceres, where they’re planning to build soon and consolidate their new life in Australia.

Milad and Maherah grin shyly as they admit they’re even contemplating more kids.

Talk about turning your lives about.

Bioplanters and new ways with waterways

DEALING with the water run-off from a 200-lot hillside residential estate at Wandana is an engineering challenge.

Melbourne environmental engineering company Biofilta, whose Geelong projects have included Leopold’s Gateway Plaza and several indoor feature gardens at GMHBA Stadium, has taken the challenge by designing an integrated system involving water harvest, storage and treatment.

Biofilta has been involved in innovative stormwater harvesting and wetland projects across Melbourne, but the Wandana project, the Villawood Properties estate above Highton overlooking the Geelong Ring Road, presented a new level of complexity.

“There’s nothing as compact and as highly engineered as this one,” Biofilta chief executive Marc Noyce said.

“Our system works really well where there are tricky sites, steep slopes, areas where you can’t get a wetland in.”

He said the integrated system that has been installed includes 200 cubic metres of underground flood detention storage, gross pollutant capture, and a 50sq m bio-planter to biologically treat all the low flows from its steep upstream catchment.

“It also includes a separate tank holding 20,000 litres of filtered water to recirculate in hot weather to keep the plants alive without the need to use potable water,” he said.

The system provides flood protection, stormwater treatment and sustainable natural treatment in a compact footprint.

The bio-planter is a lush affair, featuring local coastal plants and sand dune plants adapted to wet and dry conditions. Two lots of microbes in the planter effectively treat the water.

“Water goes in at the top, it looks like dirty dishwater and it has the heavy metal nasties,” Mr Noyce said.

“It stops on top, soluble pollutants soak through one set of aerobic bacteria, and they really transform the pollutants. That flows to the bottom, where there’s no oxygen — that promotes anaerobic bacteria that does another polishing job of the pollutants.”

By pollutants, think everyday materials such as metal dust from roads, oil from cars, rooftop sediments, brake dust and the like — things that would eventually pose problems elsewhere.

Villawood was the first Victorian developer to receive UDIA EnviroDevelopment accreditation and is recognised for its high level of conservation and ecosystems and dedication to saving water and energy.

Chief executive Rory Costelloe said Villawood was always striving to investigate and implement any means of saving water and energy.


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