Most Australians don’t realise how much the Indian landscape reflects our own: Chris ‘O Neill

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Chris is an expert in the thing we least like to think about that is most crucial to our survival and health: wastewater.

Having grown up in Werribee South, he spent more than 12 years working in the industry in Australia and overseas before bumping into the director of Hydronumerics in Kuala Lumpur in 2009. He was quickly blown away by the cutting edge work the company was doing using the latest 3D modelling techniques, and signed up to work for them.

The 33-year-old visited India for the first time in 2012 as part of a Victorian government trade mission, and now makes regular trips for work.

What is Hydronumerics doing in India?

The company is working with a cooperative in Gujarat, assessing the environmental impacts of ocean outfalls from wastewater treatment plants and has started discussions with Rajasthan villages to develop sustainable, low-cost water management tools and techniques.

What have you learnt about India since working with Hydronumerics?

The atmosphere walking down the street in India is awesome, and something I really miss when I come back to Australia. Here you don’t get street-vendors, hawkers, boot-makers, hair-dressers and snake charmers jammed into tiny streets with autos, cars and everything in between happily going about their daily business.

The most unexpected thing I’ve learnt is how alike we are. We have so many common interests (even beyond beating the Poms at cricket!) we share a common legal system, have similar water management practices and have similar can-do attitudes.

What are the biggest misconceptions about India?

We don’t understand just how cosmopolitan India is. Take a walk down any city street in India and you will see people jostling for the best table at the hottest café, wearing designer threads and eyes glued to their smart-phone, rickshaw drivers stopped for a quick chai, and groups of women wearing any number of regional variation on the sari – you realise just how rich the fabric of contemporary India is.

Most Australians probably don’t realise just how much the Indian landscape reflects our own. India boasts barren desserts, steamy rainforests and ultra-modern urban spaces that could be dropped into any city in the world. We certainly don’t have a full appreciation of the tourism opportunities – we need to look beyond the ‘golden-triangle’.

What did you learn from AIYD?

The biggest highlight for me was taking stock of all the amazing things people are doing in both countries, whether it’s in trade or commerce, the development sector and in arts and culture.

What are your career aspirations?

My goal is that Hydonumerics will have a self-managed, sustainable business in India before 2020, led by my Indian scientists and engineers and servicing the domestic and pan-Asian markets, with links back to our Australian base.

I’m really passionate about getting our business involved in more aid and development projects where we can make an impact to local well being. We’re always on the look-out for suggestions!

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Magazine  in Australia)

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