How inspiring! Deng Thiak Adut’s Australia Day address

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Photo Sydney Morning Herald

I watched the whole thing live on ABC News 24 and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The theme of this year’s Australia Day address is that freedom from fear is very special to all of us. To appreciate the value of freedom one must first be denied it. To know real fear gives special meaning and yearning to being free of fear.

So what does ‘freedom from fear’ entail for you and me as Australians, or those who ‘want to be Australians’ in 2016?

Let me share with you parts of my story. It may be unfamiliar to those who have been born and grown up in a peaceful Australia. To those who have come as refugees from the world’s trouble spots, parts of this story will be too familiar. A point of this story is to emphasise how very lucky we are to enjoy freedom from fear, and how very unlucky are many, many others who neither choose, nor deserve their fate.

I was born in a small fishing village called Malek, in the South Sudan. My father was a fisherman and we had a banana farm. I am one of eight children born to Mr Thiak Adut Garang and Ms Athieu Akau Deng. So the parts of my name are drawn from both my parents. My given name is Deng which means god of the rain. In those parts of this wide brown land that are short of water my name might be a good omen. I have a nickname: Auoloch, which means swallow. Alas I couldn’t fly and as a young boy, about the age of a typical second grader in Sydney, I was conscripted into an army.

As they took me away from my home and family I didn’t even understand what freedoms I had lost. I didn’t understand how fearful I should have been. I was young. I was ignorant. I lost the freedom to read and write. I lost the freedom to sing children’s songs. I lost the right to be innocent. I lost the right to be a child.

Instead, I was taught to sing war songs. In place of the love of life I was taught to love the death of others. I had one freedom – the freedom to die and I’ll return to that a little later.

I lost the right to say what I thought. In place of ‘free speech’, I was an oppressor to those who wanted to express opinions that were different to those who armed me, fed me, told me what to think, where to go and what to do…

As an Australian I am proud that we have a national anthem. It’s ours and to hear it played and sung is to feel pride, pride that we are a nation of free people. It has a historical background that is familiar to those who grew up here, but which is not easily understood by newcomers. I found it useful to take some lines from our anthem to bring together what I want to share with you.

To be here today, talking about freedom from fear, about the rewards that come from thinking ‘inclusively’, rather than thinking ‘divisively’, is to achieve something that the child conscript Deng could not imagine.

I came to Australia as an illiterate, penniless teenager, traumatised physically and emotionally by war. In Sudan, I was considered legally disabled, only by virtue of being black or having a dark skin complexion. As you can see I am very black and proud of my dark skin complexion. But in the Sudan my colour meant that my prospects could go no further than a dream of being allowed to finish a primary education. To be a lawyer was unthinkable. Australia opened the doors of its schools and universities. I would particularly like to thank the Western Sydney University where I received my Law degree and the University of Wollongong where I obtained my Masters degree in Law – an experience which enabled me to realise my dream of becoming a court room advocate. Australia educated me. How lucky I became. How lucky is any person who receives an education in a free land and goes on to use it in daily life…

See also Deng Thiak Adut delivers Australia Day address and From child soldier to refugee lawyer: Deng Thiak Adut’s inspiring journey from Sudan to Sydney.

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