Like many Australians, Deng Thiak Adut holds a special place in his heart for The Wiggles. But it’s not because their catchy tunes were the sound of his youth – that was gunfire. Instead, when the former South Sudanese child solider came to Australia as a 14-year-old refugee in 1998, their simple, memorable tunes helped teach him English.
“They are just madness,” Adut, now a lawyer and refugee advocate and a hot tip to be named Australian of the Year, tells WHO.
But what is truly madness is the life experienced by Adut in just 33 years. A member of the Dinka-Bor tribe, he was around 7 when he was taken from his family’s banana farm in South Sudan, conscripted into the army and introduced to the brutalies of war. Five years later, he was shot and forced to fight of death. And when most children are transitioning from primary to high school, Adut was smuggled out of Sudan by his brother John in the back of a truck and placed in a Kenyan refugee camp.
“The world is an ugly place and it’s been that way since the dawn of time,” says Adut.
However, among the darkness there were moments of light. And they came in the form of the UN - it granted him, his brother and his brother’s family refugee status in Australia – and Christine and Bob Harrison, who took them in. It’s for this reason that Adut counts himself as “the luckiest person alive. I count my blessings everyday.”
Adut’s message of resilience and perseverance (which has captured in a Western Sydney University advertisement and also his autobiography, Songs of a War Boy) is set to become a whole lot more public as he is tipped to be named Australia of the Year on Jan, 26. For Adut, his candidacy is an honour he doesn’t take lightly. Having fled his place of birth before he could go through his tribe’s initiation customs, it means, “I’m a fully initiated Australian. It’s nice to get that reassurance of your belonging.”
While Adut’s publisher, Vanessa Radnidge, says his refugee story is a serves as a reminder of “the power we and our government have to change lives,” she says.
But, on a more personal level, Radnidge says the humble Adut “understands the fragility of life and knows to seize every moment. He inspires me to recognize how lucky I am and not take that for granted.”
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