DEFENCE lawyer, refugee advocate and 2017 NSW Australian of the Year Deng Thiak Adut has gone from child soldier in South Sudan to owning a law firm with multiple offices across Sydney.
In the book Songs of a War Boy, written with Ben Mckelvey, Deng tells how his family were farmers in South Sudan when a brutal civil war altered his life forever.
Born in South Sudan in 1984 as one of eight children, instead of playing games and singing children's songs, he learned war songs and was taught to love the death of others.
At six years old, his mother was told she had to give him up to fight.
At the age most Australian children are starting school, Deng was conscripted into the Sudan People's Liberation Army.
He began a harsh, relentless military training that saw this young boy trained to use an AK-47 and sent into battle.
He lost the right to be a child and the right to learn.
Songs of a War Boy is an inspiring story of a man who has overcome deadly adversity to become a lawyer and committed worker for the disenfranchised.
He escaped the army in 1995 and arrived in Australia as a 14-year-old refugee in 1998.
After teaching himself to read, write and speak English, Deng won a scholarship to study law at the University of Western Sydney in 2005 and graduated with a Bachelor of Law in 2010.
He later obtained his master's degree in law at the University of Wollongong.
Deng originally told his story in a TV ad for the University of Western Sydney in 2015.
The aim of the ad was to promote the potential of education to change lives.
NSW premier Mike Baird was among those who saw a clip of the ad - it has drawn more than two million views to date - and without having met Deng, nominated him to give the 2016 Australia Day address at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
In Deng's memorable address, Freedom from Fear, he emphasised "how very lucky we are to enjoy freedom from fear, and how very unlucky are many, many others who neither chose, nor deserve, their fate”.
He also reminded Australians to carefully safeguard freedom.
"Visit a building site, walk around an educational campus, look at the names in our sporting teams and hear, see, smell and taste the richness of the cultures in any of our shopping centres. White is a colour to which so much can be added.”
Deng Thiak Adut is now a partner in the AC Law Group, a firm he co-founded with Joseph Correy in 2014. He practises in the areas of criminal, family, employment and international law.
- At Lismore City Hall tomorrow Thursday, 7pm. Free event. Phone Lismore Library on 6621 2464 to RSVP for the event.