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Deng Thiak Adut in It’s a Long Story

From child soldier to lawyer and refugee advocate

Matthew Drummond
Online Editor

Deng Thiak Adut was 14 when his brother posed to him a dilemma; stay and die, or leave and have a future.  His brother wanted to smuggle him into a refugee camp across the border in Kenya. Deng wanted to stay in Sudan, where from the age of six he had been fighting as a child soldier. “That was the first time someone opened my mind and talked to me about having a future and another life somewhere else,” Adut says. He decided to leave. 

Now he’s a criminal lawyer working in Blacktown in Sydney’s West, the same suburb he and his brother moved to in 1998 as refugees. Interest in his life story was sparked when he featured in a commercial for the Western Sydney University – it has had more than 2.5 million views on YouTube

Adut’s incredible life story features in the latest episode of It’s a Long Story; he talks about being born by the Nile, the songs of his father, being tricked to fight in Sudan’s civil war by a relative, learning how to shoot, how to torture others and then how to wipe it all away to build a new life in Australia. Even now, aged 35, his shoulder still hurts from when it was dislocated from the recoil of an AK-47.

“That was the first time someone opened my mind and talked to me about having a future”
Deng Thiak Adut

“I remember the day when the news came of children being conscripted into the army,” Adut says. “My half-brother, he was a policeman before the war broke out. After he left the police and joined the rebellion. He gave me a khaki shirt and told me ‘If you go to Ethiopia you will have more shirts, more clothes. It was the first shirt I’d ever worn in my life. He said if you go you’ll be educated. That was a deception. I wasn’t there for that purpose. I was there to get ready to fight the next war.”

It’s a Long Story is a new podcast from the Sydney Opera House which uncovers the formative moments from the childhoods and early careers of some of the world’s leading thinkers and culture creators. Adut features in the podcast’s third episode, and follows activist and broadcaster Henry Rollins and co-creator of the Black Lives Matter network Alicia Garza. It’s a Long Story is one of several podcasts made by the Sydney Opera House but is its first exclusively for the medium

In the episode Adut recounts his early unhappy experiences of life in Australia that made him want to return to South Sudan: not knowing he needed to unwrap his McDonald’s burger before eating it, attempting to heat a can of Coke in a microwave and almost electrocuting himself with an electric blanket.

He learnt English by reading the King James version of the bible as well as watching The Wiggles with his nephew. As one of Australia’s most prominent refugees from Sudan he believes it is vital that refugees be given assistance to join the workforce as soon as possible so as to avoid welfare dependence. Adut also argues that getting children out of detention is more important that the size of Australia’s refugee intake.

“The welfare of the child should be the primary idea or thinking of any civilised society,” he says.

Deng Adut

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