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Deng Adut, NSW

Australian of the Year Awards 2017

Deng Adut

Refugee and lawyer

2017 Australian of the Year for New South Wales

Deng Adut

At the age of six, Deng Adut was forced to fight in the war that eventually split his homeland of Sudan. Trained to use an AK-47 and expected to either kill or be killed, Deng eventually made his way to Australia and is now making a difference as a lawyer and an advocate.

Lord Erskine’s speeches

Deng is keenly aware of the opportunities education can bring. As a former boy soldier from South Sudan he was denied education but, after arriving in Australia, Deng taught himself English. His steely determination to learn saw him graduate with a law degree.

Thomas Erskine was a 19th-century British lawyer and politician, who gained fame through representing clients accused of corruption and treason. His speeches were first published in 1876. Deng bought this collection when he was a student. Poring over them helped expand his vocabulary and understand the law.

Two hardcover books.
Lord Erskine’s speeches, on loan from Deng Adut.

Looking for inspiration

'Lord Erskine is a man who I aspire to be like, my icon. He was the greatest lawyer and advocate. His ethics are impeccable. Every single line in that book, from the introduction to the final line, is like food. You can’t throw it away. Every sentence is valuable.'

Finding a place

When Deng first arrived in Australia almost everything seemed alien. Education provided mental sustenance, but football enabled social engagement.

'While I understood almost no aspects of Australian life, I understood the goals and the ball, and the offside rule and the joy of scoring, in the exact same way every Australian player did.'

Advocating for others

'I don’t think I deserve to be in the spotlight so I have to work hard to deserve it. I work for my community, and for my cause; a cause for education, a cause to make a change.'

This exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council. Portrait images courtesy National Australia Day Council.